Living Hope Ministries Logo

LUKE - ACTS      Luke Acts


THE MINISTRY OF JESUS


With the account of the synagogue reading and sermon, Luke sets forth Jesus as the one who will be mighty in word and in deed (Lk.4:14-44; cf. Acts 1:1; 10:38). [1]

Jesus announced the nature of his ministry by choosing his reading from the prophecy of Isaiah and saying, as the one anointed by the Spirit, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (v.21).  The nature of his mission is further expressed in his reference to two OT prophets, Elijah and Elisah.  Both of these classical prophets ministered kindness into peoples' lives by miraculous acts.  Elijah provided food for a widow (1 Kgs.17:7-24), and Elisha healed the Syria Naaman of leprosy (2 Kgs.5:1-19).  Both ministered to non-Jews - an application that upset Jesus' audience.

1. THE FIRST MIRACLES OF JESUS

The Gospel miracles may be divided into four groups or classes: healing miracles, exorcisms, raisings (restorations) from the dead, and nature miracles.  Luke records an example of the first two in 4:33-39. They may be indicative of Lucan interests and themes, commencing with that of conflict with Satan depicted in an exorcism.  Although he is said to have left Jesus "for a time" (achri kairou) in 4:13, the struggle continued by way of his agents or demons.  The final conflict came at the time of the cross (22:3,31,39-45,53). [2]

The exorcism (4:31-37; cf. Mk.1:21-28)
Luke uses Mark's first miracle story - an exorcism (which Matthew chooses not to use). The verbal agreement is not close, but without a doubt the same story is being recounted.[3] The closest parallel is found in the words between the demoniac and Jesus. Mark's characteristic word euthus (immediately) is omitted by Luke.  Characteristic to Luke is his mention of "the word" (ho logos houtos, cf. NIV which renders "his message") of Jesus "having authority" (v.32), and the combination of the words dunamis and exousia (v.36).  Luke describes the "evil spirit" as pneuma daimonion akathapton (evil or unclean spirit) and adds the detail that it came out without injuring the man (v.35).  The two accounts of the exorcism compare with other fuller Synoptic accounts. [4]

  1. There is a description of the demonised person (v.33; Mk:1:23)

  2. The deliverer (Jesus) is recognised (v.34; Mk.1:24)

  3. Jesus addresses the demon reducing it to silence (v.35; Mk.1:25)

  4. The demon is expelled with a word (v.35; Mk.1:26)

  5. Evidence is given of the demon's expulsion (v.35; Mk.1:26)

  6. The audience's reaction is recorded (v.36; Mk.1:27).

Study the Lucan stories of healing and deliverance.  Ask yourself the question:
Do they have a literary pattern or framework?

The healing of Peter's mother-in-law (4:38-39)
This short story recounts how Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law of a fever (cf. Mk.1:30-31; Mt.8:14-15).  It is of interest from Luke's point of view on two counts.  First, in the way it compares with the parallel accounts: Matthew records, "He touched her hand and the fever left her"; Mark writes, "So he went to her, took her by the hand and helped her up".  Luke tells of no touch, but pictures Jesus rebuking the fever as though he is rebuking a demon (cf. v.35).  The story compares with the fuller story of the healing of the crippled women in chapter 13, where again sickness is rebuked.  The theological point may be raised as to whether Luke believed sickness as well as demonisation should, or could, be attributed to the devil - and if so - in what way?

The second point of interest is the way that Luke alone adds the detail that the healed woman was rehabilitated so that she "began to wait on them".  As a salvation motif it pictures service following deliverance - a point made in the Mary and Martha story peculiar to Luke (10:38-42).  A.Plummer comments: "The etetimēsen of v.35 does not show that the use of the same word here is meant to imply that the fever is regarded as a personal agent. But compare 13:11,16; Mk.19:17,23". [5]

A summary statement (4:40-44)
In this summary statement Luke underlines the fact that Jesus has demonstrated that he can heal diseases of both mind and body. [6] The christological significance of Jesus' healing and deliverance ministry is indicated by the demons' confession: "You are the Son of God" (v.41). Further, a stress is placed on preaching as Jesus says, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent" (v.43).  Miracles are taken as part of the proclamation of the good news.  There is no self-aggrandisement about the miracles of Jesus.  They are supernatural, while naturally being an integral part of the person and ministry of Jesus. [7]

