Jesus’ Theology in Luke

I’ve listed below and grouped by topic all in Luke that I think can be fairly described as Jesus’ theological statements and actions. After that I have a short discussion that summarizes Jesus’ theology in Luke.


Jesus is God, and He knew the future, performed miracles, and forgave sins: Jesus’ awareness of His own status and mission permeates the narrative — even putting aside the discussion of the circumstances of His birth in chapters 1 and 2 — starting with the first time Jesus Himself is quoted, “I had to be in My father’s house” (2:49). I’ll go through these sequentially.

At the beginning of chapter 4, during His temptation in the wilderness just after His baptism, Jesus and Satan acknowledge one another for who they are (twice Satan begins sentences with, “If you are the Son of God …”). In 4:21, after reading a passage in Isaiah to those in a synagogue on the Sabbath, He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” and the passage He had just read (4:18-19) was:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Later in that chapter, He says (4:43), “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” A few verses earlier (4:41), demons He exorcised cried, “You are the son of God!,” and “they knew Him to be the Christ.” Jesus does not dispute the demons on this point; note that, as He did during His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus is also affirming in instances like this the existence of Satan and his minions.

In chapter 5, He tells the Pharisees, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:32); when the Pharisees criticize His disciples for eating and drinking rather than fasting, Jesus replies (5:34-35), “You cannot make the attendants of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But the days will come; and when the bridegroom is taken away from them, then they will fast in those days.”

In chapter 6, He says, “The Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath” (6:5). Later in that chapter (6:20-7:1), He delivers the Sermon on the Plain. It is hard to imagine anyone who saw himself as a mere rabbi delivering this sermon: He is teaching with authority, and going beyond a simple recitation of the law to add injunctions to it. It is hard to imagine, to give a dramatic example, a mere rabbi delivering the Beatitudes (6:20-38). What’s more, He acknowledges His special status at the beginning (6:23, “for the sake of the Son of Man”). Jesus also asks (6:46), “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” and then says that anyone who hears and acts on His words is like a man building a house on a firm foundation, and anyone who does not do what He says is like a man building on ground with no foundation at all. Again, would someone who saw himself as a mere rabbi issue a warning like that?

In the Bible, the future is told by non-prophets, but I’d still say that confident predictions are an indicator of divinity even if they don’t prove it. And Jesus does indeed confidently predict the future fall of Jerusalem (23:28-31), and makes a more elaborate prophecy of the End Times (21:5-36). In that latter prophecy, things get very bad before the kingdom of God comes; of particular interest to this post is the fact that Jesus is clearly a central figure in the End Times (see 21:8, 12, 17, each declaring that events hinge on “My name”; 21:15, promising that Jesus “will give you [that is, his disciples] utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute”; and 21:27, declaring, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”).

At this point, I’ll similarly note that Jesus performed many miracles, frequently miracles of healing. That the two — that is, Jesus’ status and His miracles — are related is perhaps best shown by 7:20-22:

When the men [i.e., two of John the Baptist’s disciples] came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Coming One, or are we to look for another?’”  At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.  And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: people who were blind receive sight, people who limped walk, people with leprosy are cleansed and people who were deaf hear, dead people are raised up, and people who are poor have the gospel preached to them.

Just after this (7:26-27), Jesus says that John the Baptist “is more than a prophet” — that he is the one about whom it is written “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.”

In chapter 8, a demon-possessed man says to Jesus, “What do I have to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me” (8:28; while these words are not spoken by Jesus, He doesn’t dispute them; again, that’s true also of the demon-spoken words in chapter 4, above).

In chapter 9, after foretelling His suffering, death, and Resurrection, Jesus adds, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” and “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (9:23-24, 26). And at the end of the chapter, Jesus says (9:56), “[T]he Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

In chapter 10, Jesus says (10:22), “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father [i.e., “Lord of heaven and earth,” preceding verse], and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

I’ll note here that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit in 11:13 and 12:12, and of course there are many references by Jesus in Luke to the God the Father, so Jesus acknowledges all three persons in the Trinity.

In chapter 19, Jesus says about Zaccheus, the repentant tax collector, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:9-10). Later in the chapter, as He enters Jerusalem, He refuses the Pharisees’ demand that He rebuke the crowd praising Him as the blessed king “‘who comes in the name of the Lord'” (19:37-40).

