[Note: This is the “Old” version of the Grace Commentary on Luke. It will be updated to the new version soon.]
The ministry of Jesus finally begins in Luke 4:14-15. And yet, these verses are not really the beginning of ministry for Jesus. Chronologically, they do not immediately follow the events of 4:1-13. There is actually about a one year gap in between verses 13 and 14. When the Gospel of Luke is compared with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is discovered that only John says anything at all about the first year of Jesus’ ministry. All three of the others, Matthew, Mark and Luke, when they begin to talk about the ministry of Jesus, begin with the second year (Bock 1994:386). A quick survey of almost any Harmony of the Gospels reveals the following:
John 1:19-34 John introduces Jesus
John 1:35-51 Points disciples to Jesus
John 2:1-12 Water turned to wine at Cana
John 2:13-22 Temple cleansed
John 3:1-21 Jesus & Nicodemus
John 3:22–4:3 Jesus in Judea, baptizing
John 4:4-42 Jesus & Samaritans
Matt 4:12 Jesus returns to Galilee
John 4:46-54 Nobleman’s son healed (Cana/Capernaum)
Luke 4:16-30 Jesus rejected at Nazareth
So according to John, sometime after the period of temptation in the wilderness, Jesus gained a few followers from John the Baptist and went with them into Galilee (John 1:43). While there, Jesus attended a wedding feast where He performs His first miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-12). After this, Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover (John 2:13). But in Jerusalem, He found the temple full of merchants and corrupt moneychangers, and so He made a whip out of cords and cleansed the temple (John 2:13-22). His actions and his teachings sparked controversy among the Pharisees, and one of them named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night to question Him about eternal life (John 3:1-21).
Jesus and some of His disciples went out into the Judean wilderness and started to baptize Jewish people who came to them (3:22–4:3). This started further controversy, and so Jesus left that region and headed north for Galilee again. On the way there, they traveled through Samaria where Jesus met and talked with a Samaritan woman about how to worship God (John 4:1-42). As a result, many Samaritans believed in Him for eternal life (John 4:39-42).
After this, He went again to Galilee, and it is at this point that Luke picks up the story. One year has passed. Jesus has been to Jerusalem and back. Many have believed in Him for eternal life, and many more have become His followers. He has taught, performed some miracles, and initiated a few controversies.
Why does Luke (and Matthew and Mark) neglect to write about this first year of ministry? First of all, it is impossible for Luke to record everything (cf. John 21:25). All writers, including biographers, must be selective in what they record. When writing about a person’s life, the biographer records events that seem important and definitive. Or they write about events which fit a particular theme or perspective. From reading the opening chapters of the Gospel of John, it appears that in His first year of ministry, Jesus focused on inviting people to believe in Him for eternal life. As Jesus went about from place to place, John writes that Jesus constantly told people that in order to receive eternal life, all they had to do was believe in Him for it. The word “believe” is found 22 times in the first four chapters of John. Over and over and over again, Jesus does something or teaches something to get people to believe in Him. The overriding purpose of this first year of ministry was to make believers. And in this first year, Jesus gains hundreds, if not thousands, of believers.
In the second year of ministry, Jesus transitions from gaining believers, and focuses on turning those believers into disciples. He not only focuses on making disciples, but specifically on pouring His life into twelve disciples, so they can be the apostles who continue His work after He is gone.
So why does John record these first-year events while Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not? The reason is due to purpose and theme. The Gospel of John is often called the Gospel of Belief. The word “believe” is found almost 100 times in John. One of the primary purposes of John is to tell people how they can receive eternal life (John 20:30-31). John records in numerous ways that eternal life is given to anyone who simply believes in Jesus for it (cf. John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47, etc.).
But the purposes of the other three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are different. If John was written to help people believe in Jesus for eternal life, Matthew, Mark and Luke were all written to help people who had already believed become fully-committed followers of Jesus. The Gospel of John helps with this too, but while discipleship is a twin purpose to John, it is the only purpose for Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
This helps explain why Luke did not record anything of Jesus’ first year of ministry. Jesus was mainly concerned about gaining believers His first year of ministry, but Luke is mainly concerned with making disciples. So Luke skips the first year and jumps straight to the disciple-making years. Luke is writing to Theophilus, and wants to impress upon him that the path of discipleship has no end. After coming to faith in Jesus, there is always more to learn (Bock 1994:387). With this in mind, verses 14-15 contain two of the things Christ focused on in His ministry and in His disciplemaking: the Spirit and Truth (cf. John 4:23). In this way, Luke continues to portray Jesus as a new Moses. Just as Moses was guided by God in leading and teaching the Israelites, so also is Jesus.
4:14. Verse 14 focuses on how the ministry of Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke writes that Jesus returned…to Galilee. Since Jesus returned to Galilee at least twice in his first year of ministry (John 1:43; 4:43-45), Luke probably intends this as a summary statement of Jesus’ movement. See 4:44; 5:15; 7:17; 8:1-3 for other similar summary statements which provide structure and movement for Luke’s narrative.