This opening chapters of Luke's Gospel introduce a number of observations.  First, that Jesus' authority and power was due to the Spirit; second, that the ministry of Jesus fulfilled Scripture; third, that the mission of Jesus involved miracles and teaching. [8]

2. SIGNS OF THE KINGDOM

Jesus' statement in the Beelzebub controversy: "But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you" (11:20) clearly teaches that the mighty works of Jesus are miracles of the kingdom of God. [9] Here note: Mt.12:28 = Lk.11:20, Q.

Messianic signs
The miracles of Jesus are viewed by Luke as acts of God, and as messianic signs, or signs of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.  Jesus' first and central message was that the kingdom of God was at hand, and that men must repent - submit to the rule of God (Mk.1:15).  The deeds of Jesus indicated that the kingdom of God was among people - that the reign of God was in operation: "The kingdom of God is in the midst of you" (17:21, RSV).  J.Kallas sees both the miracles and words of Jesus centring on the kingdom of God. [10]

Salvation and the kingdom of God
The term basileia tou theou indicates God's dynamic activity. [11] In reference to the deeds and words of Jesus, it becomes a comprehensive term for all that his messianic salvation included. [12] The total ministry of Jesus in the Gospels is seen meeting the whole person, that is, meeting needs - including physical ones - and imparting truth.  But even the miracles themselves are vehicles of teaching - enacted parables which say something about Jesus and the kingdom of God.

The disciples were privileged to see the works of the kingdom (Lk.10:23 = Mt.13:16, Q).  "It is clear that Jesus thought that the kingdom was present in himself and his ministry, but was also future in the sense that it was to be consummated by God". [13] A.Richardson comments on this saying: "All Christ's healings may be regarded as fulfilments of the Isaianic signs, but especially the healings of the blind and deaf". [14]

Exorcisms - a tale of two kingdoms
The conflict of the kingdom of God with the kingdom of Satan is especially see in the exorcisms of Jesus.  These were not wrought by magic or thaumaturgy (working of wonders). They were acts of power and authority that demonstrated the kingdom of God.  The exorcisms of Jesus compare with those performed by "charismatic" Jewish exorcists (Lk.11:19; Acts 19:13-14).  Jesus' exorcisms were signs of the kingdom of God. [15]

J.Kallas argues that in all the Gospels (commencing with Mark) the kingdom of God as seen in the mission of Jesus is in real conflict with the kingdom of Satan.  The driving out of demons is a sign of the coming of the kingdom.  So also is the healing of diseases.  The cases of Peter's mother-in-law (4:38-39) and the crippled woman (13:10-17) are seen to support the view "that Satan rules his captured realm through diseases".  His comment on the words mastix (disease, lit. plague) and sōzein (to save) lead him to say: "Jesus destroyed the holds of Satan by driving out demons and healing many of their plagues". [16] This opinion needs to be criticised, because sometimes Luke can record miracles without any reference to the devil.  For example, in Lk.7:21: "At that time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind". [17] It is one thing to see sickness as a result of mankind's condition apart from God (i.e., man's fall through Satan's activity: Gen.3), it quite another to see them as a result of Satan's activity in people's lives at the time of Jesus' ministry.

Reading Kallas, it is obvious that close attention must be given to the story of the crippled women in Lk.13:10-17 when one studies the Lucan miracles.  Morris views healing of the woman as an act of salvation-deliverance. [18]

The refusal to show signs on demand (11:29-32)
It is noticeable that Jesus refused to show signs of the kingdom of God to those who demanded them, or would not understand them.  He does not work miracles for their own sake - either as exhibitions of power or as spontaneous deeds of compassion.  The working of miracles is a part of the proclamation of the kingdom of God.  Such a refusal is noted by Luke in 11:29 (cf. Mt.12:39, Q).  But the sign that Jesus does offer is that of Jonah: "As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation" (11:30).  Matthew interprets this to refer to the resurrection of Jesus, a miracle which was yet future (Mt.12:40).  As the Messiah, Jesus avoided any conformity to the image of a wonder-worker.

