It is clear in verse 1 that Luke was not the first Gospel writer. The Gospel of Mark was one of the Gospels that was written before Luke’s work. Over fifty verses found in Luke can be seen in their essence in the Gospel of Mark. There is a higher percentage of verses in the Gospel of Matthew found from Mark, ninety percent. It is believed that Matthew and Luke had copies of the Gospel of Mark at the time of their writing.
It is likely that these early writings were not complete in their account of the coming, teachings, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Luke implies this in verse 3. “It seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus.” The earlier writings were of only one or a few perspectives of the Gospel message. An example would be that Luke and Matthew focused on the teachings of Jesus much more than Mark. This tends to make us think that there were many written records of the teachings of Jesus and Luke and Matthew had copies.
The Gospel writers wrote after a period of time when there was much teaching and preaching by those who had been with Jesus. The people of Palestine were literate but they did not depend on the written word as much as we do today. They were very skilled in memorization and spoke from the heart. This was a century old practice of their forefathers. This skill was used by God in the early period for spreading the Gospel.
The Apostles were busy in this period telling and re-telling all that Jesus had said and done. The people heard, learned, memorized and told of what they had heard and learned. As time passed people began to write these things and the Apostles were on hand to be sure that the truth was being written. It is unknown when these first writings were produced.
One factor that encouraged the writing of the Gospels was the spread of the Gospel to the Roman and Greek world. These Gentile populations were less skilled at memorization than the Jewish people. The Gentiles were more reliant upon the written word.
Another reason was the Church letters written by the Apostle Paul and the other Apostles. Most of the Church Epistles were written before the Gospels. The use of Church letters was to communicate to the converts in places that the Apostles could not personally be at any given time. These letters greatly extended their influence.
The greatest reason for the writing of the Gospels was that the era of the Apostles was passing. As the Apostles grew older and some of them passed from the scene, the Church fathers realized that their testimony needed to be preserved.
Luke and the others did not write something of their own interpretation or by a vision of their own thinking. They wrote the teachings of the eye-witness accounts of the Apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In verse three we see the word “also.” Luke was writing to Theophilus so that he would know the correct account of all that had happened. The word “also” tells us that Luke considered that it was important for himself also to investigate the truth. The question then becomes why Luke felt the need to write his Gospel account.
The other writings at the time were focused on various perspectives and not on the whole Gospel message. The focus of Matthew was to present Jesus to the Jewish readers as the proven Messiah. Mark stressed the facts and actions of Jesus rather than themes or topics. John’s focus is stated in the following verse. “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) Luke wanted to write a complete account and his research included everything from the beginning. Therefore the Gospel of Luke is longer than the other three Gospels. In fact if you include the Book of Acts Luke wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. An example would be that Luke went back to the events related to the birth of Jesus where Mark began with the ministry of John the Baptist. Of course Luke did not tell all that his research had revealed to him but only that which fitted his purpose.
One of the goals of Luke was to write an orderly account of the life of Jesus. Luke wanted to take all that he had learned from his research and place them in an orderly account from Jesus’ coming, teachings, miracles, ministry, death, and resurrection. Orderly does not mean that there is an exact chronological order at every point of the story. Luke’s Gospel has more to do with a logical and meaningful flow of the events and teaching of Jesus’ ministry.
Verses 1-4 also show that there is no contradiction of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures and the full utilization of human skill and process. God was able to use the research and talent of Luke whose goal was to use a wide source as his foundation for a well-written and faith inspiring account of “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” (Acts 1:1)
Luke’s account was to give Theophilus the truth and certainty of the Christian Gospel. Luke was not only a careful writer of the history of the life and work of Jesus Christ, but he was a faithful witness. In our times historians tend to be more objective and have criticized Luke for his perspective of faith. The historians view is very influential of what he writes. Historians strive to be objective but readily admit that their perspective has an effect upon what they write. Luke was a very careful an exact historian but he made no secret of his faith or his purpose to persuade others to have a faith in Jesus Christ.
