Introduction to Luke
Luke is called “the beloved physician” by Paul (Colossians 4:14) and is mentioned by Paul two other times by name. He is identified as one of Paul’s fellow laborers in Philemon 24 and was the only one remaining with Paul just before his martyrdom (II Timothy 4:11). Although Luke never mentions himself by name, either in his gospel or in the book of Acts, it was universally recognized by the early church that he was the human author of both of these books.
He is believed to have been the only Gentile writer of a book of the Bible, since he was not included among those “who are of the circumcision” in Paul’s greetings to the Gentile Christians at Colosse (Colossians 4:9-11,14). Others, however, think he may have been a Jew of the dispersion.
Luke was with Paul on some of his missionary journeys, as indicated by the various “we” passages in the book of Acts (Acts 16:10; 20:5,6; etc.). He seems to have been with Paul continually on his third missionary journey, except for the two years of his imprisonment at Caesarea. It may have been during those two years, while Luke was in Palestine and separated from Paul, that he was able to do the research and writing for his gospel. It must have been completed at least some time before Paul’s execution, for he terminated Acts while Paul was still being treated well under Roman house arrest (Acts 28:30-31). Acts, of course, was written after Luke’s gospel. Consequently, Luke, as well as Matthew and Mark, was written sometime around A.D. 60 (Paul’s martyrdom is believed to have taken place around A.D. 68).
Luke addressed both his gospel and Acts to a Greek man named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), evidently a man of some culture and influence, but otherwise unknown. This fact lends weight to the traditional belief that Luke was written mainly with his Greek brethren in mind, emphasizing the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus. His analysis seems somewhat more topical than Matthew’s more sequentially ordered narrative.
Luke writes in a very articulate literary style, and archaeological research has confirmed that he was a careful historian. His medical background frequently comes through also. He includes many events and teachings not found in the other synoptics, and these seem to reflect his social consciousness as well as concern for individuals. Most of all, however, he focuses on the Son of man and His great mission “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
1:3 me also. Although he never mentions himself by name, the church fathers and uniform tradition agree that Luke, Paul’s “beloved physician,” was the author of both this gospel and the book of Acts (see Colossians 4:14; II Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).
1:3 from the very first. Others had written about Christ and His teachings before Luke did (Luke 1:1), including Matthew and Mark, both of whom had known Christ personally, a privilege probably not shared by Luke. Nevertheless, Luke’s long association with the Apostle Paul and others who had known the Lord (Luke 1:2), together with his obvious ability in investigation and research, enabled him to write down an accurate account of his own. Many think that Luke may have drawn on Mark’s account, as well as Matthew’s or even some other hypothetical written source supposedly used by all of them (the so-called “Q-document,” or some such record). Even if such a document really existed (which is very doubtful), it was not divinely inspired like those of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but simply a human record of events, from which they could draw in their research, as led by the Holy Spirit. This latter presumption is supported by Luke’s claim that he had “perfect understanding of all things from above” (the latter being a legitimate alternative to “the very first”).
1:3 Theophilus. See Acts 1:1. It is possible that “Theophilus” was not an actual person, but any “lover of God,” which is the meaning of the name. It is also possible that he was a Roman official (implied by the term “most excellent”) whose actual name Luke discreetly chose not to use, lest he be removed or even executed by the emperor.
1:7 well stricken in years. There are four key people in the Bible who were said to be “well stricken in years” or “well stricken in age.” The first were Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:11) who were the parents of Isaac, who would be the forerunner, so to speak, of Israel and the dispensation of law, just as Elisabeth and Zacharias (Luke 1:7,18) were to be the parents of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ and the dispensation of grace. All four were past child-bearing age when God sent both promised sons into their respective homes.
1:15 strong drink. There is no indication that John the Baptist was dedicated as a Nazarite. Neither the angel nor his father mentioned that such was his calling. Rather, abstinence from alcoholic drink was appropriate for a man filled with the Holy Spirit (note Ephesians 5:18). While total abstinence may not be an explicit commandment of Scripture, John’s example is surely an example to follow for any believer who sincerely desires his life to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led.
1:15 from his mother’s womb. Of no other person in the Bible is such an amazing testimony recorded! Truly, except for Christ, John was the greatest among men (see note on Matthew 11:11). It is noteworthy that this was the first direct word from God to Israel since the days of Malachi in over four hundred years.
