Gospel of Luke
Jesus Figure Analysis
Let's play a word association game. Ready? We'll start.
Association: Rainbows and butterflies
Okay, that's what we thought before we read Luke. Now it goes more like this:
Association: Fear, death, and horror
Harsh, we know. But Jesus is, after all, the point at which God's plans for the world and human's plans for the world meet—and crash. Sure, Jesus will ultimately achieve everything that God has fated for the messiah, but it will take a lot of conflict and apparent failure to get there.
Hey, that's what happens when you do everything you can to resist the people in charge.
Getting With the Program
Luke is very explicit about who Jesus is. Programmatic declarations about his purpose—in no little detail—are made by just about everyone: heavenly messengers, Zechariah and Elizabeth (the parents of John), his own mother, the prophets Simeon and Anna, John the Baptist, and even Jesus himself. Don't believe us? Read it for yourself: 1:26-38, 42-55, 67-79; 2:8-14, 28-38; 3:15-17; 4:16-21, 43; 7:21-23.
Really, read it. It's as important as knowing the hook-up directions are on a canister of propane gas. We'll boil down a few of the essentials here for you:
- Jesus is granted some very impressive titles, which are also current in the wider Greco-Roman and Jewish culture: Son of God (1:32, 35); Savior (2:11); Messiah (a.k.a. Christ) (2:11; 3:15); and Lord (2:11). The Roman emperor is probably the only other person in Jesus's social world who can pull off all of these titles.
- The arrival of Jesus is interpreted in terms of some big-time concepts: divine mercy (1:50, 54, 72, 78); God's visitation (1:48, 68, 78); redemption (1:68; 2:38); salvation (1:69, 71, 77; 2:30); deliverance (1:73-74); peace (1:79; 2:14, 29); and good news (2:10; 4:18, 43). Not too shabby.
- But there are a few quirks in all this. Mary talks about reversals, where rulers and ordinary folks switch places, as do the rich and poor (1:51-53). Simeon anticipates ups and downs and quite a bit of opposition (2:34-35). And Jesus himself speaks of delivering good news to the poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind, and forgiveness to people whose lives are broken (4:18-19; 7:23). That's just to say, it won't be easy.
As Jesus traverses Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, he doesn't disappoint. His boatload of healings and exorcisms make big-league concepts like mercy, deliverance, salvation, God's visitation, and peace very real in people's day-to-day lives (for examples, check out 4:33-41; 5:17-26; 7:1-17).
Who's going to benefit the most? The people who have it the worst. When he starts his ministry, Jesus promises to bring good things to outcasts (4:18-19; also, 7:21-23). And boy does he keep his word.
Problems, Opposition, Conflict
But political and religious authorities just won't buy it. They resist Jesus's mission with all of their might. We knew there was opposition coming his way, but no one said it would be this fierce. The inhabitants of Nazareth attempt to heave Jesus off of a cliff (4:28-30); Pharisees grumble under their breath about the sinners he hangs out with (5:30; 15:2; 19:7); and authorities search for ways to trap, arrest, and kill him (6:11; 11:53-54; 13:31-33; 19:47-48; 22:3-6).
Spoiler alert: they succeed.
Luke knows for sure that this negative response to Jesus contradicts the hook-up directions he gave us in the opening chapters of the gospel. But his strategy is to argue that this is how God planned that the Messiah's life would unfold all along. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Jesus himself repeatedly speaks of the "necessity" that he be rejected, suffer, and raised from the dead (9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:32-33; 24:7). And if Jesus's word wasn't enough, the resurrected Jesus explains to the disciples that Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms foretold the Messiah's fate long ago, too (24:25-27, 44-46).
The whole course of Jesus's life—all of the promises and all of the conflicts—is more or less one big demonstration that what is fated by God works itself out despite, or through, humans' opposition. God knew all along that his final deliverance for the world would not come as easily as the excitement in the opening chapters might imply. But hey, we all love a little suspense.
So God wins in the end, but that doesn't mean everything's all neat and tidy. There was a lot of resistance on earth and it sure won't disappear after Jesus ascends to heaven in 24:51. Also, um, where's that whole eternal kingdom promised by Gabriel in 1:32-33? Where is the deliverance from enemies and eternal worship foreseen by Zechariah in 1:71-75? Where is the "peace on earth" of which the heavenly host speaks in 2:13?
Not to knock the healings, exorcisms, and general prophecy-fulfillment, but we were kind of waiting for the peace on earth part.
Luke is all too aware of all of Jesus's unfinished business, and his story is pretty open. WE have the expectation that Jesus will return at the end of time to settle the score and accomplish everything everyone ever hoped (see 9:26-27; 11:2; 12:8-9, 39-40, 46; 22:25-33)… but when is it coming?
Luke's Jesus on the How-Human-Is-He Meter
How human is Jesus? We're asking, and we want you to answer. Here are some possible answers:
- Way Too Human: this guy's always burping and farting and can't stop eating and drinking. He's also got bad BO.
- Human, But Not Too Human: this guy's very well-mannered, professional, and clean, but he's not scared to show his emotions in public and admits when he's wrong.
- The Kind of Human All Humans Wish They Could Be, But Aren't: this guy's strictly professional all the time, hardly feels any emotions, and does his job like a robot with a high degree of focus, precision, and success.
- Simply Not Human At All: this guy floats through life like a ghost who's impervious to everything human and experiences no failure or emotion; oh, and he doesn't need food, drink, or sleep.
We've done a poll here at Shmoop and the majority vote is for The Kind of Human All Humans Wish They Could Be, But Aren't. After all, Jesus is always right, knows just about everything, and never really screws up or makes mistakes. Sure he gets choked up, but even his final words (23:46) are pretty measured. Compare this Jesus to the Jesus of Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46, and you'll see what we mean.
But when the meter does dip into the Human, But Not Too Human category, it really mixes things up. We see this change during Jesus's prayer in Gethsemane (22:39-46; although Jesus is in less pain in Luke than in Mark 14:32-42) and when he contemplates the fate of Jerusalem (13:34-35; 19:41-44). Our boy even sheds a tear (19:41).
Luke seems to be intent on avoiding the final category, Simply Not Human At All. After all, Jesus is always eating and drinking (5:33-34; 7:34, 36; 11:37; 14:1; 15:2; 22:14-20). And even after the resurrection, he emphatically points out that he's flesh and bones rather than simply a spirit. And of course, he loves him a piece of roasted fish (24:39-43).
Are there a few split-second dips into category one as well (7:34, 37-38, 44-46)? Ahem.