The Gospel of Luke: An Introduction, Part 2

By Donald Whitchard

Luke 1:1-4,11:1-4, 15:1-32


Summary: The Gospel of Luke is noted for its emphasis on the power of prayer, the use of parables as a means of teaching, the attention paid to members of society who had been forgotten, and attention to historical and cultural details concerning the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Each of the four Gospels were written for specific audiences.  Matthew’s account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ was written for his fellow Jews to show that Jesus was the promised Messiah spoken of by the prophets of Israel under the direction of the LORD.  Mark wrote his Gospel as an “action-packed” account of Jesus’ ministry tailored for Roman audiences who did not want to be cumbered with details.  John wrote his Gospel as an eyewitness testimony to proclaim to his readers, both Jew and Gentile, that Jesus was God Incarnate and the source of eternal life and peace.  The recipients of Luke’s Gospel were Gentile (non-Jewish) citizens and servants of the vast and powerful Roman Empire who were not familiar with the customs and religious history of Israel but had come to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior through the mission work of the apostles, most notably Paul, who took the message of Christ and Him crucified to both Jew and Gentile (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 2:2).

Luke’s benefactor was a Roman official named Theophilus, which in the Greek language means “lover of God.”  Either he had become a new follower of Christ or was curious and wanted to obtain further information about this new faith, and commissioned Luke to collect all oral and written information about Jesus’ life and teachings.  Along with the Gospel accounts, there are additional writings from both Roman and Jewish sources that verify the historical existence of Jesus from the historians Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Thallus, Lucian, along with the Jewish histories written by Flavius Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud, and the Midrash, which were a collection of rabbinical commentaries on the Law of Moses, traditions, and rules concerning the Sabbath.  These histories and commentaries were written during the first and second centuries AD, early enough to verify the life and work of Jesus and the apostles as authentic fact and not legend or myth.

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the universal grace of God (2:32, 3:6, 24:47), sympathetic concern for the poor, the outcast, and the lowly who were seen by the upper class of Roman society as those unworthy of any concern.  It should be noted that the ancient historical value placed upon life in general was both hazardous and cruel, which was, and still is, a common trait of pagan culture.  Virtue and character were rare, and Rome tended to be brutal upon those nations it conquered.  The “Pax Romana,” or “Roman peace” described by historians was kept primarily through the point of a sword or spear towards anyone who dared to rebel or question the authority of the Caesars who ruled with both force and fear.  Within the realms of Roman life, fathers had the right to reject their children and leave them to die of exposure or become the property of slave traders and deviants who roamed the cities and countryside, using these innocent infants and young children for nefarious purposes.  Anyone accused of a crime could be subject to the horror of crucifixion (Roman citizens were exempt) or could meet their death as victims of gladiatorial combat or be eaten by wild animals in places such as the Coliseum in Rome.  Convicted criminals and slaves could be chained together and forced to serve on Roman galleys, be banished, thrown off cliffs, beheaded, set on fire, or any number of ways conceived by the whims and sadistic thoughts of those in power.

Sexual deviancy was rampant, with all types of behaviors and practices done without thought or consequences towards the victims, which were often children and adolescents who were slaves of the wealthy, the emperors, and the Imperial court.  Prostitution was practiced by both men and women and part of the worship of varied deities whose temples were found in major cities such as Ephesus, Corinth, Antioch, Caesarea, Rome, and the ruins of Pompeii, buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.  Archaeologists discovered items such as artwork and other artifacts linked to the phallus cults and other practices performed by citizens and “priests,” showing that sexual deviancy and impropriety is not a new vice conceived by “modern society” or what the world system defines as progress and liberation.

In contrast, the followers of Jesus put His teachings into practice by showing concern for those whom society had neglected or mistreated such as the poor, children and infants, the elderly, and those who were sick or infirm.  Christians provided aid, food, shelter, care, comfort, places of refuge for abandoned children and infants, former prostitutes, and anyone else who was destitute.  These acts of compassion were a direct reflection of what Jesus had done for the people with whom He came into contact.  Luke draws our attention to the downtrodden and the ordinary, such as the apostles themselves (6:20), the sinful woman (7:37), Mary Magdalene, who had been demon possessed (8:2), the Samaritan (10:33), tax collectors and sinners (15:1), beggars (16:20-21), lepers (17:12), and the dying thief (23:49).  Luke’s Gospel is noted for the parables taught by the Lord Jesus, writing down more than are found in both Matthew and Mark’s respective accounts.  We have the story of building on the Rock (6:46-49), the work of the Sower (8:4-8), the revealed light (8:16-18), the Good Samaritan (10:25-37), the friend who arrives at midnight (11:5-8), the faithful and wicked servants (12:35-48), the rich fool (12:13-21), the barren fig tree (13:6-9), the great supper (14:15-28), the lost sheep, coin, and son (15:1-32), the unjust steward (16:1-13), the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31), the persistent widow (18:1-8), the Pharisee and the tax collector (18:9-14), the talents (19:11-27), the wicked vinedresser (20:9-18), and the cursing of the fig tree (21:29-33).

Luke also writes about the importance and necessity of prayer as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus, such as His baptism by John (3:21), His time in the wilderness (5:16), the choosing of the Twelve (6:12), the Transfiguration (9:29), and time spent with the Father before He taught His disciples about prayer (11:1-4).  He prayed for Peter’s restoration after his time of denial (22:322).  He spent time agonizing in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (22:44), and while upon the cross (23:46).  In summary, Luke presents an orderly narrative of events (1:1), the importance of eyewitness testimony (v.2), the importance of an interested inquirer (1:3), and the certainty of truth (1:4).  Like a student composing his or her thesis, the “beloved physician” presents his conclusions using original sources, accurate first-person testimonials.  and his own personal motive to show his readers that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

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Luke 21:36 "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."

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