1 Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. – Luke 1:1-4 ESV
We are about to embark on a study of the longest book in the New Testament. It bears the name of the man who is believed to have been its author. Luke was either a Gentile or a Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) Jew. In his letter to the churches in Colossae, The apostle Paul informs his readers that Luke was a physician by trade (Colossians 4:14). And while Luke was not an apostle of Jesus, he had close relationships with some of those who were, including Paul. He used his access to these men to conduct interviews and gather information so that he could compile an “an accurate account ” (Luke 1:3 NLT) of Jesus’ life and ministry.
Luke was not the first to attempt such an ambitious and daunting undertaking. He readily admits that “Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1 NLT). Of course, we know that Matthew and Mark both produced records of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and together with Luke’s account, they comprise what are known as the Synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” simply means “together sight” and refers to the many similarities found in these three books. They each record the life of Jesus, including many of the same stories and following a common timeline. Each author provided his own particular writing style and had a specific audience in mind when compiling his book.
Luke makes it clear that he had penned his gospel account with one person in mind, a man named Theophilus. And this would not be the only book Luke wrote to his friend and fellow believer. The book of Acts, also written by Luke, was addressed to this same individual.
In my first book I told you, Theophilus, about everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he was taken up to heaven after giving his chosen apostles further instructions through the Holy Spirit. During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. – Acts 1:1-3 NLT
In this passage, Luke clarifies that his purpose for writing his gospel account was to record everything that Jesus began to do and teach while He was on this earth. He begins with the incarnation of Jesus and ends with His ascension. And Luke painstakingly researches and records the many events that transpired between those two paradigm-shifting moments in human history.
Evidently, Theophilus was of Greek origin and his name meant “friend of God.” It would appear that he was a rather recent convert to Christianity and had come out of a pagan religious background. Much of what Paul records in his gospel is intended to provide his young friend with proof of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. This young Greek convert to Christianity would have had little knowledge of Jewish history or the many references to the coming Messiah found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In a sense, Theophilus would have represented a highly educated and secularized Gentile audience who were lacking any understanding of Jesus’ identity as the Jewish Messiah and all that title entailed. Since coming to faith in Christ, Theophilus had been given instructions regarding Jesus’ identity and earthly ministry. But Luke wanted to make sure that his friend’s faith was based on solid evidence and not on some fictional, fairy tale story that mirrored the myths about the Greek gods.
Jesus was not the figment of someone’s fertile imagination. And He was far more than just a man who lived a moral life and left behind a good example to follow. He was the Son of God and, ultimately, the Savior of the world. Yes, He was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, but He was also the light to the nations. The prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming servant of God, who would one day restore rebellious Israel to a right relationship with God. But this same servant would shed the light of God’s glory and grace to the ends of the earth.
And now the Lord speaks—
the one who formed me in my mother’s womb to be his servant,
who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him.
The Lord has honored me,
and my God has given me strength.
He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me.
I will make you a light to the Gentiles,
and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:5-6 NLT
If you recall, this is exactly what Jesus commissioned His disciples to do before He ascended back into heaven. Luke recorded these fateful words of Jesus in the opening chapter of the book of Acts.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT
These men had listened to the words of their resurrected Lord and taken the good news to the ends of the earth. As a result, men and women like Theophilus had come to faith and begun the lifelong process of sanctification that followed their salvation. While Luke had not been a disciple of Jesus, he had taken His words to heart, following His instructions to go and make disciples of all the nations.
“I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 NLT
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke provided Theophilus with further instructions regarding the faith, while at the same time addressing the needs of a growing number of Gentile converts who were in need of solid teaching and reliable evidence about their Lord and Savior.
Little did Luke know that this letter, penned to his young friend, would become a part of the canon of Scripture. By God’s divine providence and through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, these carefully researched and well-crafted words have been preserved so that generations of Gentile converts to Christianity might grow up in their salvation. We owe this man a debt of gratitude for his willingness to research and write this powerful biography of the most seminal characters in all of human history: The Lord Jesus Christ.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.