3. ACTS OF SALVATION

Every aspect of the ministry of the Lord Jesus has to be viewed in terms of salvation, as I.H.Marshall reminds us:

The central theme in the writings of Luke is that Jesus offers salvation to men.  If we are looking for a text to sum up the message of the Gospel, it would undoubtedly be Luke 19:10: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost"... the saying of Jesus, therefore, stands at the climax of his evangelistic ministry and sums up its significance: Jesus came to save. [19]


A collation of the two formative passages Lk.4:18-19 (Q) and 7:22 (Q) gives the view that Jesus' mission would be one of salvation.  The age of the kingdom was to be the age of salvation.  So Jesus gave sight to the blind (Lk.7:21; 18:35-43), restored the lame (5:12-16), cleansed the lepers (5:12-16; 17:11-19), made the deaf hear (not found in Luke, but see Mk.7:31-37; 9:25), raised the dead (7:11-17; 8:40-56) and preached the good news to the poor (cf., 6:20).  The two main signs, it could be said, were healings and preaching to the poor.

Deliverance from Satan
We have already stressed this aspect of the Lord's saving work.  The Tempter (Lk.4:2) resisted the salvation-work of Jesus and his disciples, but Jesus overcame him. [20] The success of the mission of Jesus and his disciples is portrayed by the story of the mission of the Seventy (or Seventy-two), when it was reported, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name" (10:17-18).  At that time, the narrative tells us, Jesus "saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (v.18). 

The fall of Satan has been associated with the fall of Lucifer (Isa.14:12-15), e.g., by E.Schweizer. [21] An alternative interpretation of etheopōun ton Satanan, however, could be that Jesus knew that Satan was being overcome by the mission of his disciples.  "In the defeat of the demons he saw the defeat of their chief". [22] The saying is unique to Luke. I.H.Marshall comments that Lk.10:18f. undermines H.Conzelmann's view that the central section of Jesus' ministry was Satan-free. [23]

Healing and salvation from sin
The redemptive nature of the healing ministry of Jesus is seen in his use of the parabolic saying, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk.5:31-32).  A powerful commentary on the saying is found in the story of the sinful woman, whose sin is forgiven on the basis of faith (7:36-50). 

The nature of this "saving-faith" is also seen in the healing of the paralytic (Lk.5:17-26).  In response to his friends' faith Jesus said to the handicapped man, "Friend, your sins are forgiven" (v.20).  It is important to observe that the faith exhibited in the miracles of Jesus is not that of "faith-healing" or "faith cures" - the healing is possible because "the power of the Lord was present to heal the sick" (v.17).  Another thought attracts the attention here, What is the connection between healing and forgiveness?

E.E.Ellis comments that, "Your sins are forgiven" is interpreted variously.  Three points here:

  1. Christ is making a connection between the paralytic's sickness and sin (cf. Jn.5:14).

  2. He assumes the popular view of such a connection (cf. Jn.9:2-3).

  3. He affirms the generic, although not necessarily personal relationship, between sickness and sin and thereby points to the true "sign"-ificance of his healing. [24]

Ellis takes the last view to be the most likely.  "Both Jewish and the apostolic writings", he says, "recognise the close relationship of sin and sickness, healing and forgiveness". [25] The miracle becomes a teaching method, an enacted parable, a sign [26] "that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins".

Salvation from sickness
The healing of the woman with the chronic haemorrhage (Lk.8:43-48) provides a good example of deliverance from sickness (cf. Mk.5 25-34; Mt.9:20-22).  For A.Richardson:

The Christian picture of Jesus as the Good Physician, the Saviour of both body and soul, is derived from the miracle-story tradition, which makes use of the healing narratives to convey spiritual teaching concerning salvation. [27]


The Lucan interest in dunamis is seen again in the statement, "I know that power has gone out from me" (v.46).  Faith is rewarded by a saving act. [28] But public confession is involved in the healing of the woman, and precedes faith. [29] The "faith" that saves is a trust in Jesus and his ability to heal, as in the case of the ten lepers (17:12-19).  The one who was cleansed and healed returned to thank Jesus, and received the word, "Your faith has made you well". [30]

Salvation from death (Lk.7:11-17)
Luke's two stories of the raising of the dead are salvation stories illustrating Jesus' power over death. [31] Death is man's last enemy, showing no respect of persons (Lk.7:11-17; 8:49-56).