Coming of the Christ
Verses 1:5 to 2:52
The first portion of Luke’s Gospel is the introduction of the Good News. The Greek word for Good News is “euaggelizo” and is the word from which we get evangelism. We see this word in 1:19 and 2:10. Most of the themes of this Gospel are more developed in later chapters but are introduced in these verses from 1:5 to 2:52. They are; the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ; prayer; the Holy Spirit; salvation; forgiveness; hope for the outcast; light for the people; the dawning of a new day; and the role of women in God’s work.
The birth of John the Baptist and Jesus are intermixed and their relationship is of a major concern in these verses. John is the last and the greatest of the prophets. Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.
The events of these verses are filled with mystery and miracles. Angels deliver messages from God. A child is born to an elderly couple well passed child bearing years. A virgin conceives and gives birth to a son. This was before the age of great medical science and it was amazing that Elizabeth was able to become with child. And for a virgin to become pregnant was a miracle.
Most miracles in the Bible fall into three periods of redemptive work. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt, Elijah and Elisha and the menace of Baal worship, and the events connected to the coming of Christ and the spread of the Gospel to a pagan world. The Bible clearly shows that God the Creator is and remains active in human history on behalf of His people. Anyone who will accept this visible truth has opened the door to the miraculous. Some are offended by the inference of the miraculous in the birth of Jesus. Others would be surprised of its cosmic significance if it were not accompanied by signs and wonders.
Answer to Prayer (1:5-25)
True Righteousness Verses 5-7
Zechariah and Elizabeth represent true righteousness. Their righteousness was not of the legalism that so many were in Israel of that day. They were members of the priestly family but they were different from the priest that controlled the Temple for their own advantage. They were prayerful and hoped for the coming of the Messiah.
They were of the mold of people that are mentioned in Luke 1:5 to 2:52 and are closely connected to the coming of the Christ. They, Mary and Joseph, Simeon, and Anna were the true righteous of Israel. They were people of faith in the Lord God.
Rebirth of Prophecy Verses 8-17
An angel appeared to Zachariah while he was offering incense in the Temple. Zachariah was an elderly man and this was his only time to perform his priestly service. There were many priest in Israel and only once in a lifetime did they have the opportunity to offer incense in the Temple. This would have been a high point in the life of Zachariah and as he was officiating his service unto God an angel appeared before him. Naturally Zechariah was terrified and the angel told Zechariah to not be afraid that his prayer had been answered. Elizabeth was barren and they had been praying that God would give them a child. The angel told Zachariah that she would have a child, a boy, and he was to name him John.
As the priest offering incense unto the Lord Zachariah would have been in prayer for the coming of the Messiah. It is the perfect timing of the Lord that Zechariah would be in the Temple on this day and that the announcement of the birth of John would be given unto him, and that child would be his. Now the official and personal prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth had been answered as well as that of the people with the coming of the Messiah. The angel came unto Zachariah because the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist would be born unto his wife Elizabeth. It would be Zachariah’s son, John the Baptist that would call the people to repentance before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hearing that his son John would be filled with the Holy Spirit was an amazing statement as in Old Testament times only prophets of God were filled with the Holy Spirit. This pointed to the prophetic duties of John the Baptist. This also fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy that there would be a renewal of the Spirit and a rebirth of prophecy in connection with the coming of the Messiah. (Joel 2:28)
In verses 16-17 the angel recalls the prophecy of the Prophet Malachi of the promise that the return of Elijah would call the people to repentance. (Malachi 4:5-6)
Too Good to be True Verses 18-25
Zachariah responded to the angel much in the same way as Abraham when under the same circumstances. (Genesis 15:8) But Zachariah did not have the same strength of faith that Abraham had. The prophecy of the angel must have seemed too good to be true and Zachariah had doubt. Because of this unbelief Zachariah was struck dumb, unable to speak, until the birth of his son John the Baptist.
For Elizabeth this was great news and she rejoiced. It was a dishonor for a woman to be unable to give birth to a child and the years of waiting for an answer to their prayers had been long. She felt the anticipation and joy that the angel Gabriel had spoken of in verses 14.
