NOTE: This introduction is much longer than the other introductions since it introduces two books that comprise nearly one-fourth of the New Testament.
Luke’s Gospel presents an “orderly account” of Jesus’ birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection. Fundamentally, it answers these questions: Who is Jesus? What has He done? How should a follower of Jesus live the life of faith?
It’s all about Jesus, and He is the hero of both Luke and Acts! In Luke’s Gospel, Luke explains to Theophilus what’s involved for those who trust in Jesus Christ and seek to continue the journey of faithful discipleship through both its joys and trials.
Acts continues the rescue story that Luke began.
Luke and Acts were meant to be read together. Originally, they were one book, two volumes of a single history. Probably writing from Rome around 60 A.D., Luke explains to Theophilus and others how it is that God has worked out His plan through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Luke also explains how God continues that plan after Jesus’ crucifixion through the person of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus has sent to live among His followers.
In Acts, we pick up the story of these followers as they gather into local churches that reflect the character of God through their love for each other and their proclamation of the gospel to all people.
Luke-Acts is about how God the Father fulfilled His promise to bring salvation through Jesus Christ to rebellious, needy people. It’s also about God’s plan that Jesus’ followers announce this good news to everyone, both Jew and Gentile.
Luke also seems to emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling ordinary disciples—not just apostles—to live as Jesus’ ambassadors, evangelizing with boldness and expectation for God to act. As you read, pay close attention to how God intervenes miraculously at crucial junctures, especially when the gospel enters a new territory or people group.
As the Holy Spirit accompanies the showing and telling of the gospel, it is as though Jesus is present, demanding a response and even insisting that all people turn from their sin to gladly embrace His righteous rule and reign.
Jesus is the Rescuer Israel was anticipating!
In the Gospel of Luke, we quickly discover Jesus as the promised Savior King sent by God to rescue His people. But Luke also helps us see Jesus as a divisive person whose teachings and Lordship were refused by men; as a result, they would be judged by God and excluded from eternal life.
Old Testament Background for Luke-Acts and the New Testament
The Old Testament is important for understanding Luke-Acts. The Bible says that from the foundations of the world, God planned to both rescue His people for something greater than Eden’s peaceful existence and to establish His Son, Jesus, as King over His people (Ephesians 1:3-10). We read in the Bible how God implements this plan in His own way, in His own time, for His own chosen people, and for His own glory.
Luke begins his Gospel by describing the events surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth. God had not spoken to Israel for nearly 500 years; in other words, it had been 500 years since the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, had been written.
In Luke’s first chapters, we read that God is about to rescue His people from their enemies, just like he’d promised in the Old Testament. At both the beginning (Luke 1-4, esp. 1:17, 32, 55, 69-73, 3:4-6, 4:18-21) and the end (Luke 24:44-49) of his Gospel, Luke writes that Jesus’ life, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection are the fulfillment of what God had promised in the Old Testament.
From the beginning, God sought to rescue His people so they would lovingly serve Him in holiness and happiness. As God’s eternal Son, it is Jesus who was God’s appointed Savior, the One who rescued God’s people and sent the Holy Spirit to transform them into faithful followers who gladly live with God as King.
At the thematic center of both Luke and Acts is both the rescue of God’s people through the person and work of Jesus and the creation of God’s multi-ethnic church through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit. As you read, it’s important to keep in mind the Old Testament promises of salvation and rescue. Luke has these promises in mind but alludes to them only briefly, most likely because they would have been so well known in that day, even to Theophilus.
The four Gospels are the authoritative testimony of the apostles to the life of Jesus. They were written, according to John, in order that we might believe in Him and be saved (John 20:31). They were also written so we might know what Jesus was like and how He lived, because we are to be imitators of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:1). The Gospels are a kind of specialized biography written to explain the most important periods of Jesus’ life. You’ll notice very little is said of Jesus’ childhood or life prior to His public ministry that began around age 30. The Gospels are mostly a “biography” of Jesus’ final three years. They don’t answer every question we have about Jesus, but they do tell us all we need to know!
Each Gospel presents a portrait of Jesus that complements the other three. The Holy Spirit inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to include or omit features of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching to give us a fuller picture of the Savior. Matthew, Mark, and Luke gradually show us who Jesus is as the Son of God, the Messiah sent from God to be the Savior of the world.
John’s Gospel starts differently by describing Jesus as the eternal Word and then showing us through various signs and “I AM” statements that Jesus is the innocent God-Man who dies in the place of sinners and then rises again to appear to His disciples.
All four Gospels assume and teach that Jesus has come to fulfill the Old Testament promises and that Jesus is the promised Messiah sent from God come to earth, the One who will also come again at a future date at the end of history.
In interpreting and applying the four Gospels:
Let Jesus be the Hero. Remember that the main point of the four Gospels is to create and strengthen faith in Jesus. Interpret everything in that light.
Keep it in context. Always interpret everything in context. What comes before and after a given passage is important. So is the overall flow of the book. It’s also important to remember that Jesus comes to fulfill God’s promises to Israel. This is the historical context in which we must read the Gospels: God sends Jesus to fulfill God’s promises to Israel by rescuing ruined and rebellious people and to create something new: a worldwide, multi-ethnic people of God, His church.
Parables usually have a punch line. Parables were Jesus’ most frequent form of teaching. They are stories that work a little bit like jokes or stories with a moral. Usually, a parable’s punch line comes at the end. Some of Jesus’ hearers get the parable; some don’t. Jesus was a master teacher, and it seems He chose parables for that reason.
Parables, by and large, aren’t allegories, and we should never read anything into the parables of Jesus that is not evident in the text. In many cases, Jesus Himself interprets the parables, and when He does, His interpretation is what the parable means—no more and no less. On occasion, He turns the parable into an allegory, with a point of meaning assigned to each element in the story; when He does, that’s what the parable means. Usually, however, we should look for the point or points that Jesus is making in the context of the larger story of the Gospel.
We should not impose anything on the parable that’s not found in the context, and we should not press the details of the story that fall outside the main point or points being made.
In the Gospels, most people around Jesus got it all wrong. There are occasional exceptions—like Mary in the story of Mary and Martha—but these exceptions are rare. Don’t assume we’re meant to follow the examples of those around Jesus, unless they match a clear point of teaching.
He is risen! Read everything in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The end of the story casts its light back on everything that comes before.
Two questions to ask: When you read the Gospels, you probably won’t go wrong if you focus on asking these two questions:
- What does this passage teach me about Jesus?
- What does this passage teach me about becoming and being a disciple of Jesus? (And what kind of people Jesus saves!)
28 Simeon took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word;30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.
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