C.H.Dodd uses the story of the raising of the widow's son (7:11-17) together with those of the crippled woman (13:10-17), the healing at Bethsaida (Jn.5:1-8), the man with the withered hand (Mk.3:1-6) and the man with dropsy (14:1-6) to demonstrate a fundamental pattern in the Gospel miracle stories. [32]

This story of deliverance is shaped on the Elijah story of 1 Kings 17:8-24, and represents Jesus as the prophet (v.16) [33] and the "author of life" (Acts 3:15). [34] Here, significantly, Luke refers to Jesus as ho kurios, the Lord (v.13).  A.Plummer comments: "It is the Lord of Life meeting sorrow and death". [35] The way that Jesus addressed the dead reflects Acts 9:40 where the same verb is used.

Enacted parables of mercy and grace
The miracles of Jesus convey the love and mercy of God to men and women in need.  Although Luke omits the use of the word splanchna (compassion, pity) in reference to Jesus, the evidence is present for all to see.  For example, in the unique account of the raising of the widow's son, we are told, "When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said to her, 'Don't cry'" (Lk.7:13). Care and compassion are clearly illustrated.  V.Taylor sees such a story supported by Acts 10:38 to infer that the miracles are "primarily works of compassion and power". [36] Van der Loos speaks of the priestly aspect of Jesus' activities finding expression in the love and devotion to others which reached its climax at the cross. [37]

G.H.R.Horsley has drawn attention to the belief that charis (grace) is seen by some scholars as a Lucan term for power.  The dynamic nature of charis as "a power capable of becoming immanent in a person and of producing very tangible outworkings of its presence" is given strong support by the work of G.P.Wetter (1913). [38]

In Luke there are only two scriptures which use the term charis in reference to Jesus, and they are in the infancy narratives: "And the child grew and became strong, he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him" (2:40, cf. v.52). Luke notes the "gracious words" (tois logois tēs charitos) used at the commencement of the public ministry of Jesus (4:22). Here charitos is a characterising genitive or genitive of quality. [39]

Luke may be picturing the activity of God's grace in the teaching and miracles of Jesus.  Such "grace" in word and in deed may compare with the OT Torah - in the words of the Fourth Gospel, "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (Jn.1:17).  A comparison may be made with Acts 4:33 where "great grace was upon them all" may mean that the grace of God worked powerfully through the disciples (Acts 6:8; Lk.2:40).

4. OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST

Prayer, obedience and discipleship have a bearing on the study of miracles in Luke.

Prayer
Prayer is one of Luke's favourite subjects, and can be seen to be part of the discussion on faith, for in the Gospel tradition the person of faith is often pictured coming to Jesus for help and healing (e.g., Lk.4:38; 7:3; 8:41).  The prayer of the leper takes the form of a plea, and is full of faith "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean" (5:12). This viewpoint recognises the need of divine initiative in miracles. [40]

Obedience
R.Bultmann, in his existential approach to the Gospel tradition, sees obedience as central to the gospel of Jesus. [41] Obedience to the law must be based on a reference to God himself, with whom there is only the Either-or, not Both-and.  To apply what Bultmann says, the people who encountered Jesus and experience healing had to exercise obedience in order to know that healing. For example, the commands, "Take your mat and go home" (5:24), "Bring your son here" (9:41), and "Go, show yourselves to the priests" (17:14) all call for action.  Such obedience is the evidence of faith.

Miracles may be a means of arousing faith - a point made by Van der Loos, who notes that the OT repeatedly states that the Israelites were moved to believe or were strengthened in their belief by miraculous deeds (e.g., Ex.4:30-31; 14:31; Num.14:11).  So Jesus could regard miracles as publicity for his message, especially in Galilee. [42] Consider Jn.2:11.

