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LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


M.Turner comments on the opening of Luke's Gospel: "Like a blast of joyful trumpets, Lk.1:5 - 2:52 sounds a theological fanfare to herald the themes which will make more measured and stately progress through the rest of Luke-Acts". [1] This observation invites a careful study of the opening chapters of Luke (chapters 1-3). The Gospel centres on the person and work of Christ, while featuring the person and ministry of the Spirit.  The evangelist interweaves the activity of the Spirit into the life of Christ right from the very beginning of his Gospel.


The infancy narratives, which are unique to Luke, make us conscious of the activity of the Holy Spirit at a special time in history.  He moves in the lives of people to bring about God's purposes.  We are also made aware of the uniqueness of Jesus and his titles.  Jesus is introduced as true man, Saviour, Messiah, Lord and Son of God.  His link with John the Baptist makes us aware of Jesus as a prophet - and the Prophet (see Jn.1:45; Dt.18:18-19). [2]

The promise to Zechariah and Elizabeth (1:1-25)
The story of Jesus opens with the prophecy of the birth of his cousin, John.  Gabriel promised:

He will be great in the sight of the Lord... he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God.  And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (1:15-17).

The point is made that God's work can only be accomplished with God's help.  The reference to Elijah is a reminder of those OT charismatic characters who worked effectively for God.

Gabriel's message to Mary (1:26-38)
Angels feature in major events in Luke-Acts.  Here Gabriel brings God's word to Mary:

You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be", Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (1:31-35).

The virgin conception and birth is made possible by the Spirit (1:35).  Mary is to have a son (cf. Isa.7:14), and was to called him Jesus (1:31, Gk. Iēsous; Heb. yehōšua or yēšűa, Yahweh saves).  Mary's son would be the Messiah (2 Sam.7:12-14; cf., Psa.2:7; 88:26f.), but he would not be an earthly Messiah adopted by God as his Son - he would be the Son of God in a unique sense.  The Messianic kingdom would be an everlasting kingdom – God's final kingdom.

Elizabeth's response to Mary's visit (1:39-45)
The stories of the births of John and Jesus include special utterances of thanksgiving and praise.  As Elizabeth greeted Mary her cousin, her unborn baby moved and she was filled with the Spirit! With a loud cry (Gk. kraugē) she prophesied, confirming in poetic language the angelic message given to Mary.  Mary is to be the mother of the Messiah.  Jesus is described as ho kurios (the Lord (cf. Jn.20:28; Psa.110:1).

Mary prophesies (1:46-56)
Mary's poetic reply (known as the Magnificat) opens with the words, "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" and echoes OT praise, for example, as found in Hannah's psalm (1 Sam.2:1-10).  Mary acknowledges her need of a Saviour.  She is the Lord's slave-girl (1:38; Gk.doulē).  Mary's words also reflect the songs of redemption at the Exodus (Ex.15:1-21).

The birth of John and Zechariah's prophecy (1:57-80)
The prophetic word given to Zechariah came to pass at the birth of John.  Zechariah's Spirit-inspired utterance (the Benedictus: vv.67-79) compares with Mary's hymn.  His son John would be the prophet of the Most High.  There are words of salvation, redemption, forgiveness and mercy in his prophecy.

The birth of Jesus (2:1-7)
Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem Judah for the purpose of tax registration (vv.1-5).  Here Mary gave birth to her firstborn - Jesus.  The place of maternity may have been an ordinary house (Gk. kataluma) or an outhouse to an inn (vv.6-7).  The point is made that Jesus was born in obscurity and poverty - he was not born in the royal palace. [3]

The appearance to the shepherds (2:8-20)
The whole story of the appearance to the shepherds is pregnant with theological overtones.  Luke's interest in angels is continued.  The worshipping angels (see Heb.1:6) announce the birth of a Saviour - Christ the Lord (v.11).  The dénouement is to shepherds - a despised class (and perhaps Gentiles).  "Good news of great joy" (v.10) anticipates the preaching of the gospel and its results.

The presentation of Jesus in the temple (2:21-40)
Luke records how Joseph and Mary had Jesus circumcised and named (v.21).  Jesus was born under the law (Gal.4:4).  At his presentation in the temple at Jerusalem [4] Simeon and Anna met the holy family. 

