Luke opened his Gospel in a scholarly fashion.  Writing to Theophilus he said:

“Many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as the original eyewitnesses and servants of the word handed them down to us.  It also seemed good to me, since I have carefully investigated everything from the very first, to write to you in orderly sequence…so that you may know the certainty of the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1.1-4).  

Luke’s research included the ministry of John the Baptist, together with the political and religious leaders of the day, the genealogical records of Israel, and the events of Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee.  He was an acute historian, the kind of person who had the ability to see how events from the past cohere and provide conclusions for the present.  In these chapters Luke labored to detail that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, the Messiah who would extend His favor even to the Gentiles.

Luke stabilized the faith of his readers by anchoring his account of John the Baptist in the historical situation of the day, naming the Caesar, the governor of Judea, leaders of the various regions in Israel, and even the high priests (3.1-2)!  While these leaders were exerting their authority, John the Baptist exhorted his wilderness audience to submit to God’s authority.  Like the other Gospel writers (cf. Mt 3.1-6//Mark 1.2-6//John 1.19-23), Luke understood John’s ministry to fulfill the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!  Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, and everyone will see the salvation of God’” (cf. Isa 40.3-5).  According to John the Baptist, the salvation of God was concomitant with fruitful living—like generosity to those in need, and fair government/business practices—as opposed to simply claiming a lineage to Abraham (3.7-14).  John’s teaching was so profound that many thought he was in fact the Messiah; but he set the record straight: “I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3.16).  Herod the tetrarch was offended when John told him that he should not have his brother’s wife, and had the Baptist thrown into prison (3.19-20).

According to Luke, John the Baptist was sent to announce the coming of the Messiah, the Son of God:

  1. Israel’s genealogical records testified to Jesus’ Sonship (3.21-38).  Luke inserted his account of Jesus’ genealogy immediately after His baptism so as to verify the descent of the dove and the voice from heaven; Jesus’ Sonship was not entirely dependent on these supernatural events, for history itself bore witness to the reality that Jesus was the Son of God.  Luke’s record goes against traditional patterns, presenting the genealogy in reverse order.  Further, though Luke’s list parallels Matthew’s from Abraham to David (Matt 1.2-6), Luke traces Jesus’ line from David’s son Nathan (3.30) not Solomon (Matt 1.6), thus completely bypassing the list of Judah’s kings.  It may be that Luke determined the unique needs of his audience, and conveniently overlooked the unfortunate history of those who came after the great king David.  In any case, Luke was writing primarily to Gentiles, Matthew to Jews; the former wished his audience to understand that Jesus had come for all of humanity, descending from the first man, the first “son of God,” Adam (3.38)
  2. Jesus’ victory over Satan manifested the true nature of His Sonship (4.1-13).  While tempting Jesus to satisfy His hunger, and display His glory from the top of the temple, Satan based his appeal on Jesus’ status as “the Son of God” (vv. 3, 9).  That He was—a reality that prevented Him from giving in to Satan’s snare.  As God’s Son, Jesus knew His mission would end in glory, but that glory was the result of the cross, not showing off at the Devil’s request
  3. The people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, rejected His divine Sonship (4.14-30).  Though Jesus was led by the Spirit to the northern region of Galilee, the people from Nazareth could not get beyond the fact that He was merely “Joseph’s son” (v. 22).  Despite the fact that Jesus boldly claimed to have fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy of the good news, saying, “Today as you listen this Scripture has been fulfilled” (v. 21), Jesus went on to confess that “No prophet is accepted in his hometown” (v. 24).  He proposed that just as God withheld blessing from Israel—because of their callous unbelief and idolatry—during the days of Elijah and Elisha, His Messianic favor would be hidden from many in Israel during His time.  This prospect so enraged the synagogue crowd in Nazareth, that “They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff” (v. 29)
  4. The exorcised demons confessed Jesus as the Son of God (4.31-41).  While the crowds that gathered at the synagogue in Capernaum marveled at Jesus’ authoritative instruction, the height of their spiritual inquiry reached only to the level of asking, “What is this message?” (v. 36); it was the demonic spirit who cried out, “Leave us alone!  What do You have to do with us, Jesus—Nazarene?  Have You come to destroy us?  I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (v. 34).  When the crowds brought the demon possessed to Jesus at Simon’s house in Capernaum, the spirits made a similar confession: “You are the Son of God!” (v. 41a); Luke narrated that, “they knew He was the Messiah” (v. 41b)

The references to the Old Testament in Luke 3-4 are texts formative for the storyline of Scripture.  These authenticate Jesus as the devoted Son of God, and the Messiah of Israel—whose favor extended to the nations:

  1. In Luke 3.4-6, Luke proposed that the ministry of John the Baptist accorded Isaiah’s prophecy of a voice crying in the wilderness, one who would prepare the way for Messiah (40.3-5).  The Evangelist noted that John didn’t take up the call to ministry on his own, but rather “God’s word came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (3.2).  John prepared the way for the Messiah by filling the valleys, leveling the mountains, straightening the cooked paths, and smoothing the rough ways—all metaphorical descriptions of his preaching, that which was so contrary to the standard fare of his day.  The way of the Lord was in righteousness and justice, mercy and truth, and John was sent to get the people ready for Him, the One who would baptize not with water but “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (3.16)
  2. Luke 3.23-38 records the genealogy of Jesus in such a way as to highlight His Messianic status, the anointed Son of God descended through the line of Abraham.  The birth record of Jesus demonstrates that His coming had an historical significance, bringing to culmination the plight of humanity that began with Adam.  Sin had dominated the human situation from generation to generation, but of Jesus the voice from heaven said, “You are My beloved Son.  I take delight in You!” (3.22).  
  3. In Luke 4.1-12, Jesus employed the Old Testament to rebuke Satan in the day of His temptation.  While Israel, God’s son (Exod 4.22), failed in their wilderness temptations (Exodus 16, 17, 32; Numbers 13-14), Jesus was victorious.  At each point of temptation, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6-8—Moses’ injunction for Israel to obey God in faithfulness.  Interestingly, Jesus didn’t rebuke Satan based upon His powerful status as Messiah, quoting Psalm 2, 45 or 110, but rather upon His humble attitude as Son, One utterly devoted to God the Father.  Where Israel faltered in faithfulness to God, Jesus, “full of the Holy Spirit” (4.1), excelled in loyalty to Him
  4. In Luke 4.18-19, Jesus announced that Isa 61.1-2, a text describing Messiah, was fulfilled in Him.  Having returned to the region of Galilee following the temptation experience in the Judean wilderness, Luke records that Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth, and “As usual, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read” (4.16).  He found Isa 61.1-2 and read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4.18-19).  Sadly though, the people of His hometown—His own Jewish people—rejected Him (cf. John 1.11).  In Jesus’ mind, their rejection would not thwart His mission, but expand it.  Just as Elijah and Elisha performed significant acts of God’s favor outside the bounds of Israel (Luke 4.26-27), so He would extend Messianic promise to the Gentiles (cf. Romans 9-11)

*For a complete list of references, please see