1:16 turn to the Lord. John was the first—and perhaps greatest—gospel preacher. The Lord used him to lead multitudes to Christ (see note on Matthew 3:5-6, noting that “all Jerusalem and Judaea” came out to hear his message, repenting, confessing their sins, and being baptized). That his message focussed on Christ as sin-bearing Savior is evident from John 1:7,8,29, etc.
1:17 power of Elias. Luke 1:17 is paraphrased from Malachi 4:6. John was not Elijah returned to earth, but his message of repentance and reconciliation of the people to the God whom they had largely forsaken was delivered in the same spirit and power shown in Elijah. His wilderness life-style was also reminiscent of the prophet whom God had taken to heaven in the flesh. In no way does the coming of John the Baptist negate the still-in-effect prophecy of Elijah’s future return to the earth (see Matthew 17:11; Revelation 11:3-6) to complete his mission.
1:17 prepared for the Lord. The “people prepared for the Lord” certainly included all (or at least many) of Christ’s twelve disciples (see John 1:35-37; Acts 1:21-22).
1:23 accomplished. There were many hundreds of priests, so this was undoubtedly the only opportunity Zacharias would ever have to minister at the altar of incense in the temple. Because of the faithfulness of him and his wife, God chose this auspicious occasion to announce the miraculous answer to their prayers.
1:26 sixth month. That is, the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (Luke 1:36).
1:26 Gabriel. The angel Gabriel is only mentioned by name in connection with his missions to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21), to Zacharias (Luke 1:19), and here to Mary. He is evidently one of the highest angels in God’s hierarchy, standing in God’s very presence (Luke 1:19). The only other angel (except for the fallen angel Lucifer) mentioned by name in Scripture is Michael (Daniel 10:13,21; 12:1; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7), who is called “the archangel” by Jude, but only “one of the chief princes” by Daniel. The latter implies that Gabriel also has the rank of archangel (that is, “principal angel”).
1:27 virgin. Mary is called “a virgin” by both Luke and Matthew, the Greek word being parthenos, a word which can mean nothing else.
1:28 highly favoured. Mary was “highly favored” and “blessed among women,” because she had been given the privilege of fulfilling the ancient promise made by God to Mother Eve (Genesis 3:15), the promise of choosing a woman who would bear the promised Seed who would come to crush the old Serpent and all his evil plans. However, this blessing, given to a godly young virgin in Israel, in no way warrants us to worship her as the “Mother of God,” on essentially the same level as God Himself. Unfortunately, in later times many people unknowingly tended to replace the ancient pagan worship of the “goddess” (known as Ishtar, Astarte, Venus, etc., in various languages) with “Mariolatry.”
1:30 favour. The Greek word for “favor” is the word normally translated “grace,” and this is actually the first mention of grace in the New Testament. The first mention of grace in the Old Testament is Genesis 6:8, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” In both cases, a human believer was selected by God’s grace to bring, as it were, a new beginning into the world: Noah brought the post-Flood economy that would follow the judgment of the Flood on the worldwide sin of the world, and Mary brought forth the Savior, who through the judgment of the cross would carry away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Note also how these two first mentions of grace define the very word itself. Grace is not a reward that is earned from God, but a gift from God that is found. And it is found, not by working or searching but “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Both Mary and Noah believed—and therefore obeyed—the word of God.
1:31 conceive in thy womb. The miraculous conception was unusual in that it took place directly in the womb rather than first in the tubes, but it was uniquely miraculous in that no man was involved. “That holy thing” was placed directly in Mary’s womb by God “the Holy Ghost” (Luke 1:35) and thus was uniquely “the seed” of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Just as the body of the first Adam was directly formed by God (Genesis 2:7), with no genetic connection to either father or mother, so the body of “the last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45) was directly formed by God (Hebrews 10:5), with no genetic connection to either parent. Since the very “ground” was brought under God’s curse because of sin (Genesis 3:17), all the elements of the ground (i.e., “the dust of the earth”), out of which the bodies of Adam and Eve and all their descendants had been formed, were contaminated with the “bondage of corruption” (or decay—Romans 8:21-22). This was just as true of Mary’s body as of Joseph’s, so there could have been no natural genetic connection of Jesus’ body to that of Mary, any more than to Joseph’s. The “holy thing” placed in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit could have been nothing less than a special creation—just as was the body of Adam! Otherwise, like all men born of women, Jesus would have inherited both physical defects and the sin-nature of Adam and Eve. This could only have been prevented by a miraculous cleansing of the conceptus, and this, of course, would be a special creation. Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, as well as the son of Mary, but He was not the Son of God and Mary.
