According to Jewish Law, the firstborn son had special duties and privileges. He shall inherit a double share of his father’s property (Deut 21:17). Parents should offer him to God and then redeem him (Num 18:15-16). Even if the parents have only one son, yet they consider him as the firstborn. So, the parents of Jesus presenting him to God as firstborn does not imply that Mary had other sons.
The evangelist quotes from Exodus 13:2, “Consecrate to me every firstborn. The first to open the womb among the Israelites, whether human or animal, is mine.” The LORD asked Moses to tell the children of Israel the reason for the consecration of the firstborn: “As Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD slew every firstborn in Egypt, of man and beast alike. That is why I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that open the womb, but the firstborn of my sons, I redeem” (Ex 13:15). The offering of the firstborn male to God was a grateful remembrance of God saving the firstborn male of Israelites at the time of the original Passover from Egypt, while the angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex 12:12). Since Jesus was also the firstborn male of Mary, she and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple.
The Israelites believed that their firstborn males and animals belonged to God. They sacrificed animals and bought back the child from God by giving five shekels to a priest. That amount was worth a month’s income. That helped to support the priests who consecrated themselves to God’s service in the place of the firstborn sons of Israel (Num 3:11-13). Thus, the non-Levites ransomed their firstborn for five shekels (Num 18:16). They did this on the 40th day by presenting the child to a local priest and paying him the money.
However, in Jesus’ case, the Bible does not mention any such payment. Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to the Temple and offered him to God. The parents did not redeem Jesus because he was destined to serve God as a priest like the Levites. He later sacrificed himself as a priest and lamb for the remission of humanity’s sin. Since Mary’s purification and presentation of Jesus in the Temple happened 40 days after Christmas, the feast falls on 2 February according to the church calendar.
According to Biblical numerology three stands for emphasis (superlative like Holy, Holy, Holy meaning Most Holy) or completeness. Number three is used 467 times in the Bible and is the first of the four numbers that stand for spiritual perfection (3, 7, 10 and 12). Trinity, three righteous patriarchs before (Abel, Enoch and Noah) and three righteous “fathers” after the deluge (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), Jesus successfully overcoming three temptations, 27 books of the New Testament (3x3x3), Jesus taking three disciples (Peter, James and John) to special places (like mount of Transfiguration, rising of Jairus’ daughter and to the Garden of Gethsemane), Peter was asked three times to express his love to Jesus before making him head of the church, Jesus spent three years doing his public ministry and training his disciples, three prayers of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus suffering on the cross for three hours, Jesus pinned to the cross with three nails, three hours of darkness at the time of his crucifixion, Jesus rising from the dead on the third day are examples of the importance of three in the Bible.
The resurrection on the third day does not necessarily mean that Jesus was buried for 72 hours or three full days. Jews of Jesus’ time counted even a part of the day as one day. So, the death of Jesus at 3:00 P.M. on Friday and burial before 6:00 P.M. was counted as the first day. Friday from 6:00 P.M. to Saturday 6:00 P.M. was the second day. Early morning before sunrise on Sunday was the third day.
Six, according to Biblical numerology, is an imperfection because creation became complete only with the seventh day that God made holy. Jesus perfected the water in the six jars through his first miracle.
Number eight, according to the Biblical numerology stands for recreation. God completed creation of the universe including a day of rest in seven days. So, eighth day means a new beginning. The covenant with Abraham through circumcision was also a new beginning of salvation. So, circumcision, that signals the beginning of the child’s covenant with God and initiation into Israel, was supposed to be performed on the eighth day. The importance of the eighth day is clear from that fact that even if the eighth day was a Sabbath when work was prohibited, circumcision was performed on that day as an exception.
The selection of eighth day for circumcision regardless of Sabbath observance was the decision from God. One reason is that the newborn baby will live a complete week inclusive of a Sabbath. Hence the baby experiences the “holiness” of a Sabbath. Then he can enter the covenant with God and thus join the community of the Jewish people.
Another reason, based on recent medical science, is that the eighth day after birth is the best day for blood clotting and so is the suitable time for circumcision. Blood clotting is dependent on platelets, prothrombin, and vitamin K. Vitamin K and prothrombin levels are at their peak on the eighth day. Therefore, that day is physically the perfect day to perform circumcision which was unknown to humans until recently but known to omniscient God.