There is a special emphasis in Luke 4:14–9:50 regarding the region of Galilee, and this section of Luke is often referred to as “The Galilean Ministry.” This is not simply a title, for it also describes a mode or method of ministry that Jesus undertook. Galilee was a fertile, agrarian region composed of both rich and poor, cities and rural villages, highly educated and relatively uneducated (cf. Green 1997:200-203; Barclay 1975:45). That Luke places such an emphasis on Galilee reveals Luke’s conviction that Jesus is a Messiah for all people. While Jesus caters to the political, religious, and cultural expectations of all people He encounters, He also challenges, redeems, and transforms these expectations in order to call people to a new way of thinking and living (Green 1997:203).
The ministry in Galilee was by in the power of the Spirit, indicating that Jesus was led and guided by the Holy Spirit on where to go and what to do. It was in this first year that Jesus called His first disciples (John 1:35-51), performed His first recorded miracle (John 2:1-10), cleansed the temple (John 2:13-25), and reached out to both religious elite (John 3:1-21) and religious rejects (John 4:1-42). While the birth narratives of Jesus provided a constellation of Jewish expectations for the Messiah (Luke 1:1-3:38), the early ministry actions of Jesus show how He is actually going to perform His ministry (Green 1997:297). In the context here, Luke mentions nothing about miracles, but focuses primarily on the teaching of Jesus. This reveals that for Luke, the primary ministry of the Spirit is to guide Jesus and equip Him for teaching the Scriptures (Bock 1994:391).
As a result of what Jesus did and taught during His first year of ministry, news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. The word for news is pheme which is the origin for the English word “fame.” (Bock 1994:391). People were talking about Him, wondering about Him, and trying to figure out if He was just another teacher, or maybe a prophet, or perhaps the long-awaited Messiah. It was the miracles of Jesus, the signs that followed His teaching, which authenticated His claims to be the Messiah. Miraculous signs have always been the means by which God proved to the Israelites that He had chosen a particular person for a special prophetic task (cf Exodus 4; Pentecost 1981:136).
4:15. If verse 14 focuses on the Spiritual ministry of Jesus, verse 15 emphasizes the teaching ministry, which, of course, is empowered by the Spirit. The text says He taught in their synagogues. The termsynagogue means “gathering” and it was the central place of religious life for Jewish people in a particular community. There was only one temple, and it was in Jerusalem. Every community that had a least ten Jewish men would have a synagogue where they gathered for prayer and teaching. They gathered at least weekly on the Sabbath (Saturday), but many would gather much more frequently (cf. Edersheim 1988:432). The primary activity when they gathered in the Synagogue was teaching and instruction in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. They went weekly, if not daily, to the synagogue to learn the Bible. In fact, sometimes, rather than call them Synagogues, they were referred to as a “school” or “House of Instruction.” The synagogue was the local religious school where Jews went as often as they could pray and learn the Word of God (Edersheim 1988:439-450).
So when Luke records that Jesus taught in their synagogues, it means that every week, at least on the Sabbath, but maybe more frequently, Jesus was in a local synagogue, teaching the Scriptures to the others who had gathered to learn. It can also be shown from other sources that the typical method of synagogue teaching was book by book, verse by verse. Typically, when Jewish Rabbis taught the Torah, they taught it straight through (cf. Neh 8:8), and this is probably how Jesus taught (cf. Luke 4:16-21; 4:31; 6:6; 13:10). Jesus “took the Old Testament Scriptures, read them, explained them, and caused the people to understand them” (Pentecost 1981:137). This practice was also used by the early church (Acts 2:16-36; 2:42; 13:14-41; 14:1-3; 15:21; 18:4; 19:8-10; etc.). Lightfoot records that the one who taught this way was often referred to as “an interpreter,” and the teaching as an “interpretation” (Lightfoot 1989:68; Edersheim 444; Evans 2003:286). This is partly because the readings were in Hebrew, while some of those in the synagogue may have only understood Greek or Aramaic (cf. Edersheim 1988:432). So the text was read in Hebrew, then if an interpreter was present, it would be interpreted into a language everyone could understand, and then explained and taught so it could be understood and applied. This is what Jesus did in the synagogues He visited.
Parallel to the end of verse 14, Luke reiterates that the Spirit-empowered teaching of Jesus resulted in Him being glorified by all. However, Luke will go on to show in 4:16-30 that not everyone appreciated His teaching and His claims. Nevertheless, the ministry of Jesus was marked by a perfect balance between the Spirit and the truth, and as a result, many believed in Him, became His disciples, and praised His name among their friends and family.
Jesus has begun His ministry with the power of the Spirit and the teaching of Scripture. These themes are mentioned again in 4:42-44, forming an inclusio around 4:16-41, which contain specific examples of Jesus’ Spirit-empowered teaching and ministry. These two primary themes dominate the narrative of Luke 4:16–9:50 (cf. Green 1997:199), as seen especially in Luke 4:16-30.