A Miraculous Conception Verses 26-38
Zachariah and Elizabeth were not wealthy or powerful people and neither was Mary. But Mary, like Zachariah and Elizabeth, was a person of faith and integrity. It is significant that God would chose such people to be the parents of John the Baptist and Jesus.
The announcement to Zachariah and May have some parallels. In each case the angel Gabriel appeared and announced the birth of a son who was to play a role in the plan of God. Both the sons were born under unusual circumstances and both were named by the angel. In spite of this there is greater significance.
There was a great difference between the two sons. John was to be a prophetic messenger, and Jesus was to be the Messiah, the Son of God. Each of them was called great, verses 15, 32, but Jesus by far was the greater. Take note of the titles of Jesus in verses 32-33, 35. In 32-33 we see the messianic passages as in, (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 9:6-7). And in verse 35 Jesus is referred to as the Son of God, a title that is repeated by a voice from heaven at His baptism (3:22) and at the transfiguration. (9:35)
A more striking difference is the virgin birth. Jesus was not a child born to an old couple but to a virgin. Mary was engaged to Joseph but she was not his wife. She was a virgin. After the angels announcement Mary asked, “Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel told Mary that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in such a way that the child would be the Son of God. It is not that God had a sexual relation with Mary but a relation as in Genesis 1 where the Spirit of God was working in creation. The conception of John the Baptist has its parallel in the Old Testament with Abraham and Sarah in their old age. The conception of Jesus has it parallel in the miracle of divine creation.
There are ancient stories of divine beings that sprang forth fully grown into life. Jesus was divinely conceived and formed in the womb of His mother Mary. Jesus went through the process of a natural birth and grew into a man. This demonstrates the blending of the divine and the humanity of Jesus’ conception and birth. This is not the message of the Gospel, the virgin birth. There is no salvation for man in the virgin birth of Jesus. The Gospel message is His death and resurrection.
There is also a difference between Zachariah and Mary’s response to the prophecy of the angel Gabriel. Both were troubled and afraid by the appearance of Gabriel and they both questioned how such things could happen to them. But Zachariah did not have to faith to believe in what the angel was telling him and because of this he was struck dumb. But Mary believed the word of the Lord’s angel. The angel Gabriel also told Mary that her relative Elizabeth was also with child even in her old age. Gabriel repeated the words spoken to Abraham and Sarah when they had received the promise of a son in their old age. (Genesis 18:14) “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Verse 37) Mary had faith in the words of the angel and responded with trust and submission to the will of God.
Exalting the Lowly Verses 39-56
Mary was so excited that she quickly went to see Elizabeth to share with her the wonderful news. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s home Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke as a prophet. She identified Mary as the mother of the Lord. “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” This acknowledgement reinforces that the child of Mary was superior.
The words of Gabriel in verse 28 and Elizabeth’s words in verse 42 in later years exalted Mary to a divine state of her own. The point of these passages have become missed along with the whole New Testament. Mary was not the source of grace but only the recipient. Mary’s blessedness came from her willingness to bless all as the channel of divine grace from God.
Mary’s Song Verses 46-56
These verses expose the humility and trust that Mary had in her Lord. It is also a hymn like poem and is often called the Magnificat and is the first word in the Latin Bible. Here Mary displays her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures as a lot of her speech comes from that material. Especially from Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Mary was rejoicing to the Lord that He would find favor with one of such a lowly state. This, the very basis upon which she was called blessed by future generations. What had happened to Mary was bigger than she, as it was a sign of what God was doing for all people, not only His servant Israel.
Her song was also a celebration of the changed position of mankind under God’s new order. It is also a demonstration that God’s help is not given to the proud, mighty, and the rich of the world. People of this order seldom think of their need beyond themselves. The poor and lowly as Mary are open to God’s grace and help. God’s exaltation of Mary from her low estate was a sign of what God would do for all His oppressed people. For all people who know their need for the grace of God.
