Luke’s Theology of the Holy Spirit










Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch













Luke – Jesus As A Revival Model

Steve Gray






World Revival School of Ministry

Spring Trimester 2002


1. Introduction


About 30 years after the death of Christ and the birth of the church, Luke was troubled by what he saw. The power of God was decreasing and he wondered where those vessels of the power of God were. This situation and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit led him to write his two-volume set of Luke and Acts, “on a mission to restore the Holy Spirit to individuals, churches, congregations, particularly expressing it through the lowly, weak and Gentiles” (Gray 2002:3), addressing it to Theophilus. Luke is not concerned with chronology[1] but with the message he wants to convey, that the Holy Spirit comes on ordinary people and inspires them to speak. In his first volume he tells “the story of Jesus, the unique charismatic Prophet” (Stronstad 1984:34), building up to his climax at the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit is transferred to Jesus’ disciples, “a community of charismatic prophets” (ibidem).

The purpose of this paper is to examine Luke’s unique perspective and theology on the Holy Spirit and how it applies to us today.


2. Holy Spirit Breaks In – Lk 1-2


After the Holy Spirit’s activity[2] had ceased with the last writing prophets, the Jews were expecting His return in the messianic age. Luke records the dramatic inbreaking of the Holy Spirit as he starts his account with the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. The angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that he would have a son called John who would be “filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (1:15). Zechariah’s unbelief leads to his becoming mute and it is only at the boy’s circumcision that he is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:67) and speaks forth praise and a prophetic word over his son.

After the angel Gabriel had visited Mary, she visits Elizabeth who is pregnant with John. At Mary’s words Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit” (1:41) and “in a loud voice she exclaimed” (1:42) a prophetic word over Mary. Mary also bursts into prophetic praise, however, Luke does not say she is filled with the Holy Spirit, since she has conceived Jesus the Messiah. Luke wants to make sure the reader does not think Jesus is already filled with the Spirit because Mary is.

At Jesus’ circumcision Simeon, an ordinary person filled with the Holy Spirit (2:25), praises God and prophesies over Jesus, and so does the prophetess Anna. Luke is the only gospel writer mentioning this incidence. He is showing that the Holy Spirit now comes on ordinary people, the lowly, who then do great things.

Luke’s heart for the poor becomes also clearly visible in his unique account of Jesus’ birth. Luke is the only gospel-writer telling us about the shepherds, “ordinary people having divine interruptions in their lives” (Gray 2002:4), and the Magi who were Gentiles, a sign that non-Jews were coming to the Messiah.

The “silent years” were suddenly over as the Holy Spirit came back onto the scene, breaking into every-day life to start the messianic age, in “fulfillment of that intertestamental expectation” (Stronstad 1984:38).


3. Holy Spirit Equips – Lk 3-4:22


John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit since birth, called himself “a voice of one calling” (3:4; clearer also in John 1:23), “preaching a baptism of repentance” (3:3). While Matthew emphasized more his baptizing people, Luke focuses on John’s preaching, who “exhorted the people and preached the good news to them” (3:18). John announces that Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (3:16). After Luke makes the point of telling the reader he needs to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, he writes about Jesus’ baptism. He makes the reader believe John is already in prison (3:20) to deemphasize John and shift away from water-baptism to Spirit-baptism. As the “Holy Spirit descended” on Jesus, “a voice came from heaven” (3:22). Jesus was filled with the Spirit, and prophetic speech followed. That is what Luke desires for all of Jesus’ followers.

The Holy Spirit then leads “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit” (4:1) into the desert, where Holy Spirit-inspired words defeated the enemy. Luke makes a point of clarifying that Jesus did not defeat the enemy because of His deity or by a miracle, but because the Holy Spirit was at work in Him. Luke shows us the human side of Jesus (“he was hungry” – 4:2), that he was “humanity empowered, not Jesus, the Son of God, empowered” (Gray 2002:10).

Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” and immediately starts teaching. In the synagogue he reads Isaiah’s prophecy, which He fulfills; “the Spirit of the Lord is on me … to preach … to proclaim … to release … to proclaim” (4:18-19). Luke makes a point of saying that it is the Holy Spirit on you that enables you to preach and proclaim. The people were “amazed at the gracious words” Jesus spoke. He had set his agenda – it was the “year of the Lord’s favor” (4:19) – leaving out “the day of vengeance of our God”. “Everyone’s happy, the Holy Spirit has been working, the angels rejoicing, the devil has been defeated, the people speak well of Him” (Gray 2002:14). Yet, things were about to change.


4. Holy Spirit Challenges – Lk 4:23-9


The religious system now comes on the scene and the struggle begins. Jesus’ prophetic speech is a highlight Luke has been building towards, since everything after that builds on it. Jesus tells the people of his hometown, who had just accepted Him as the Messiah, that the kingdom would be taken away from them, even saying it would be given to Gentiles. He would be going to those they wanted Him to have vengeance on, “non-Jews are now going to be shown God’s favor” (Gray 2002:15) – yet they were not ready for that message and tried to kill Him.

Luke changes chronology again to make it appear that Jesus went to Capernaum after His Nazareth discourse. He wants to be sure the reader understands that all Jesus did was because of the Holy Spirit upon Him (4:18). Now he starts sharing how Jesus’ words have an effect on people, how He drives out demons by speaking and that miracles follow the words. “With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits” (4:36). The same authority and power that would be transferred to Jesus’s disciples at Luke’s high point in Acts 2. As Jesus said “I must preach” (4:43), so the disciples said “we cannot help speaking” (Acts 4:20), since the Holy Spirit was inspiring them and speaking through them, which resulted in many miracles.