Notice the relationship of the Holy Spirit to Simeon.  The Spirit was "upon" him, gave him revelation and prompted him to go into the temple.  His Spirit-inspired prophecy spoke of a universal salvation (vv.28-32).  The destiny of the Christ-child is vividly given in v.34.  Anna, a prophetess, confirmed Simeon's word of prophecy. She gave thanks to God and spoke of "the redemption of Jerusalem", that is, the deliverance the Messiah would bring to Israel. [5]

Jesus in the temple at the age of twelve (2:41-52)
Again, unique to Luke's Gospel is the record of Jesus' coming of age and his presence in the temple at Passover time. [6] It is a very important passage.  His words, "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house" reveal Jesus' filial awareness at an early age. [7] Luke records the surprise of the rabbis, Jesus' parents, and Jesus himself.  Consider the Lord's submission to his parents and the law (see Mt.5:17; Gal.4:4).


The life and ministry of John the Baptist is important for Israel, and for the introduction of the Messiah.  As a Spirit-filled prophet he is a great man - but Luke is careful to show that he is not greater than the One whose way he came to prepare.

The ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-19)
Luke's portrayal of John's fits the prediction "he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (1:17).  Uniquely, John was full of the Holy Spirit from birth (Lk.1:15).  His public ministry and righteous denunciation of Herod the tetrarch (3:19) is reminiscent of the OT classical prophets.

The important relationship between John and Jesus is noted by all the four Gospels (Mt.3:1-17; Mk.1:4-11; Lk.3:1-22; Jn.1:6-36).  Luke, like the other Synoptics, sees John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah promised in Scripture.  The four Gospels quote Isaiah 40:3, but Luke adds verse four from the LXX: "And all mankind will see God's salvation" (Mt.3:3; Mk.1:2-3; Jn.1:23; cf. Lk.3:4-6). [8] The Gospel of John informs us that the ministries of John and Jesus overlapped (see Jn.3:22-23; 4:1-2).  Jesus had the highest regard for the Baptist (Lk.7:24-28).

John the Baptist saw himself as the Messiah's herald.  He witnessed: "I baptise with water.  But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Lk.3:16).  The words are significant (Luke cites them again at the commencement of the second part of his work as a saying of Jesus (Acts 1:5)) The words underline a difference between the ministry of Jesus and the Baptist - the words, "he will baptise with the Holy Spirit" indicating a ministry with a deeper spiritual dimension, or a supernatural ministry as "John did no miracle" (Jn.10:41).  It indicates a common denominator between the two other ministries, that of Jesus and the church, their common source of power and authority was the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). [9] Jesus is also recognised as the bearer of the Spirit and someone with a special mission. [10]

John's question about Jesus (7:18-23; cf. Mt.11:2-6)
While he was in prison John questioned the identity of Jesus.  He sent two of his disciples to Jesus, who was ministering to "many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits".  They asked the question, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" The Lord's reply reflects his announcement in the synagogue at Nazareth:

Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor (v.22).

Jesus demonstrated his messiahship by his word and works (see 4:18-19; cf. Isa.61:1-2; Acts 1:1-2). P.J.Achtemeier notes that the question was posed by the Baptist because of the deeds of Jesus, in Luke's case of two miracles - the healing of the centurion's servant and the raising of the widow of Nain's son (7:1-17). [11] Achtemeier says: "Jesus performed a variety of miracles and then told John's disciples to report on what they had seen and heard (in Matthew, on what they "hear and see"). Clearly, miracles will answer the question of who Jesus is, and hence they have the power of validating his claims about himself". [12]


The infancy narratives are alive with charismatic or prophetic activity, and their stories are expressed in the language of Judaism and the OT.  This has led a number of recent scholars to speak of the Spirit as the Spirit of prophecy.  The activity of the Spirit throughout Luke and Acts, it is said, may be seen in the Spirit-given revelation, guidance and utterance.

R.Stronstad sees a programmatic anticipation in the infancy narratives - he says they introduce themes which are developed through the Gospel into Acts.  He comments:

In the infancy narrative John, Elizabeth, and Zacharias are filled with the Holy Spirit.  This is programmatic for the gift of the Spirit in Acts, beginning with the disciples on the day of Pentecost and ending with the disciples at Iconium (Acts 2:4; 13:52).  This outburst of charismatic activity is also paradigmatic, for just as it means "prophetic inspiration" in the infancy narrative, it also means "prophetic inspiration" in the Acts. [13]


1. Compare the opening of the Gospel with that of the Acts.  Is it true to say that both their opening chapters are stamped with the hallmark of the Spirit?

2. Study the parallel stories of Samuel in the OT and Jesus in the Gospel of Luke as presented by C.A.Evans. [14] What can we learn from this study?

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