Today we begin the Gospel of Luke. Luke was a companion of the Apostle Paul, and a physician. There have been two widely accepted facts about Luke: first, he was a well-educated Greek, and second, he wrote his Gospel after Mark and Matthew. However, there is recent scholarship that challenges both of these assumptions. I believe there is a very good argument to be made that Matthew wrote his Gospel after Luke. I also believe there is a possibility that Luke was a Jew, though I am not convinced. That he was well educated could explain his superior grasp of the Greek language – especially considering he was a physician.
I believe Luke’s Gospel account was intended to be chronological (as opposed to Matthew and Mark who grouped their material theologically). The “orderly account” in 1:3 can be translated as “successive account.” Luke addresses his Gospel account to Theophilus (as he does the book of Acts – v. 4). However, the name Theophilus may not be a proper name, but a general name used for any reader of his history, as Theophilus simply means “friend of God.” Luke/Acts is also intended to be a unit describing the history of God’s work, first through Christ (the Gospel account) and then through the Holy Spirit of Christ (the book of Acts).
Luke begins with the prediction of John the Baptist’s birth. His father was a priest, and his mother was of priestly lineage (v. 5). We already see Luke’s desire to be thorough in his historical account. We see that Old Testament cycle of the righteous, yet barren, woman in Elizabeth (v. 7). By this time in Israel’s history, the priests were on a regular rotation of serving in the Temple (v. 8). Zechariah was chosen (through “chance” – see Prov 16:33) to go into the Holy Place to light the incense before God (v. 9).
While there, Zechariah encounters an angel of the Lord (not the angel of the Lord – but the angel Gabriel – v. 19 – see Dan 8:16, 9:21) who tells him that his prayers for a son have been answered (vv. 11-13). The angel even gives him the name: John. The reason many would rejoice (v. 14) is because this is the fulfillment of God’s final revelation up until this point (v. 17 – see Mal 4:5-6). That he must not drink wine (v. 15) indicates that he is set apart to God (like a Nazarite – see Num 6:3). But even more, he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Zechariah (in very Abrahamic fashion) questions the promise because of his and his wife’s age (v. 18). In verse 20, Zechariah is told that he will be mute until the birth of John “because you did not believe my words.” But this isn’t a punishment. This is the sign Zechariah just asked for. Just like the prophet Ezekiel, Zechariah is mute until God opens his mouth to prophesy (see below and Ezekiel 3:26). In verse 24, we see Gabriel’s prediction come true. Elizabeth then echoes the words of Rachel (v. 25 – see Gen 30:23).
Six months after appearing to Zechariah, Gabriel appears to Mary (vv. 26-27). Note that her husband-to-be is of the lineage of David. Luke is telling us that what ‘s taking place is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 and 2 Samuel 7:12-13. The Messianic hope is about to be realized! Mary then questions how this is possible, as she has never been with a man (v. 34). And here, all the types found in women like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and even Elizabeth find their fulfillment in Mary. Mary having a child was a complete and total physical impossibility. We also see the superiority of this child to John the Baptist. John would be full of the Holy Spirit, but Jesus would be conceived of the Holy Spirit (v. 35). Luke will carry this idea forward to the church in the book of Acts – we are also conceived of the Holy Spirit (which is why we are also greater than John – see 7:28).
Note that Jesus is to be called “Son of the Most High” (v. 32) and that the power of the “Most High” will overshadow Mary (v. 35). When God is called “Most High” (El-Elyon) in the Old Testament, the “Most” is in comparison to all the other gods (heavenly beings). So many gods of the nations were said to be the children of “El” – Dagon, Baal, Ashtoreth, etc. – but this is truly the Son of El-Elyon. We also see the ultimate fulfillment of those other miraculous conceptions in that Gabriel says “nothing will be impossible with God” (v. 37). This is a quote of the Greek Old Testament’s promise to Sarah in Genesis 18:14. Note Mary’s willing submission to the plan of God (v. 38).
