Like Matthew’s Gospel, the initial scenes of Luke are steeped in Old Testament motifs.  Luke, known as a physician (Col 4.14), was also an avid historian and scholar.  He composed an account of the life of Jesus only after interacting with the primary-source material of Jewish history and eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (1.1-3).  Luke was not merely an academic in this sense—he wrote to inform his friend Theophilus, most likely a younger Greek Christian, in order to fortify his faith ( 1.4).  While the Gospel of Luke is the first of a two-volume work concluded by the book of Acts, one should consider this first book as biography; even from the brief preface in chapter one (vv. 1-4), the reader gets the feeling that they are embarking on an historical journey through the life of one loved by the writer—who wishes the reader to join him in his affection.  Toward this end, it may be helpful to notice that the infancy prologue is arranged so as to show the fruits of Luke’s research and provide witnesses for Jesus’ birth (chs 1-2):

  1. The Angel Gabriel was sent to witness that the days of fulfillment had dawned (ch 1).  Often overlooked in the infancy accounts, the messages of the heavenly witness provide the structure for the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  Initially Gabriel appeared to the priest Zechariah, telling the righteous man that his prayer had been answered and his wife Elizabeth would have a son (vv. 5-17).  The one born to Zechariah the priest would fulfill Malachi’s prophecy that the Day of the LORD would be inaugurated by one coming to prepare His way (Mal 4.5-6).  Gabriel confirmed his witness to Zechariah by making him mute until the latter witnessed that his son should be named John (vv. 18-23, 61-66).  A short time later Gabriel was sent to inform Mary of her special place in redemptive history; she would give birth to Messiah (vv. 26-38)!  Though she had not known a man, she would conceive: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (v. 35).  Gabriel confirmed his witness to Mary by informing her that her older cousin Elizabeth would soon give birth as well (v. 36-37).  The balance of the chapter records the witness of those who received witness; both Mary and Zechariah proclaimed in public what they had received in secret from Gabriel.  While volumes could be written unpacking the details of Mary’s song and Zechariah’s priestly prophecy, both have a common theme: Jesus was the Messiah sent to deliver Israel, the descendants of Abraham (v. 55), from her enemies (vv. 71, 74), and provide salvation through forgiveness of sins (vv. 77-79).  Thus, it is doubtful that Luke was unaware of the Hebrew prophets, like Zechariah and Malachi; his Gospel is a natural fulfillment of their writings
  2. Many human witnesses attested to Messiah’s birth (2.1-40).  Beyond the superior angelic witness of Gabriel, an unnamed angel informed a group of shepherds, social outcasts, that Messiah had been born (vv. 8-11).  He confirmed his prophecy to the shepherds with two signs: the information that they would in fact find the baby “wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a manger” (v. 12), and an accompanying angelic choir—who sang: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!” (v. 14). Luke wished to verify Messiah’s birth; documenting the angelic announcement to the lowly shepherds would advance his cause, but perhaps not completely.  He went on to present the testimony of Simeon and Anna (vv. 25-38), two more reputable witnesses—whose collective statements would be troublesome to refute.  Simeon announced that, having seen the Child who would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to…Israel” (v. 32), he was now ready to die (v. 29)!  Anna too took notice, “and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38)
  3. Jesus testified that He was the Son of God (2.41-52).  The early years of Jesus’ life were directed by the law of the Lord (v. 39)—which required Jews to attend the annual Passover Festival in Jerusalem (v. 41).  When He was twelve years old, Jesus stayed behind in the temple—unbeknownst to His parents who though him traveling along in their caravan back to Nazareth (vv. 42-44).  In the temple complex, Jesus was listening to the teachers, and asking them questions (v. 46)—but He must have been answering some questions too, for Luke reports that “all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers” (v. 47).  It was then that those in His hearing, and even His parents, were informed of His special relationship with the Father (vv. 49-50)