The Birth of a New Day Verses 57-80
The name of a child had great significance in the Jewish culture. At the birth of John the Baptist there was an amount of drama connected. The relatives and neighbors of Zachariah naturally thought that the child would be named after him. Elizabeth and Zachariah remembered the words of the angel and named the child John. The outcome of the drama caused the people to wonder what special destiny was ahead for the child named John. The people stated, “What then will this child turn out to be?” For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.” The Hebrew meaning of the name John is, “Jehovah has been gracious.”
John the Baptist was to become a light in the darkness and this was the answer to the question of the people. Elizabeth when filled with the Spirit spoke prophetically concerning Mary’s child. Now Zachariah was filled with the Spirit and spoke of a new day that was dawning. The hymn of Zachariah is often call the “Benedictus.”
Zachariah did not speak so much about his son John the Baptist as he spoke about the coming of the promised Messiah. He spoke only as John the Baptist would be the one who was to prepare that way for the coming of the Messiah. Zachariah, as well as Elizabeth knew that John was not the main person in view and spoke this, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways.”
In the first half of Zachariah’s hymn joins together a number of Old Testament promises that are now to be fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah. The language that Zachariah used is much like the language used in the deliverance of the Israelites from the land of Egypt. The promise that God had made to Abraham and David was also to be completed by the Messiah. The Messiah would also be an answer to the prophets of Israel.
The second half of Zachariah’s hymn was more spiritual in a universal tone. He spoke of victory over the enemies of Israel. He also spoke of forgiveness of sins and salvation. There is an analogy using the sunrise in which he says, “With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us.”
We are given a picture that the world is living in darkness and the shadow of death. The coming of the Messiah would be a light that would pierce through that darkness. Though it was not stated here this prophecy was inclusive of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. The universality of this become clearer later on in Luke and the book of Acts. Luke saw the truth that the people were cowered in the fear of pagan superstition, in the darkness of their sin, and in the hopelessness of a relentless shadow of death.
The childhood of John the Baptist is summed up in the last verse. “And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” The verse ends with great anticipation of when John would return from the wilderness. There the word of the Lord would come to him and he would go out and call a world to repentance.
New Testament Women
|Anna||Recognized Jesus as the long waited Messiah||Luke 2:36-38|
|Bernice||Sister of Agrippa before whom Paul made his defense||Acts 25:13|
|Candace||A Queen of Ethiopia||Acts 8:27|
|Chloe||Woman who knew of divisions in the Church of Corinth||1 Corinthians 1:11|
|Claudia||Christian of Rome||2 Timothy 4:21|
|Damaris||Woman of Athens converted under Paul’s ministry||Acts 17:34|
|Dorcas (Tabitha)||Christian if Joppa who was raised from the dead by Peter||Acts 9:36-41|
|Drusilla||Wide of Felix, governor of Judea||Acts 24:24|
|Elizabeth||Mother of John the Baptist||Luke 1:5, 13|
|Eunice||Mother of Timothy||2 Timothy 1:5|
|Herodias||Queen who demanded the execution of John the Baptist||Matthew 14:3-10|
|Joanna||Provided for the material needs of Jesus||Luke 8:3|
|Lois||Grandmother of Timothy||2 Timothy 1:5|
|Lydia||Converted under Paul’s ministry in Philippi||Acts 16:14|
|Martha & Mary||Sisters of Lazarus; friends of Jesus||Luke 10:38-42|
|Mary Magdalene||Woman which Jesus cast out demons||Matthew 27:56-61|
|Phoebe||A servant, perhaps a deaconess. In the Church at Cenchrea||Romans 16:1-2|
|Priscilla||Wife of Aquila; laborer qith Paul at Corinth and Ephesus||Acts 18:2, 18-19|
|Salome||Mother of Jesus’ disciples James & John||Matthew 20:20-24|
|Sapphira||Held back goods from the early Christian community||Acts 5:1|
|Susanna||Provided for the material needs of Jesus||Luke 8:3|