1:32 throne of his father David. Jesus was the legal son of His father David (as adopted by Joseph when he took Mary as his wife) but He was, of course, not his biological son. As legal son, however, He did have the legal right (as well as spiritual and prophetic right) to the Davidic kingdom.
1:34 How shall this be. Mary was not doubting the word of Gabriel (Luke 1:38), as had Zacharias (Luke 1:20), but inquiring as to how He might bring about such a “new thing in the earth” (Jeremiah 31:22), and Gabriel answered her question in his next statement.
1:35 overshadow thee. This marvelous work of God can be nothing less than direct creation. Some have suggested such quasi-naturalistic hypotheses as parthenogenesis or artificial insemination, or perhaps that the Holy Spirit somehow fertilized Mary’s naturally produced egg, but such stratagems could only caricature the amazing incarnation—the entrance of the omnipotent, omnipresent, eternal God of creation into finite human flesh. We cannot comprehend the mechanics of such a miracle; we can only believe God’s Word.
1:35 holy thing. It is striking that the embryonic Jesus in Mary’s womb must be called “that holy thing”—not “the babe” or “the child” or something else. There is no human word to fit. Actually the word “thing” is not in the original—just “the holy,” or perhaps “the holy [One].”
1:35 Son of God. Thus Mary was the very first to hear the words “the Son of God” as applied to that Holy One who would enter her womb.
1:36 thy cousin Elisabeth. Since Elisabeth was descended from Aaron (Luke 1:5), and therefore of the tribe of Levi, and Mary was descended from David, and thus of the tribe of Judah (see note on Luke 3:23), the two were “cousins” by way of marriage of siblings of their respective parents. Actually the Greek word translated “cousin” here means simply “kinsman” or “kinfolk,” and is so translated several times. The relationship would not necessarily have been that of first cousins.
1:37 impossible. Literally: “No word of God can fail.”
1:41 filled with the Holy Ghost. Elisabeth was the second to be filled with the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:15). The babe in her womb, later to be known as John the Baptist, already filled with the Spirit, leaped for joy when he heard Mary’s voice (Luke 1:44). This proves beyond question that a babe in a woman’s womb is already a true human being, capable of emotional expression—joy in this case. Thus abortion is nothing less than taking a human life. As she was filled with the Spirit, Elisabeth also somehow knew that the fruit of Mary’s womb, not yet born, nevertheless was “[her] Lord” (Luke 1:43).
1:46 magnify the Lord. This beautiful hymn, or poem, of Mary’s is known as The Magnificat. Many of its thoughts are similar to those in Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving at the birth of Samuel (I Samuel 2:1-10). The latter prayer contains the first mention of Messiah in the Bible, as the very last words of Hannah’s song (“His anointed”—I Samuel 2:10).
1:47 my Saviour. Mary thus acknowledged her need of a Savior, whether or not she fully realized that this would indeed be the babe in her womb. She knew that, with all her virtues and godliness, she was not sinless and thus needed salvation. She realized that God would somehow accomplish this and that her babe would be essential in this plan.
1:67 filled with the Holy Ghost. Zacharias is thus the third person in the New Testament said to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:15, 41). His prophetic poem (Luke 1:68-79) has been called the Benedictus.
1:70 since the world began. Note that Zacharias, prophesying under divine inspiration (Luke 1:67), said that God’s holy prophets have been predicting the coming of the Savior, not just since man has been on the earth, but “since the world began.” There is no room in true history for the alleged 4.6 billion years between the time the world began and man appeared, as evolutionists have tried to persuade people. See also Mark 10:6, Acts 3:21, etc. God’s purpose was the creation and redemption of man, and He did not need billions of years of cruel and wasteful evolutionary meandering to accomplish this. The only reason He took six days was to set the pattern for man’s six-day work week.
1:77 knowledge of salvation. The preaching of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for Christ (Luke 1:76). In addition, his preaching was true Christian evangelism, for it gave “knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins.”
1:78 dayspring. The “dayspring” is the sunrise, the figure corresponding to Psalm 19:4-5, and speaks of Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12), coming from heaven to dispel the darkness of this world.
1:80 in the deserts. Despite his priestly station, John (like Elijah) stayed in the desert in preparation for his brief but fruitful ministry just before Christ was to begin His.