Introduction to Luke

A Savior for all people

The pivotal event of history—God steps in to seek and save the lost

How to read Luke

Each gospel has its own particular flavor as each author portrays unique aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. Luke, one of Paul’s disciples, was a non-Jewish physician from the Roman province of Macedonia. He did not experience the gospel events first-hand, but carefully researched the facts from those who had been eye witnesses (Luk 1:1-3). His keen investigation brings to light some priceless stories that are not told in the other gospel accounts. Luke wanted to be sure he told the full story, including rich details of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.

Luke’s is a very personal gospel. We observe many individuals meeting one-on-one with Jesus in transformational encounters—people who were often marginalized and cast off by religious society: women, foreigners, the sick, the lost, the broken, the poor, the needy, the suffering, the powerless, and the despised. Only Luke records the parable of the Good Samaritan. Only Luke includes three more parables and places them at the heart of his story, in chapter 15. They are the parables of a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son. All three highlight the central message of the book that can best be summed up in the words of Jesus: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luk 19:10).

Who wrote this book and when?

Luke, a Gentile medical doctor and a companion of Paul the apostle, probably wrote the gospel between AD 59 and 63. He also wrote the New Testament book of Acts. This two volume work follows an interesting geographical organization:

Reference Geographical Organization
Luke 1:1-4:13 Jesus’ birth, childhood, and baptism
Luke 4:14-9:50 Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and beyond
Luke 9:51-19:35 Jesus’ ministry en route to Jerusalem (note Luk 9:53; 10:38; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28)
Luke 19:36-24:53 Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem
Acts 1:1-7:60 The church’s ministry in Jerusalem
Acts 8:1-12:25 The church’s ministry in all of Judea and Samaria
Acts 13:1-28:31 The church’s ministry to the ends of the earth (see Act 1:8)

To whom was it written and why?

Luke wrote to Theophilus, probably a Gentile who was either a new believer or someone seeking to learn about Jesus. Theophilus means “lover of God,” leading some to think the book was written to people who loved God. Luke hoped Theophilus and other readers would learn that God’s love reaches out to enfold people from all nations—Jews and Gentiles alike.

SourceView Insights

The total supporting cast (blue text) found in the four gospels comprises 99 different individuals or groups. Eight of them are found in all four gospels. They are the indispensable players in the story of Jesus. They include: John the Baptist, The Crowd, The Pharisees, Jewish Leaders, Pontius Pilate, Bystanders at the Trial, A Servant Girl, and Roman Soldiers.

Then there are 32 cast members who speak in multiple gospels but not in all of them. They include eleven who speak in the first three gospels; one who has a voice in all but Luke, and one in all but Mark. In addition six speak only in Matthew and Mark; four in Matthew and Luke; four in Mark and Luke; one in Mark and John; and four in Luke and John. Can you discover them all?

This leaves 59 cast members, each of whom has a speaking part in only one gospel account. Reflection on the unique contribution of each of these helps the reader discover the distinctive focus of each gospel story. Of these 30 are found in three gospels (7 in Matthew, 5 in Mark, and 18 in John). Can you discover who they are and reflect on why each author decided to include their words into their gospel narrative? That means that nearly half of these unique players (28 to be precise!) find their voice only in the gospel of Luke. They include:

  • Cleopas
  • Cleopas & Cleopas’ Companion
  • A Dinner Guest
  • Elizabeth
  • Elizabeth’s Neighbors
  • Gabriel
  • A Host of Angels
  • One of Ten Lepers
  • The Owners of the Colt
  • People in Capernaum
  • People in Judea
  • People in Nain
  • The Pharisees & the Religious Leaders
  • The Repentant Thief
  • A Roman Officer’s Friends
  • Shepherds near Bethlehem
  • Simeon
  • Simon the Pharisee
  • Some Elders
  • Some in Simon’s Home
  • Someone Along the Road
  • Someone from the Crowd
  • A Synagogue Leader
  • Ten Lepers
  • The Unrepentant Thief
  • A Woman in the Crowd
  • Zacchaeus
  • Zechariah

Reading the words of these members of the cast will help you discover the special perspective that Luke brings to the gospel story. Seek to uncover other passages that are unique to Luke— not found in the other three gospels. Then take time to meditate on why Luke included them in his narrative. You might discover little treasures by focusing on these unique passages, as illustrated below:

John’s Birth Foretold
(Luke 1:5-25)
Jesus’ Birth Foretold
(Luke 1:26-56)
1:11 Gabriel sent 1:26 Gabriel sent
1:13 Elizabeth will bear a son 1:31 Mary will give birth to a son
1:17 to make ready a people 1:33 to reign over the house of Jacob
1:18 How can this be? My wife is old 1:34 How will this be? I am a virgin
1:20 Because you did not believe 1:45 Blessed is she who has believed
1:22 Zechariah unable to speak 1:46 Mary glorifies the Lord

World English Bible (WEB)
a Public Domain Modern English translation
of the Holy Bible.

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