When Mary visit’s Elizabeth (vv. 39-45), we see that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 41) and in the Spirit calls Jesus “Lord” (v. 43 – see 1 Cor 12:3). This is already the third time Luke speaks of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a theme of Luke’s not just in the book of Acts, but here in his Gospel account. The “Holy Spirit” is named three times in the Old Testament. Matthew speaks of Him five times (including the words of Christ). Mark, four times. Luke invokes the name of the “Holy Spirit” in His Gospel 13 times and in Acts 41 times. That is 60% of the mentions of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Luke is the theologian of the Holy Spirit!
Verse 46 begins the “Magnificat” of Mary (so named for the Latin word for “magnifies”). Compare this with Hannah’s praise of God in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 (who is a type of Mary, Samuel being a type of Christ). This is the only time that “God” is called “Savior” in all four Gospel accounts (v. 47). Mary is an example of the humble being sovereignly exalted by God (v. 48, 52). God “helping” His “servant Israel,” the offspring of Abraham is a reference back to Isaiah 41, in particular verses 8-9 where “Israel” is taken from “the ends” and the “farthest corners” of the earth. Mary is not thinking in physical terms.
When John the Baptist is born (v. 57), we see that the godly Zechariah and Elizabeth follow the Law by circumcising him on the eighth day (v. 59 – see Gen 17:12, Lev 12:3). When Zechariah confirms the name choice of “John” (v. 63) his mouth is opened for him to prophesy (v. 64 – see v. 20). Here, Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit to prophesy (v. 67). His prophecy is about Christ, Who visited and redeemed His people (v. 68). He brought salvation from the house of David (v. 69 – see v. 32). Zechariah asserts that this is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets (v. 70) and promises (v. 72) and covenant. Christ’s coming fulfills the promise to Abraham (v. 73). He then equates Christ with the “Most High” and the Lord (YHWH – v. 76). In verse 77, we see that knowledge of God that refers to salvation. In verse 80, that John was in the “wilderness” until his ministry begins shows that God is about to turn the wilderness into a fruitful land through the ministries of John and Jesus, and refers to John as the voice in the wilderness (see Isa 40:3).
Don’t worry, that is the longest chapter in the New Testament… But realize, Luke has already established Jesus as God, as the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy, as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, and as the Savior of spiritual Israel!
In chapter 2, Luke records the birth of Jesus. Note that many of our beloved Christmas hymns come from this chapter. Note how Luke shows the historical setting of this. He wants his readers to know that this really happened! The mentions of Augustus Caesar, Quirinius, and the census (2:1-3) have all been proven out by extra-Biblical evidence.1 In verse 4, without saying it explicitly, Luke is pointing out not just the historicity of these events, but the fact that prophecy is being fulfilled (see Micah 5:2, 2 Sam 7:12-13, 16).
Now. let’s put aside all the depictions of what happens here. Tradition is not the Bible. Joseph and Mary were not travelling alone. They would have been part of a large caravan coming to Judea from Galilee. This was not the end of December. Judea was about the same latitude as Delaware is. Unless you wanted your sheep to freeze, you weren’t in the field at night. Not to mention, the census would not have been mandated in winter. Don’t villainize the inn-keeper. The inn was full because all inns worked on a first come, first serve basis (their internet was down…), and probably only had a room or two to begin with. The family was most likely not in a stable. Maybe they were in a cave, but more likely they were out in the open.
Now let’s talk about the angels. Why would the shepherds be filled with great fear (v. 9)? For that matter, why was Zechariah afraid (1:12) or Mary greatly troubled (1:29 – see also Daniel’s reaction in Dan 8:17)? Well, while we think of gentle looking men (or even children) dressed in white nightgowns with white wings when we think of angels, the Bible doesn’t give such a description. Even a messenger (our word “angel” comes from the Greek word for “messenger”) who appears as a man would not have looked all huggable and peaceful like our idea of an angel. And “angels” or “messengers” were just one type of heavenly being (and a “multitude of the heavenly host” also appears here – v. 13)! Suffice to say, angels – and all heavenly beings – did not look like anything on earth!
