Luke’s Gospel is the only Gospel that is part of a two volume work. The second volume is the book of Acts.
Luke is almost certainly a Gentile believer, who had, according to sections in the book of Acts, travelled at times with the Apostle Paul (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16). He is described as a doctor (Colossians 4:14) and this fits with his careful descriptions of medical issues. He relates the infancy narratives around the pregnancies of Elizabeth and Mary, which point to an author with medical understanding. Some have suggested that he comes from Troas, since the passages where Luke uses ‘we’ in the book of Acts, begin in Troas suggesting that Luke joins Paul and his friends there (Acts 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1–28:16).
Luke’s Gospel is the only one that is addressed to an individual, a man named Theophilus. He is called ‘most excellent’ which is wording often used for a Roman government official. Luke states his concern that Theophilus might know with certainty that the Christian faith was based upon events that Luke had researched. Theophilus has been instructed in the faith, and though we cannot be sure whether he believes this, it does seem likely. It also seems probable that Theophilus was in Rome. Some have suggested that Theophilus has provided money for Luke to do the research for his Gospel, and the book of Acts.
But clearly Luke intends that the Gospel has a wider Gentile readership, than just one individual. It is certainly written in a way that would help Gentiles unfamiliar with some Jewish terms make sense of the events surrounding the life of Jesus.
To determine the date of Luke, we need to take into account the date of Acts, the second volume. It would seem from the end of the book of Acts, that Paul was still awaiting a trial. If Paul was released, as seems likely, and is eventually executed in the mid-60s AD, Acts was probably written around 62AD and so Luke before then, if not around the same time.
Why has Luke written this Gospel for Theophilus? Some have suggested that Theophilus may have been a lawyer involved with Paul’s trial in Rome, and so the Gospel with the book of Acts, were part of an explanation of the faith of Christianity which was intended to provide a pre-trial brief for the Apostle Paul.
But of course the presentation of the life of Jesus is intended for all people, and especially those coming to faith in Jesus, from a Gentile background, like Luke. Luke wants all people everywhere to know that Jesus is who He said He was, the Saviour of the world and that we can know with assurance that our faith is founded on events that have changed the history of the world.
Why read it?
Its concern for truth
Luke was committed to investigating the facts concerning the life of Jesus. His Gospel is made up of eye witness testimony. You can be sure that your faith is based on actual events, not just stories, and in particular of course, the resurrection of Jesus.
Its portrayal of Jesus
The four Gospels each have a particular emphasis. Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man, who was rejected by Israel, and offered to the Gentiles. In this presentation, Jesus is seen as the Saviour of the whole world.
Its concern for Outsiders
Luke is especially concerned for those considered outsiders in Israel: the poor (16:19-31); the outcasts (17:11-19; 18:7-14); women (7:36-50, 10:38-42); children (9:46-48, 18:15-17). If you feel that you don’t fit, for whatever reason, be assured that the Gospel is for you too.
Its focus on the Holy Spirit
Luke records many mentions of the Holy Spirit. At birth: 1:15,17,35,41,67; 2:25-27; when Jesus was baptised (3:21-23) and starts His ministry (4:18-19) and as a gift to those who ask (11:13). The Holy Spirit can be at work in your life if you ask Him.
There are many parables that Jesus told which only appear in Luke; perhaps best known are the Good Samaritan (10:29-37) and the Prodigal Son (15:11-32). Parables can be tricky to work out, but make you think.
Its focus on the final week
Many have seen parallels between the ways in which Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem is parallel to that of Paul to Rome. The turning point in the Gospel is found in 9:51, ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem’. The rest of the Gospel is concerned with Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and His trial, execution and resurrection in that city. Note how Jesus has time for all people, even as He nears the time of His death.
|3:1-4:13||Preparing for ministry|
|4:14-9:50||Jesus’ ministry in Galilee|
|9:51-19:27||The journey to Jerusalem|
|19:28-21:38||Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem|
|22:1-23:56a||Events surrounding the death of Jesus|
|23:56b-24:53||The Resurrection and Ascension|