A Comparison of Luke’s Theology

with Mark’s & Matthew’s










Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch










Luke – Jesus As A Revival Model

Steve Gray





World Revival School of Ministry

Spring Trimester 2002




1. Introduction


2. Infancy Narrative – Lk 1 - 2


3. Jesus’s Baptism & Temptation – Lk 3 - 4:15


4. Nazareth Discourse – Lk 4:16-30


5. Healing, Preaching & Teaching – Lk 4:31-44


6. Luke’s Unique Passages – Lk 9:51 - 19:44


7. Good Gifts & Jonah’s Sign – Lk 11


8. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – Lk 12:10


9. Parable of the Fig Tree – Lk 13:6-9


10. Jesus’s Last Hours on Earth – Lk 24


11. Conclusion


12. Bibliography



1. Introduction


Each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) was written for a different audience, with a different goal in mind and a different emphasis unique to its author. However, they can be seen together[1] as they “present a common story and relate substantially the same incidents in the life of our Lord” (Unger 1966:511).

Luke wrote his gospel for a Gentile audience, emphasizing that the Messiah came to the poor, lowly, outcast and Gentiles, while Matthew addressed the Jews, proving to them that Jesus was the Messiah and fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew was approaching his Jewish audience on common grounds to open their hearts for the Messiah. Luke had a real heart for the poor and wanted to reach the marginalized, since Jesus had come to preach good news to the poor (Lk 4:18).

Mark addressed a Roman audience that would not be familiar with Judaism in every detail, and described Christ’s triumphal procession to the cross in a way comparable to a Roman emperor. Some scholars believe that Mark is the earliest gospel-account and that Luke had access to it while writing his account. Others believe that a Hebrew manuscript of Matthew was earliest, as  early writings from church fathers would confirm[2], and preceded Luke and Mark. However, no consensus has been reached up to this time.

Unger (1966:512) contrasts the main characteristics of each of the synoptic gospels in the following table:







The Human Gospel


The Kingly Gospel

The Servant Gospel

Perfect manhood of Christ


Divine kingship of Christ

Divine servantship of Christ

Basis of the saviourhood and present intercession        (Heb 5:1-2)


Basis of His offer of Himself to Israel and His coming kingdom (Acts 1:6)

Basis of His giving His life a ransom for many             (Mk 10:45)

Moral perfections and tender sympathies of the perfect Man


Kingly power and humble grace of Israel’s Saviour-King

Miraculous power in service to man of the God-sent Servant

Our Lord in prayer (cf. Lk 3:21; 5:16; 6:12-13; 9:18), stressing His dependency as a man


Our Lord in kingly manifestation

Our Lord in Spirit-empowered service

Appeal To Greek

Appeal to Jew

Appeal to Roman


The goal of this paper is to point out where Luke’s theology differs from the other gospel writers, as seen in his unique point of view and account of Jesus’ deeds and sayings.


2. Infancy Narrative – Lk 1 - 2


Luke refers to the Holy Spirit more often than any other synoptic gospel writer[3] and “all of the references to the Holy Spirit in Mark and Matthew are paralleled in Luke” (Stronstad 1984:35). Nearly half of the occurrences in Luke’s gospel are in the first chapters, in the infancy narrative. Both Luke and Matthew record the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18,20; Lk 1:35). Mark omits the whole infancy narrative and starts with the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke is the most comprehensive and is the only author who included the account of John’s parents Zechariah & Elizabeth, who both spoke prophetically, as well as Mary’s inspired song of praise.

Luke’s concern for the poor and ordinary people first becomes obvious in the account of Jesus’s birth. While Matthew records the Magi, wealthy men from a distant country, coming to Jesus to worship Him, and their interaction with king Herod, Luke tells us what any person could have seen: The shepherds in the field are divinely interrupted by God as angels announce the birth of Messiah to them. They were ordinary people, yet God did not pass them by, because He wanted them to know that His Son, the Messiah, had come to them, to ordinary people who wanted to live right.

