Lesson 5 of 5
In Progress

Theological Themes in Luke

The ascension of Jesus

Luke is the only Gospel that includes a description of Jesus’ ascent into heaven (24:50-51), an event that Acts 1:6-11 also narrates but with significantly different details. At the ascension Jesus’ followers worship him (Luke 24:52), implying that they understand his coming as God’s own visitation (see 1:68, 78; 19:44). In Acts the ascension is connected with Jesus’ glorification by God and his role in sending the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:33-36; 3:19-21).

The Holy Spirit

Luke mentions the role of the Holy Spirit in connection to Jesus’ coming and his public ministry. The Spirit is active in the stories of Jesus’ and John’s births in Luke 1-2. Jesus’ ministry begins with announcements that the Spirit has ordained him to do the things he does (4:14-19). Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will assist his followers when they face accusations from authorities (12:11-12).

Jerusalem and the Temple

Jerusalem occupies an important position in Luke’s geography. The Gospel begins and concludes with scenes of people at worship in the Jerusalem Temple. Jesus laments the unfaithfulness that characterizes the city (13:33-35; 19:41-44), making Jerusalem come across as a kind of composite character or a symbol of misunderstanding God’s intentions, at least temporarily. While Matthew and Mark emphasize Galilee as the place for Jesus’ followers to meet him after his resurrection, in Luke they encounter the risen Lord in and near Jerusalem, where they are instructed to remain until the Holy Spirit comes.

Jesus the Lord

Luke frequently refers to Jesus as “the Lord.” Almost every time this title appears, it is spoken by the voice of the Gospel’s narrator. The same word is typically used to denote God in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

Jesus the Messiah/Christ

“Messiah” (Hebrew) and “Christ” (Greek) mean “anointed one” and so refer to Jesus’ identity as one anointed by God or designated for special tasks. Calling Jesus by this title identifies him as a deliverer sent by God to the people of Israel. The Gospel of Luke frequently ascribes this title to Jesus but describes Jesus using it in reference to himself only after his resurrection.

Jesus the Savior

Using terms that do not appear in Matthew or Mark (and hardly at all in John), Luke speaks of Jesus as the “Savior” who brings God’s “salvation” to the world. Salvation is not merely a synonym for forgiveness; it refers to a broader idea of rescue and deliverance. Throughout his life Jesus saves people in a variety of ways: he brings healing, forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration.

Jesus the Son of God

In the Gospels, references to Jesus as “Son of God” refer to his divinely sanctioned authority. In Luke, no human being definitively identifies Jesus by this name. Only supernatural beings (God, angels, demons, and the devil) do so.

Jesus the Son of Man

Jesus frequently uses the expression “the Son of Man” to indicate himself; no other character calls him by this name. In Luke, Jesus employs the title in contexts that clarify his identity and role, specifically as one who will suffer, one who has authority to conduct his ministry of deliverance, and one who will be vindicated when he returns in glory.


Many aspects of Luke and Acts suggest that these books attempt to make sense of the Gospel’s implications for Judaism and God’s relationship with the Jewish people. Although Jesus does make very severe statements about certain Jews (see, for example, Luke 11:48-51; 13:34-35), in no way does Luke suggest that a Gentile Christianity is meant to displace an obstinate Judaism. Luke recognizes Jesus as a divisive figure within Judaism. He speaks harsh criticisms (see 2:34-35; 12:49-53), but Jesus himself is also an expression of God’s commitment to the people and traditions of ancient Israel (see 1:67-73; 16:17).

The kingdom (reign) of God

All four Gospels describe Jesus talking about the kingdom (or “reign”) of God, which was probably the most prominent topic in Jesus’ teaching and preaching. The expression reflects language from the Old Testament declaring God’s royal authority and ruling activity. When Jesus announces the coming of God’s kingdom, he indicates that God’s rule extends throughout human society, transforming it and defeating any other powers that might claim to govern or control human lives and hearts.

Money and possessions

Several of Jesus’ parables and teachings in this Gospel warn against wealth’s potential to corrupt a person. Turning to wealth as a source of security is seen as evidence of a person’s unwillingness to trust God and follow the ways of God’s reign (“kingdom”).  Luke recognizes God’s concern for those who are poor, as famously illustrated in the words of Mary, Jesus’ mother, in 1:52-53.


Of the four Gospels, Luke gives the most attention to Jesus’ significance for people who were not part of dominant society. Some of these people on the margins of Jesus’ culture include those afflicted with diseases, those who suffer additional handicaps, aliens, refugees, children, women, people who endure material poverty, enslaved people, prostitutes, widows, the elderly, shepherds, tax collectors, and Samaritans. These kinds of people figure positively in the Gospel and benefit from Jesus’ ministry.


Luke frequently portrays Jesus engaged in prayer or encouraging his followers to pray (see 3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1-4; 18:1; 21:36; 22:32). This emphasizes Jesus’ reliance upon God (his “Father”) and foreshadows the importance of prayer among believers in the Acts of the Apostles.

Promise and fulfillment

Luke situates Jesus’ incarnation and ministry as an expression of God’s fidelity to the people of Israel. The Gospel’s first two chapters extol God’s faithfulness to promises, especially as Jesus’ mother and John the Baptist’s father speak about God’s remembering (1:54-55, 72-75). Luke also interprets Jesus’ death and resurrection as a fulfillment of the Scriptures (24:25-27, 44-47).


Luke’s Gospel speaks very positively about ancient prophets and reports the rejections they suffered. Several people identify Jesus as a prophet, which is correct insofar as he enacts and declares God’s ways and, as a result, becomes the target of opposition. The responses to Jesus’ and John’s births are expressions of prophecy (1:39-56, 67-79; 2:25-38).


While Matthew and Mark also depict John the Baptist and Jesus calling people to repent, Luke mentions this more frequently. Repentance is not primarily about contrition and reformed behavior. To repent, instead, is to adopt a new way of thinking, to take on a new or renewed disposition toward God. Some parables in Luke describe a person’s repentance, using images of something being found by its owner, a situation that unleashes great joy in heavenly places (for example, 15:1-10).

Universal scope of the gospel

Although Jesus is God’s Messiah sent to the people of Israel, the salvation he brings is something that happens “in the presence of all peoples” (2:31). The Gospel of Luke is keenly aware of the wider world of the Roman Empire (see 2:1-2; 3:1-2), and the next part of the story told in the Book of Acts describes the word of God moving out into this world to bring salvation to a wide array of people.