In chapter 22, Jesus says to his twelve apostles, “And you are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (22: 28-30). Later in chapter 22, Jesus prays by Himself on the Mount of Olives, fervently and in agony, saying, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done”; this really makes sense only if He knows that His sacrificial mission here on earth is about to come to its climax. Finally, at the end of chapter 22, when Jesus has been brought before the Sanhedrin, this exchange takes place (22:67-71):

“If You are the Christ, tell us.” But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask a question, you will not answer.  But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”  And they all said, “So You are the Son of God?” And He said to them, “You say correctly that I am.”  And then they said, “What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth!”

Immediately after that, in chapter 23, when Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews, He replies, “It is as you say” (23:3). And later in the chapter, during His crucifixion, Jesus says to the repentant thief being crucified with Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (23:43).

In the final chapter of Luke, Jesus refers to Himself as “the Christ” (24:26, 46); He also refers to His suffering and Resurrection (24:46), and “that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (24:44).

Jesus also forgave sins: another action (like preforming miracles) that indicates Jesus’ acknowledgment and assertion of His divine status. Thus, He forgives a paralytic His sins (5:20); the Pharisees ask (5:21), “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”; and Jesus rebukes them and concludes (5:24), “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — He says to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise and take up your stretcher and go home.” See also 7:40-49 (concluding, “And those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, ‘Who is this man who even forgives sins?'”). In the Sermon on the Plain, by the way, Jesus also extols us to forgive one another (6:36-37): “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

Segue: If there are sins to forgive, then the law abides, does it not? We turn to what Jesus has to say about the law in the next section.

Jesus stressed faith, recognized the law, and urged repentance: Throughout His ministry, Jesus stressed the importance of faith. See 5:20 (“And after seeing their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you'”); 7:9 (“I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith”); 7:50 (“Your faith has saved you; go in peace”); 8:48 (“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace'”); 8:50 (“Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she shall be made well”); 9:41 (“O unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you, and put up with you?”); 11:9-10 (“And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened”); 17:6 (“If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you”); 17:19 (“Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well”; the note to the last three words says, “Or, has saved you“); 18:8 (“[W]hen the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”); 18:42 (“Receive your sight; your faith has made you well”); and 24:38 (“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” — spoken to the eleven remaining apostles when he made a post-Resurrection appearance to them and they thought they were seeing a mere spirit).

To be sure, however, Jesus does not say directly in Luke that faith leads specifically to eternal life. Indeed, He does not give a terse John 3:16 answer to “a certain lawyer” or to “a certain ruler” when asked directly by each what must be done to inherit eternal life (see following discussions of 10:25-28 and 18:18-27, respectively). On the other hand, He does tell the repentant thief being crucified next to Him that “today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (23:43) — and all that fellow did (23:39-42) was (a) rebuke the other, unrepentant thief for not showing faith, (b) admit his own sins, and (c) ask, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” And it can be persuasively argued that His answers to the lawyer and ruler presupposed faith in God (how you love God without believing in Him, for example, and for that matter isn’t it unlikely for someone to believe that there is such a thing as eternal life without believing that there is a God?).

Here’s what I think is the first mention of the law in Luke (10:25-28), and I think it is interesting (note that Jesus Himself seems to invoke it):

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?”  And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

Likewise, in 16:16-18, Jesus says:

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John came; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.  But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”

A few verses later, in His parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus likewise says (16:29-31):

“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’  But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

In Mark, we saw that some of what Jesus taught seemed to be at variance with what the law said regarding diet; I did not see this in Luke. We also saw in Mark that the other instance that might at first blush also appear to be Jesus being at odds with Scripture, namely refraining from working on the Sabbath, really was not: While He is often criticized by the Pharisees for working (viz, healing people) on the Sabbath, His justifications for doing so do not reject the principle of keeping the Sabbath holy, and clearly the real issue here is that He sees that the Pharisees are making a pretextual criticism. The same is true here, in Luke. See 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:3-6.

But this is not to say that Jesus’ teachings did not go beyond the law. Clearly He added to it, magnified it — and perhaps that, in addition to of course dying for us, was a second reason for His coming (see discussion at this post elsewhere on this blogsite).

Consider the “law plus” lesson Jesus teaches here in chapter 18 (verses 20-22):

“You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not give false testimony, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these things I have kept since my youth.” Now when Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

And among the last words spoken by Jesus in Luke, in a scene that takes place after His Resurrection, are these in which endorses not only the law but Old Testament future prophecy (24:44): “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all the things that are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Again, the idea of repenting, of turning away, means turning away from something, and of course that something is sin — and the reason for the law is to tell us what sin is, right?