Eighth day was also considered as a day of sanctification. after seven days of purification. A male child, along with his mother was considered unclean for seven days. Then he was circumcised on the eighth day (Leviticus 12:2,3). “Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (Levi. 17:11). Animals were considered unacceptable for sacrifices until the eighth day after their birth. “The Lord said to Moses: When an ox or a lamb or a goat is born, it shall remain with its mother for seven days; only from the eighth day onward will it be acceptable, to be offered as an oblation to the Lord (Levi. 22:26-27). The reason for uncleanness of animals was not because they were born in sin like descendants of Adam and Eve, but because they were offered in the temple in the place of the first-born children.
People who were unclean through leprosy or any defilement had to observe seven days of purification. On the eighth day, they were accepted as clean (Leviticus 14:8-10; Leviticus 15:13,14; Numbers 6:9,10). The purification of the altar, vessels to be used in the holy place, and the priests, took seven days. Their purity was established only on the eighth day (Ezekiel 43:26, 27). Thus, seven days were days of purification and the eighth day was for sanctification.
Number eight, according to the Biblical numerology stands for recreation. In the New Testament “eighth” day and “first day of the week” are the same. Jesus rose from the dead on the “first day of the week.” (Mathew 28:1). Jesus appeared to his disciples several times “on the first day of the week” in between his resurrection and ascension. Pentecost was also on the first day of the week. The early Christians kept the first day as holy day and called it the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10) in the place of the sabbath observed by the Jews (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).
Though Jesus had many disciples, why did he limit the number of apostles to 12? Twelve had been considered as a number of perfection for administration. Number three signifies the divinity (Trinity) and four stands for earth (four corners). Twelve is the product of three and four and thus a combination of heaven and earth.
According to the divine plan, Israel was divided into 12 tribes under the names of the sons of Jacob (Genesis 49:28). Tribal leaders were selected to represent these tribes for efficient administration under King David (1 Chronicles 27:16-22). When Jesus started his public ministry as Son of David, he reestablished the rule of the 12 princes through the 12 apostles he selected on the mountain. This was indicative of the reestablishment of the old Israel in a new form. These 12 were not representatives of the 12 tribes originated from Jacob. Though they were Jews, they were to represent all nations whom God promised to bless when he made covenant with Abraham. God had told Abraham, “in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing.” (Genesis 26:4).
The importance of the number 12 which was considered as one of the perfect numbers like 3, 7, and 10 derived from the 12 sons of Jacob whose descendants became the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses sent 12 spies to Canaan representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus considered his church as the new Israel and selected 12 men as the pillars of his church. He said of his apostles, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mathew 19:28).
After the death of Judas, the college of the apostles was very particular to maintain the 12 by selecting Mathias substituting Judas.
After 30 years of his life in the desert, John appeared as a popular prophet. Some Biblical characters started their public service at age 30. “Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh, king of Egypt” (Gen 41:46). The priests served in the Temple from age 30 to 50 (Num 4:3). Saul (1 Sam 13:1) and David (2 Sam 5:4) became kings at age 30. Ezekiel began his prophecy (Ezek 1:1) and Jesus started his public ministry (Lk 3:23) at age 30.
According to Biblical numerology 40 stands for preparation, purification, or test and is mentioned 146 times in the Bible. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days on two occasions for receiving the laws from God (Exodus 24:18, 34:1-28). During the same period of 40 days, Israel was tempted to fall into idolatry, and they made a golden calf and sinned (Exodus 32:1-6). Life of Moses was divided into three sections of 40 years: 40 years in Egypt under Pharaoh, 40 years in Midian, and 40 years in the wilderness. Israel was in the desert wandering for 40 years. Moses, while in the wilderness, sent 12 spies for 40 days to investigate Canaan (Numbers 13:25, 14:34). Nineveh was given 40 days for repentance. Prophet Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sins (Ezekiel 4:6). Elijah was without food or water 40 days at Mount Horeb. Jesus was in the desert with fasting and spiritual preparation for 40 days. Jesus spent 40 days after his resurrection from his death to ascension. Jerusalem was destroyed after 40 years from the crucifixion of Jesus.