5. Holy Spirit & The Disciples – Lk 10-12


“With these verses, then, we reach a christological peak in the Gospel of Luke as well as a high point in the characterization of Jesus’ disciples” (Green 1997:421). Jesus had sent out the 72 – little children (10:21) –, having commissioned them with His authority, and they came back rejoicing at what they had seen. While the reader has understood Luke’s point of the Holy Spirit working through ordinary people by this time, it is astonishing that we are not told that the disciples were “full of the Spirit” when they cast out demons. Instead, Luke mentions that Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” at their report and burst into praise and prophetic speech. Jesus is still with them; He was the one sending them into the towns with His authority (10:18) to work in His name (10:17). While we know that the Holy Spirit must have been at work, Luke wants to make the reader understands that this is not “the real thing” yet. “He avoids associating the disciples’ success with the work of the Holy Spirit, in order that we might anticipate the main event, the day of Pentecost” (Gray 2002:21). Jesus had compassion on those towns and wanted to give them a chance. However, the disciples’ empowerment would come at Pentecost. Then it would be them doing His deeds, by the Holy Spirit in and upon them. Luke wants to assure that the reader does not misinterpret the significance of this event, so they would think they had arrived and did not need to pray in a room to receive the Promise, the good gift, which Luke identifies as the Holy Spirit (11:13).

Jesus warns his disciples in chapter 12 of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Luke’s unique explanation is that sinning against Him would mean “not confessing when you have the chance” (Gray 2002:26), backing down from inspired witness, when He is desiring to speak through you, since “the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (12:12).


6. Holy Spirit & The Church – Lk 24 & Acts


Jesus has been crucified and raised from the dead. Luke closes his first volume with Jesus’ last words to them and His ascension, still building anticipation for the day of Pentecost. Jesus tells them that He would send them “what my Father has promised” (24:49). The fulfillment was yet to come, it was in the future. Then they would be “witnesses of these things” (24:48), “preach[ing] in his name to all nations” (24:47), after having “been clothed with power from on high” (24:49). The disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem, and they are filled with joy and anticipation of the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise. Jesus is taken up to heaven, which reminds us of Elijah’s ascension and implies the transference of His mantle now onto the church. “Now that Jesus reigns as Lord at God’s right hand in heaven, his work is carried on by the apostles and the churches in the power and under the guidance of the Spirit whom Jesus sends” (Barton 1992:93)

Luke starts his second volume, the book of Acts, reminding the reader that Jesus’ ministry had been done “through the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:2) and that it was only the “beginning of doing and teaching” (see Acts 1:1). He reiterates “the gift my Father promised” (1:4; see Luke 24:49), which has not been given yet.

In Acts 2 the moment has finally arrived; the climax of Luke’s books everything has been looking towards and will be looking back to, the “transfer of the charismatic Spirit from Jesus to the disciples (Stronstad 1984:49), the disciples being “equipped for continuing the ministry which Jesus had inaugurated” (Stronstad 1984:51). The prophecy of Joel is fulfilled as they are “all” (Acts 2:1, 4) filled with the Holy Spirit and pour forth inspired speech, ready to step into the shoes of their Master, Lord and Savior, to take the gospel to all nations.


7. Conclusion


Throughout the gospel of Luke and Acts we see the pattern Luke establishes: Prayer leads to empowerment, which leads to inspired speech & praise. Jesus came to give us an example to follow. Now the Holy Spirit is on His followers, all flesh, to continue His ministry, to speak forth inspired words followed by signs and wonders and advance His kingdom.

Unfortunately the church has widely lost their understanding of Luke’s theology and has become blind to his message[3]. Cessationism and dispensationalism have reduced Luke’s books to pure history with historic value only. What a tragedy when the richness of the powerful message Luke brings us remains unrecognized, making theologians believe the following about Acts: “One wonders if we do not have here a recipe for a faith which is superficial at best, an open invitation to a ‘seeing-is-believing’ kind of spirituality” (Barton 1992:105).




As stated at the beginning of this paper, Luke wrote his books because he was concerned about the decline of the power of God in the church, which is just as relevant to us today. However, we, his readers, have chosen to deny his purpose, which was ultimately God’s purpose, and continue justifying our own way of life. If it was up to us, Luke and Acts would not need to be part of the Bible, since it has no significance for our lives today.

However, if we grab hold of Luke’s message to us, we will have hope and confidence, because the Spirit of God equips us to speak and do the works of Jesus, followed by signs and wonders, to advance His kingdom and restore His honor in the earth.


8. Bibliography



Barton, Stephen C., The Spirituality of the Gospels, Hendrickson Publishers: USA 1992


Gray, Steve, Luke – Jesus as a Revival Model, World Revival School of Ministry: Kansas City Spring Term 2002


Green, Joel B., The Gospel of Luke, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI 1997


Stronstad, Roger, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, Hendrickson Publishers: USA 1984



[1] The Hebrew mind-set sees the whole picture, while the Greek thinking is linear, which is why we Westerners are so fixated on chronology.

[2] Which is understood by the Jews to be prophetic inspiration.

[3] This honest quote from Barton underscores that well: “I wish to offer some comments on aspects of the Lucan vision which appear to me inadequate or (what is much more likely) which I do not properly understand.” (Barton 1992:104)