Discipleship
The link of healing and discipleship is made in the story of the healing of the blind man (Lk.18:35-43). In this story Jesus invites faith with the question, "What do you want me to do for you?".  When the man received his sight at the word of Jesus he "followed Jesus" (v.43).  Discipleship was not a condition of healing, but was the natural response of gratitude for the beggar "followed Jesus, praising God" (v.43).  Compare this account with the story of Bartimaeus who, after his healing, "followed Jesus along the road" (Mk.10:52; note Jn.14:6).

The observation makes links with Moses and Elijah.  Signs were the credentials of Moses' ministry (see Ex.4:8,9,17.; 8:23; 10:1-2).  The widow of Zarephath was convinced of Elijah's mission by the restoration of her son (1 Kings 17:24; cf. 18:39; 2 Kings 5:15).  Luke gives examples of those who followed Jesus after a miracle (Lk.5:8-11; 17:15,16;18:43).

Joy
There is joy in believing as in the case of Mary (Lk.1:47).  The Philippian jailer's family "was filled with joy, because they had come to believe in God" (Acts 16:34).  There is also joy in mission, as when the Lord sent the Seventy or Seventy-two out to share the good news of the kingdom.  "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children'" (Lk.10:21). Notice the involvement of the Holy Spirit here.

The temple in Jerusalem
It is important to notice how Luke gives a prominent place to Jerusalem and its temple.  His Gospel opens and closes with events involving the temple (Lk.1:8-23; 24:50-53.  The gospel is broadcasted from Jerusalem (Lk.24:47; Acts 1:8).  The earliest church was the Jerusalem church (Acts 2:42-47).  Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah when he ministered in the temple (Lk.21:37-38 with Isa.2:2-3). God wanted the nation of Israel to be a missionary nation, so that from Jerusalem and the temple the reality of God and his care for mankind would be broadcast.  (God wanted all the nations to be blessed through Abraham (Gen.12:1-3)).  But the Jews kept the knowledge of God and his ways to themselves and, as a result, became isolated and bigoted.  The book of Jonah judges Israel for its isolation and failure to be a missionary nation.  Luke makes the point that what Israel failed to do, Jesus and his church accomplished.

A PROJECT PAGE

This quotation is supplies for your reflection and criticism:

Luke's pneumatology

R.H.Gundry notes Luke's emphasis on the Holy Spirit in his works.  He writes:

[Luke] tells us that John the Baptist was to be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb (1:15).  The Holy Spirit comes to Mary in order that she may miraculously give birth to the Son of God (1:35).  When Mary visits Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit to say, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (1:41-42). When John the Baptist is born and then named, his father Zecharias (Zechariah) is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies (1:67).  The Holy Spirit rests on Simeon, informs him that before dying he will behold the Christ, and leads him to the temple to see the Christ child (2:25-27).  After receiving the Spirit at his baptism, Jesus is "full of the Holy Spirit" and "led by the Spirit" in the wilderness (4:1).  Following his temptation, he returns to Galilee "in the power of the Spirit" (4:14). When the seventy-two disciples return from their successful mission, he rejoices "in the Holy Spirit" (10:21). And before his ascension he promises that the Spirit will clothe the disciples "with power from on high" (24:49). Consequently, the gospel of Luke (as later the book of Acts) throbs with the thrill of an irresistible movement of God's Spirit in human history.  Luke writes with supreme confidence in the inevitably successful advance of the gospel inaugurated by Jesus "the Lord" (a favorite [sic] designation of Jesus in Luke) and carried on by his disciples in the energy of the Holy Spirit.



R.H.Gundry's analysis of the Acts of the Apostles

Subsequent to this awareness, Gundry analyses the Acts into two parts:

  1. The Acts of the Spirit of Christ in and out from Jerusalem (Acts 1:1-12:25)

  2. The Acts of the Spirit of Christ far and wide through the Apostle Paul (Acts 13:1-28:31). [43]


Reflections on the quotation

Gundry supports the view that Luke chapters 1-3 provides an introduction to Luke-Acts.  He also acknowledges that Luke's interest in the Person and work of the Holy Spirit is to be found in both works, providing not only an interesting link, but a theological one.  The sense of continuity promoted by the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the Lord Jesus and his disciples challenges reflection.



Click here for <page endnotes>






Page Top

Copyright 2008 Vernon Ralphs

Website design: Copyright 2010 Living Hope Christian Ministries.