Luke is also the only gospel-writer recording Jesus’s circumcision and encounter with Simeon and Anna at the temple. Simeon and Anna were both ordinary people who loved God and spent all their time at the Temple praying and worshiping. Luke is showing us again that ordinary people like them were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke prophetically, as God set up a divine encounter with the Messiah that they had longed for.


3. Jesus’s Baptism & Temptation – Lk 3 - 4:15


John’s ministry and Jesus’s baptism are described by all three synoptic gospel-writers, each one emphasizing a different aspect. Luke emphasizes the preaching of John, who is a voice in the desert, and tries to shift away from water baptism to the necessity of being Spirit-baptized (Lk 3:16).

The difference between Luke and Matthew becomes more evident as they describe Jesus’s baptism. Matthew 3:13 says after John’s discourse on Jesus: Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. Matthew continues recording the dialogue between Jesus and John, who feels unworthy. However, while Matthew puts much importance on John, the one preparing the way for Jesus, Luke records the events out of their chronological order to take the emphasize away from John. He tells us about John’s arrest in verse 20 and continues to say: When all people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too (Lk 3:21), making us believe John was already prison. At the time of Luke’s writing, there were still followers of John who were too fixed on him instead of Jesus, which caused problems in the church. Luke is trying to give them the right perspective, and he wants to assure that the reader understands that the descent of the Holy Spirit – which is described by all gospel-writers – must be the main focus, not the water-baptism. Luke is leading up to Acts 2, when all believers were baptized in the Holy Spirit, followed by inspired speech, as also in Jesus’s baptism, when the Father spoke from heaven.

All gospel-writers record that Jesus was led into the desert to be tempted right after his baptism, but only Luke says that He was full of the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1). Every time Luke had used that phrase before, inspired speech followed, so the reader now expects Him to defeat the enemy with His words that are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and not because He is the Messiah or because He quotes Scripture. The ordinary reader is therefore encouraged that he, too, can defeat the enemy with inspired speech, depending on the Holy Spirit just as Jesus did.

After His baptism, Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14) – again, Luke is the only gospel-writer making the point, that the Holy Spirit is still upon Jesus and He taught (v. 15).


4. Nazareth Discourse – Lk 4:16-30


After Jesus’s baptism and temptation, Luke takes us immediately to Nazareth, while Matthew and Mark[4] include it “toward the end of Jesus’s Galilean ministry, [Luke] intentionally placing it near the beginning of his Gospel. In fact Luke 4:14-15 with verse 23 implies that Jesus went to Capernaum and performed miracles there before going to Nazareth” (Green 1992:283). “Luke’s setting the story at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry draws the reader’s attention to its programmatic significance” (ibidem 284). The Holy Spirit had just come upon Him, He had just defeated the enemy by His inspired words, and now He was starting His public ministry, declaring who He was and setting His agenda. The Spirit of the Lord is on me (Lk 4:18) and now He would preach… proclaim… release… proclaim (Lk 4:18-19). Luke is again emphasizing the need to have the Holy Spirit on you and then be able to preach and proclaim the good news. The people of Nazareth had expected the Messiah and so all spoke well of him (Lk 4:22). At this point Luke’s account takes a turn. Jesus had omitted the last part of Isaiah 61 He was reading: the day of vengeance of our God. The Jews were expecting a Messiah that would be a political deliverer, freeing them from the Roman oppression. But Jesus goes on to tell them that He would not take vengeance on them, but bring salvation to them also. Even more outrageously, the kingdom would be taken from the Jews. For the first time the religious system was hit by Jesus’s words, and they were ready to stone the one they had just recognized as the Messiah.

Luke changed chronology to take us to his first climactic event: the reader now understood clearly that the Holy Spirit was on Jesus, what His agenda was, and what He was up against, and all the following events recorded would rely on that.