The first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are an orchestral arrangement of witnesses proclaiming that the promises and hopes of the Old Testament pointed in the direction of the child born to Mary and Joseph.  Luke recorded for Theophilus the solo performances of the angel Gabriel, Mary the mother of Jesus, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, and Simeon and Anna in the temple complex, in order to point out the fact that their proclamations resounded of the same themes—as if they were all reading the same musical score.  They understood Jesus from a distinctly Old Testament point-of-view; they were following the storyline of Scripture:

  1. The angel Gabriel employed Old Testament motifs—from the law, the writings, and the prophets—to explain the roles of John the Baptist and Jesus.  In Luke 1.13-17 the heavenly messenger described John as a Nazarite, one who would avoid strong drink (v. 15; cf. Num 6.3; 1 Samuel 1-2).  He also proclaimed that the prophecies of Malachi had reached their fulfillment in John, the one who would “turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God…go before Him (the Messiah) in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children…to make ready for the Lord a prepared people” (Luke 1.16-17; cf. Isa 40.3; Mal 3.1-6; 4.5-6).  Luke records that Gabriel later visited the virgin Mary, announcing to her that she would miraculously conceive, and bear a Son who would sit on the throne of David (Luke 1.30-33, 35).  The angelic proclamation is a conflation of Isa 7.14, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel;” Isa 9.6-7, “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on his shoulders.  He will be named Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace…He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom…from now on and forever;” and 2 Sam 7.12-13, the LORD’s promise to David that his lineage would rule in Israel for eternity
  2. Mary’s song of praise resembles the Song of Hannah and the Psalms, and reflects generally upon upon the Abrahamic covenant.  In Luke 1.46-55 Mary responded to the announcement of Elizabeth with a song of praise to the Lord.  Like Hannah before her (1 Sam 2.1-10), Mary was a humble woman who had been favored with conception and her song of thanksgiving/praise is reflects themes of victory in Psalms 34, 35, 89, 99, 100, 103, 107, and 118.  Ultimately she understood that the miraculous conception was consistent with the way God had acted toward Israel in the past, recalling the blessings “to Abraham and his descendants” (v. 55).  The God who had been faithful to fulfill His promises of land and lineage had acted again (cf. Genesis 12, 15; Exodus 4-15; Josh 21.43-45)
  3. After Zechariah announced that his son would be named John, he prophesied of Israel’s salvation in terms consistent with the Old Testament.  In Luke 1.67-79, Luke records the prophetic praise of Zechariah, who defined the Lord as, “the God of Israel,” the One who had “visited and provided redemption for His people” (v. 68).  His joy concerned not only the fact his son would be the one who would go before the Lord, preparing His ways (v. 76; cf. Isa 40.3; Mal 3.1; 4.5-6), but even more so because of the birth of his nephew, the One who would bring Israel deliverance from their enemies (vv. 70-79; cf. Isaiah 53, 60-66; Micah 7; Malachi 3)
  4. In the temple complex Simeon uttered prophetic praise concerning Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles, and to Israel (Luke 2.28-32).  Simeon’s proclamation reflects Isa 9.2: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned;” Isa 42.6-7a: “I, the LORD, have called you for a righteous purpose…I make you a covenant for the people and a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeons;” and Isa 49.6: “It is not enough for you to be My servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel.  I will also make you a light for the nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.”  
  5. Anna the prophetess proclaimed the birth of Jesus to all who were looking for the salvation of Jerusalem (Luke 2.38).  She understood Jesus as the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophetic themes—like those found in Zephaniah, “Sing for joy, Daughter Zion; shout loudly, Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!  The LORD has removed your punishment; He has turned back your enemy.  The King of Israel, the LORD, is among you” (Zeph 3.14-15a; cf. Rev 21.1-3); and Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout in triumph, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your King is coming to you; He is righteous and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9.9; cf. Matt 21.5; John 12.15)

*For a complete list of references, please see