The Significance of Luke and Ancient Judaism

It has taken me a while to complete a study of Luke, reading about modern Israel’s history, studying Hebrew, and other complications have slowed down my personal study time. I am glad to have finished this undertaking prior to my travels to the Holy Land. Luke has a unique voice and seems to be a fact focused writer as he shares more parables than the other synoptic Gospel. As a two-part book it seems like Acts, the second book, is the best natural progression for study. As Luke’s narrative movement drills down from the “entire Roman world” into an empty tomb, Acts flips the narrative, moving from Jerusalem to the “ends of the earth”. I am told Luke and Acts are literary masterpieces in their original Greek. Without a doubt the book of Luke stands shoulder to shoulder with the greatest of all literature. Although I still favor the Gospel of John. I look forward to continuing into Acts.

As I look forward to visiting Israel, I hope these studies have helped me better understand the world and our place in it. This brings a 100-hour study plan of the Gospels to completion. For now, I am contemplating what Dr. Bill Creasy says in his teaching of Luke,

Judaism viewed history as linear with a beginning, a middle and an end. Many in Jesus’ day – including Jesus himself – believed that the end was very near, just around the corner, and Jesus believed that he would be instrumental in bringing it all about. Virtually all in the 1st generation of the Church shared this eschatological vision, including Christ in Luke 21:1-38 with Luke’s version of the ‘Olivet Discourses.’

The mythologist Joseph Campbell argues that the Judeo-Christian concept of linear history stands in sharp contrast to the earlier Near-Eastern idea of history as being cyclical, a cycle, like the seasons, with time moving in an eternal, recurring cycle. In contrast, a linear world view opens history to the possibility of progress. It has imbedded deep within an eschatology (science of end times) that includes ethical dualism (the conflict between good and evil), a savior (one who shepherds history to its conclusion), and a wonderful science of end times that is optimistic in proclaiming the final triumph of Good.

Virtually all ancient religions saw life as an endless cycle of birth and death, a wheel spinning ceaselessly, round and round. Ancient Jews saw it differently! Time had a beginning, a middle, and, therefore, an end. Time is a story of triumph; we are unique individuals with destinies who can influence the course of events and the trajectory of history. This perspective brings enormous repercussions: without it, western civilization as we know it would not exist.

Scripture is the embodiment of that vision of time. Genesis starts things off with creation, and in Revelation the final climatic battle between good and evil wraps things up. The main character is God; the conflict is sin, and the theme is redemption. Scripture is a story full of memorable characters: Abraham and Sarah; Joseph and Pharaoh; Moses; David; Mary and Joseph; Jesus, and the Apostles.

Embedded within scripture is a vision of the unfolding of God’s plan and the final steps toward history’s fulfillment. In the deepest sense, all apocalyptic literature is prophetic because it articulates God’s plan and his intention toward humanity as history moves toward a close.

Without the understanding of time as linear and the progress of history as a linear narrative, western civilization as we know it would not exist. We would be at the mercies of the fates, never taking ownership of our place in the world, never challenging the power of Rome, never nailing theses to doors, or standing up to corrupt powers through the ages. It is easy to envision a darker world without the writings of men like Luke. Understanding Holy Scripture along with ancient civilization is important in gaining a deeper understanding of our world and our place in it. A deeper understanding of scripture unlocks a better understanding of God and his plans for his people. This wisdom, if we embody it in our lives and plant it in our hearts, guides us on our spiritual path. If we follow history both before and after ancient times, we will ultimately come to the true path of Christ’s cross and a deeper understanding of our place within history.  

Luke writes about this path as he shares a unique perspective on Jesus’ infancy, the prelude to his public ministry, the three phases of Jesus’ ministry, and the resurrection. These stories are valuable for life both in the present and even until the end of time. They provide hope for the suffering and light to the lost. I care deeply about the purpose and meaning of things and John had the time to reflect on this more than the synoptic Gospels writers, because of this John is my favorite Gospel. However, all the gospels are unique and that there are three synoptic Gospels and John stands separate is not a coincidental thing beginning with Matthew is my recommendation for those new to Gospel study but Luke may be slightly more approachable due to his focus on writing to a gentile audience.  

Ultimately, the book of Luke is one that brings us into a deeper fellowship with the divine and holy nature. I hope these thoughts encourage you to learn about these stories or re-acquaint yourself with the deep wisdom of Luke’s writings. What is your favorite gospel?

I am really looking forward to my time in Israel learning about ancient civilization, getting in the dirt, and walking the paths of those who came before. I hope the Gospels have prepared me to see with more open eyes and a wider perspective. Consider following along with these travels as I share my thoughts on the Holy Land.

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