Along with faith, repentance is the Protestant essential for salvation (one way to look at it is that the sort of faith, of belief, that is required for salvation is not merely recognizing that there is a God but recognizing as well that one is required to try to follow Him, and that’s what repentance means). In all events, Jesus frequently calls for repentance in Luke (to a greater extent that He does in Mark). See 13:3, 5 (each saying, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”); 15:10 (“there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents”); 16:30-31 (parable of Lazarus and the rich man); 17:3-4 (we are to forgive those who repent; see also 11:4 in the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us”); 24:46-47 (“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem”).

Jesus emphasizes the Resurrection, eternal life, and divine rewards and punishments: Obviously, Jesus’ Resurrection is itself an event of theological significance. And Jesus foretells His own Resurrection at 9:22: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.” And He does so again at 18:33: “[T]hey will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.” And He affirms it after He has been resurrected (24:39, 46). See also 11:29 (“yet no sign shall be given to [this generation] but the sign of Jonah”); and 23:43 (while dying on the cross, Jesus says to the repentant thief being crucified with Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise”); 24:6-8 (an angel quotes to the women at the tomb Jesus’ foretelling His Resurrection, “And they remembered His words”). Note that earlier, other people had been resurrected in Luke as well. See 7:14-15 (“‘Young man, I [Jesus] say to you, arise!’ And the dead man sat up”); 8:53-55 (“… [S]he had died. He [Jesus], however, took her by her hand and called, saying, ‘Child, arise!’ And her spirit returned, and she rose immediately”).

Resurrection aside, Jesus made clear that there is eternal life and that in it there are rewards and punishments. When asked (18:18), “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?,” Jesus gives the answer quoted above, namely for the questioner to follow the commandments and give all he has to the poor; if he does that, Jesus says (18:22), then “you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” This was a hard answer for the questioner, since he was very rich: Jesus looked at him and said (18:23-24: “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God!” But the difficult is not impossible, for (18:27) “[t]he things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” A few verses later, Jesus reassures Peter that those who make the necessary sacrifices will “receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (18:30).

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus tells the blessed that “your reward is great in heaven” (6:23). In the same sermon He also says (6:35), “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return: and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High ….” And a few verses later He adds (6:38), “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”

The parable of the talents (19:12-27) likewise suggests that God hands out rewards and punishments, as does more the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (16:19-31), which also indicates more directly that this will take place in the next life.

There are plenty of other passages in Luke where Jesus teaches that there is eternal life, with rewards and punishments. Consider, for example, 14:13-14 (“But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”). As He was being crucified, Jesus said to the repentant thief next to Him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” and, as His last words, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” See also 10:20 (“[R]ejoice that our names are recorded in heaven”); 19:9-10 (“Today salvation has come to this house, because he [i.e., Zaccheus the reformed tax collector], too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”); 20:16 (“He will come and destroy these vinegrowers and will give the vineyard to others”); 21:17-19 (“[Y]ou will be hated by all on account of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives”); 21:28 (“But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”).

Jesus prayed: He frequently prayed; in addition to the specific instances, 5:16 says, “But He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” And in the parable of the unrighteous judge (18:1-8), He also encourages others to pray. (Note: I don’t think that the isolated use of the term “elect” in this parable (18:7) says anything about predestination; for one thing, it would be an odd context since the whole point of the parable is to urge people to choose to make intercessory prayers and that to teach that they will be effective.)

Jesus established the Eucharist and was baptized: At the Last Supper, Jesus performs the first Eucharist (22:19-20). And, as He began His ministry, He was baptized (3:21-22). These, of course, are the two sacraments recognized by Protestants.

Jesus discussed the End Times: As noted earlier, Jesus discusses at some length the End Times in chapter 21, verses 5-36; see also 23:28-31.


Jesus’ theology in Luke can, I think, be succinctly stated by summarizing what’s laid out above: Jesus is God, and He knew the future, performed miracles, and forgave sins. He stressed faith, recognized the law even as he added to it, and urged repentance. He also emphasized the Resurrection, eternal life, and divine rewards and punishments. Jesus prayed (and urged us to pray as well), established the Eucharist, and was baptized. Finally, He discussed the End Times and acknowledged all three persons in the Trinity.