5. Healing, Preaching & Teaching – Lk 4:31-44


After the Nazareth discourse, Luke takes us directly to Capernaum, giving the reader the impression He had not been there before. However, he lets us know in Lk 4:23 that he knows Jesus went there before going to Nazareth. He now shows us the things Jesus is doing by speaking – driving out demons and healing the sick – a sign of the favor of the Lord upon them. People ask the question: What is this teaching? – Luke is again emphasizing Holy Spirit-inspired speech, while Mark in the same account simply records the question: What is this?[5]

The same is true for the account of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, which is recorded in Luke 4:38-39, Matthew 8:14-15 and Mark 1:29-31. Matthew says that Jesus touched her hand, Mark that He took her by the hand and lifted her up, and Luke that He rebuked the fever. Luke emphasized the spoken words that resulted in miracles; and Jesus said, I must preach (Lk 4:43), so he kept on preaching (Lk 4:44).


6. Luke’s Unique Passages – Lk 9:51 - 19:44


Nearly half of this portion of Luke’s gospel is not found in Matthew or Mark[6]. This section is attributed to Jesus while He was on His way to Jerusalem[7] and mainly consists of teachings and parables. “There are seventeen parables, fifteen of which are unique to Luke” (Green 1992:501). Jesus goes after the poor, lowly, outcast and challenges the religious system, especially with His parables that clearly expressed God’s heart. Jesus exposed the foundation the system was building on (house built on sand/rock – Lk 6:46-49), resulting in unthinkable situations (crippled daughter of Abraham – Lk 13:10-16), and injustice done to the helpless (persistent widow & unjust judge – Lk 18:1-8), in self-righteousness (Pharisee & tax-collector in the temple – Lk 18:9-18) and evil indignation (lost sheep, coin, son – Lk 15), and finally to the removal of the kingdom from those He had tried to reach (vineyard & tenants – Lk 20:9-16), since there was no hope for them any more (rich man & Lazarus – Lk 16:19-31): They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (v. 31). Jesus’s resurrection confirmed those words to be true.

7. Good Gifts & Jonah’s Sign – Lk 11


“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13)


Luke might have had the book of Matthew in front of him when quoting this saying of Jesus. Matthew 7:11, however, reads, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him. The only difference between the two passages is that where Matthew has good gifts, Luke substitutes them with the Holy Spirit, making a point of what the good gifts are. The Holy Spirit was coming; He would descend on all flesh and all sons and daughters would prophecy. Luke continued building anticipation for his climax in Acts 2.

“As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mt 12:40). Matthew tells us that the sign of Jonah was his being in the fish for three days as Jesus would be dead for three days. However, this is what Luke says, “As Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation” (Lk 11:30). What was it Jonah did that was a sign to the Ninevites? He was preaching. Luke is again emphasizing inspired words that bring forth a response.


8. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – Lk 12:10


Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven (Mt 12:31). The Pharisees had just accused Jesus to do His miracles by the power of Satan instead of the Holy Spirit. Matthew therefore lays out that the unforgivable sin is “calling good evil, evil good, labeling God’s works as from the devil” (Gray 2002:22). Mark[8] records Jesus’s saying in the same context as Matthew and adds that He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.” (Mk 1:30)

Luke places Jesus’s words into a different context: When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say (Lk 12:11-12). Jesus was speaking to His disciples – in contrast to Matthew in whose context the Pharisees were addressed – warning them to not resist the Spirit when He was inspiring them to speak. “If the Holy Spirit is available but you back down of your inspired witness, it is blasphemy” (ibidem).