Now let’s consider what this angel (possibly Gabriel?) says. The birth of Christ is good news of great joy for “all the people” (v. 10). This expands beyond physical Israel. The fulfillment of the Messianic hope – Christ the Lord – is the Savior (v. 11). This is the second and last time Luke mentions the Savior. The first time, it’s God. Here, it’s this baby that was just born. This baby is God. The peace that the heavenly host declares (v. 14) is not best understood as our classic “peace on earth and good will towards men” but “on earth, peace among those with whom He (God) is pleased.”
Note in verse 18 that when the shepherds find Mary and Joseph (v. 16) and tell them what had happened (v. 17) that all who heard it marveled (v. 18). Again, this was not just Mary and Joseph. In verse 21, we see that Mary and Joseph are also faithful to God’s Law. We also see this in verses 22-24. That they offered two birds (v. 24) shows that the couple was poor (see Lev 12:8).
We see that Simeon had the Holy Spirit upon him for him to prophesy (v. 25). The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the Christ (v. 26). So he comes “in the Spirit” to speak over Jesus. Note that the salvation (v. 30) is for all peoples (v. 31) and a light to the Gentiles and Israel (v. 32 – see Isa 42:6, 49:6, 60:3). As such, Jesus is appointed for the fall and rising on those of Israel. Those who believe will “rise” and those who don’t will “fall” regardless of their physical heritage.
Luke alone records the incident of Jesus in the Temple when He was 12. Note again that they traveled in a sizeable caravan (v. 44). And we have here the first words of Jesus recorded in the Bible (v. 49). The first words of Jesus that we know have Him claiming God as His Father. Note that His earthly parents do not yet understand His words (v. 50). In verse 51, we see the perfect obedience of Christ to the Law. He here fulfills the fifth commandment (see Ex 20:12).
In chapter three we have more historical data given by Luke (3:1-2). Here, we have the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry. The forerunner of Christ proclaims repentance and the forgiveness of sins (v. 3). This is what Christ will tell His church to do (see 24:47). Luke then writes more of the prophecy of Isaiah 40 than do either Mark or Matthew (vv. 4-6). As part of his proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, John tries to dispel any ideas of physical lineage coming into play (v. 8). He also expounds the fruit of repentance (vv. 10-14).
Luke then offers a genealogy of Jesus (vv. 23-38). Whereas Matthew had a theological purpose for his presentation of of Jesus’s genealogy (see Matt 1:1-17), Luke is trying to give historical information. This alone is sufficient to explain the differences. However, many have said that Luke traces Mary’s ancestry instead of Joseph’s. Even if not, what we do know is that Matthew wants to present Jesus as the son of David and Abraham, and Luke wants to present Him as the Son of God.
But there’s more than that. Luke works backwards from Jesus to God (Matthew works forward from Abraham to Jesus). Why? Because he ends with Adam “the son of God.” Luke wants to present Jesus as not only the Son of God, but as the new Adam. This is why he records the genealogy right before the temptations of Jesus (4:1-12). Jesus succeeds where Adam fails! Also note that Luke says that the devil left Jesus “until an opportune time” (v. 13). This points forward to the sufferings of Christ, where Satan thought the opportune time had come.
In verse 14, Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit.” Luke makes a point of showing that the human Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke has the rejection at Nazareth at the start of Jesus’s ministry. Luke’s assertion that Jesus came to Galilee in the Spirit’s power aligns with the text from Isaiah (vv. 18-19). That is why He fulfills the prophecy (v. 21). Here, as in verse 15, Luke points out that at the start of His ministry, Jesus was accepted (v. 22). It is not until Jesus points out the condition of their hearts that they turn on Him (vv. 28-29).
The rest of the chapter follows Mark’s account pretty closely. Luke adds that the demons Jesus exorcised all recognized Him (v. 41). Some manuscripts read that Jesus preached in the synagogue of Judea (v. 44), but others say Galilee. Galilee is the correct reading.
1 Time has proven Luke to be so accurate that some secular archaeologists use his Gospel account as a resource for dating!