9. Parable of the Fig Tree – Lk 13:6-9


All three synoptic gospels have an account of a barren fig tree. Matthew and Mark[9] record an incident where Jesus curses a fig tree because it does not bear any fruit, and it withers. The fig tree represents the religious system of Jesus’s day. Matthew’s account is towards the end of his gospel and the tree withers immediately. Mark records the incidence earlier, and it is the following morning that the fig tree is withered. Luke’s account differs from the other gospel-writers. He does not record Jesus actually cursing a fig tree, but telling a parable about a fig tree. In his parable the tree had not born any fruit for three years, yet the man taking care of it asks for another year of mercy before its cutting down. Luke puts this parable even earlier. Jesus was still hoping to reach the religious system, giving them more time of grace, a chance to repent and respond to the good news of the kingdom. Another notable difference is that the whole tree is not destroyed as in Mark and Matthew, but it is cut down, so that a new shoot can come out of the stump. If they did not turn and bring fruit, the kingdom would be taken from them and given to somebody else.


10. Jesus’s Last Hours on Earth – Lk 24


The gospel writers differ in what they record after Jesus’s resurrection. Matthew, speaking to Jews, explains the origin of the lie that Jesus did not really rise from the dead, and then goes on to record Jesus’s ‘great commission’, sending His disciples into the world (Mt 28).

Mark mentions several of Jesus’s appearances to His disciples, before recording the great commission in detail, as well as confirming that signs were following the disciples (Mk 16).

Luke records more than the other synoptic gospel writers, describing in detail Jesus’s appearance to two men on the road to Emmaus, which Mark probably mentions in Mk 16:12-13. Luke describes the conversation between Jesus and the two men, who did not recognize Him at first. Jesus was still coming to ordinary people and opening their eyes to the truth (Lk 24:31).

He then appeared to the disciples before His ascension. Luke makes a point of showing Jesus’s humanity even after His resurrection, by sharing how Jesus ate some fish. Jesus had not risen by His own power, but the Father had resurrected Him by the power of the Holy Spirit.

And now Luke was just about to reach the climax in his account. He does not record Jesus’s great commission as Jesus’s last words, as Matthew and Mark did. Instead, he is reiterating his theme: you are witnesses (v. 48) – which would result in all Matthew and Mark recorded – and saying that now the time had come for what my Father has promised (v. 49). He calls the gift of the Holy Spirit the promise[10], to avoid confusion among his readers. The disciples had already gone out healing the sick and casting out demons when Jesus had delegated His authority to them. However, something far better lay ahead of them, that they had not experienced yet. The Holy Spirit had been upon them, but He had not baptized and filled them yet. Luke continues to build our anticipation of what would happen in Acts 2. He closes with Jesus’s ascension and the disciples’ obedience in waiting continually at the temple, praising God (v. 53).


11. Conclusion


Luke’s theology clearly differed from Mark’s and Matthew’s. He had the poor, lowly, outcast and the non-Jew in mind as he wrote his account of Jesus’s life, not only bringing the gospel into their reach, but revealing to them that they, too, were qualified to do what Jesus did, once the Holy Spirit would come upon them. Through the Holy Spirit they could speak and make a difference, bringing the kingdom of God as His empowered witnesses. Jesus had taken the kingdom from the religious system, and was giving it to ordinary people like them.

“Luke is on a mission to restore the Holy Spirit to individuals, churches, congregations, particularly expressing it through the lowly, weak and Gentiles” (Gray 2002:3) and the story had only just begun: After having recorded Jesus’s life, Luke sets out to parallel His life with the early church’s, as the Holy Spirit descends and empowers the disciples as He had Jesus, to take the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).



12. 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, MO Spring Term 2002


Green, Joel B. and Scot McKnight (eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL 1992


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


Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Handbook, Moody Press: Chicago, IL 1966



[1] Which is what synoptic means.

[2] Green 1992:527f gives a good overview of the arguments in this ongoing discussion.

[3] Mark – 6x, Matthew – 12x, Luke – 17x (Stronstad 1984:35)

[4] Mt 13:53-58, Mk 6:1-6.

[5] Mark 1:27

[6] According to Green 1992:501.

[7] Green 1992:501 and Green 1997:27.

[8] Mk 3:28-29

[9] Mt 21:19-21, Mk 11:13-14, 20-21

[10] We noticed that in chapter 11 that Luke had called Matthew’s good gifts the Holy Spirit.