Salvation is a major theme in the book of Luke. In fact, according to David Wenham and Steve Walton in their book, Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts, Luke used the language of salvation more than any other gospel writer (p. 247).
Salvation in the Gospel of Luke should be interpreted in light of the overall message of the Gospel which is about Jesus and how he, as the Son of God, performed miracles, died for those who followed Him, rose again, and ascended to heaven. This study of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke will consist of explaining the opportunity of salvation, synonyms, antonyms, and how Luke presented the word “salvation” in light of the overall message of his book.
I. The Opportunity of Salvation
The word “salvation” is used five times in the book of Luke (Luke 1:77; 2:30; 3:6; 19:9, 44.). The clearest presentation of the word is used in Luke 19:44 where Jesus saw the city of Jerusalem, began to weep, and said,
How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation (Luke 19:42-44, emphasis added, New Living Translation).
It is important to make a few observations about this verse.
- Salvation is said to be an “opportunity.”
The opportunity for salvation is through Jesus’ words and work on the Cross. The people of Jerusalem did not accept the opportunity for salvation that Jesus presented them. One of the main themes of the Bible is how humans can respond to that opportunity for salvation. As Allison Trites writes in the Gospel of Luke, Acts, “God is seen preeminently at work to fulfill his purposes in salvation history in Jesus” (p. 14). Jesus revealed himself as the one who brought salvation.[ref]Darrell Bock, “Luke 1:11-9:50,” vol. 1, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 33.[/ref]
- The four previous mentions of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke affirmed that Jesus was the one able to bring salvation.
That ability to bring salvation is what predicted the opportunity of salvation through him.
- Jesus was weeping because “the nation missed the opportunity to respond to the eschatological moment, that is, to his [Jesus] visitation.”[ref]Darrell Bock, “Luke 9:51-24:53,” vol. 2, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 1563.[/ref]
Luke 19:42-44 tell of how Jesus “had visited his people as he had promised. The Messiah had come to seek and to save the lost. They refused to recognize they were lost. They refused to see God’s glory in Jesus or to give God glory for sending Jesus.”[ref]Trent Butler, “Luke,” in Holman New Testament Commentary, vol. 3 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 320.[/ref]
- Jesus was sad because he knew that their decision to reject him would cost them dearly.
This was the salvation opportunity for the Jewish people yet they failed to accept it (Trites, p. 261).
- Because the people had not accepted their opportunity for salvation, they therefore rejected the Son.
Luke’s Gospel is a clear presentation about how Jesus was affirmed as the Son of God, performed miracles, died for those who followed him, rose again, and ascended to heaven. Furthermore, because the people of Jerusalem had rejected Jesus and his work, their rejection would cause God’s judgment to come.[ref]Robert Stein, “Luke,” in The New American Commentary, vol. 24 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 485.[/ref]
II. Other Verses Explaining Salvation in the Book of Luke
Within the book of Luke several other verses also expand on this main passage about salvation.
Three of the five times Luke mentions the word “salvation” it is found in the beginning section of Luke (chapters 1-3, see attached chart). In this beginning section Luke’s emphasis is on the words and statements of others about Jesus and the salvation he brings. From the beginning of Luke’s Gospel Jesus was acclaimed as the promised deliverer (Trites, p. 22). Because one of the main messages of Luke’s Gospel is to present how Jesus, as God, was affirmed as the Son of God, Luke uses the affirmations of three different characters to show Jesus as the means to salvation. In this way, Luke is using people to affirm who Jesus was before Jesus stated who he was.
The first reference to Jesus as salvation is from Zechariah who declared, “You [John] will tell his [Jesus] people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:77). While filled with the Holy Spirit (1:67) Zechariah gave this prophesy about his son, John. Zechariah showed that John would prepare the way for Jesus, the one who would forgive sins. If salvation comes from the forgiveness of sins, who has the power to forgive sins? That is Jesus; therefore, salvation is through Jesus.
The next use of “salvation” in the book of Luke is when Simeon, a righteous and devout man waiting for the Messiah, held Jesus and said, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32). Again, Jesus is seen as salvation. When Simeon saw Jesus, he saw salvation. It should be noted that the use of salvation by Zechariah and Simeon connects to the Old Testament concept of “bringing deliverance.” The Holeman Treasury of Key Bible Words states that bringing deliverance as savior was applied to the coming of Christ in Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:69, 71; Ps. 106:10; 132:17) as well as Simeon’s hymn of praise (Luke 2:30).[ref]Eugene Carpenter, and Philip W. Comfort, Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew Words Defined and Explained (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 384.[/ref]
The third use of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke is when John the Baptist quoted from Isaiah saying, “And then all people will see the salvation sent from God” (Luke 3:6). This affirms that the one sent from God (Jesus of supernatural birth, [Luke 1:26-38]) is the one that is salvation. Similar to previous verses, seeing Jesus is the same as seeing salvation.
After these three introductory remarks about salvation the word is not used again until Luke 19:9 where Jesus responds to Zacchaeus’ decision to give half his wealth to the poor and four times as much to the people he had cheated on their taxes (Luke 19:8). Jesus responded with, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.” The first three presentations of salvation in the book of Luke were seen as Jesus as its source. This is the first time Jesus directly declared himself as the instrument of salvation. Jesus declared Zacchaeus righteous and that salvation had come to him, probably because of his belief in Jesus and his response to Jesus.
III. Synonyms of Salvation in the Book of Luke
There are eight synonyms in the book of Luke that help to explain his concept of salvation.
A. Eternal Life
“Everyone who has given up house or wife or brother or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come” (Luke 18:29-30, emphasis added). For those who are saved Jesus promised eternal life in paradise (Luke 23:43).
During the time of Jesus’ resurrection he was walking with two of his followers and he said, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25, emphasis added).
Earlier in Luke several women had returned from the empty tomb and told everyone what they saw. “The story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.” (Luke 24:11, emphasis added). Responding to Jesus’ offer for salvation with belief is one of the most frequent descriptions from Luke about how to receive salvation.[ref]Stein, “Luke,” 50.[/ref]
“I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels” (Luke 12:8, emphasis added). Acknowledging Jesus on earth and what he came to do is what allows people to join him in the presence of God’s angels. The people who responded to Jesus on earth are the same people who are promised a warm reception in heaven (Trites, p. 22).
Jesus opened his disciples’ minds to interpret the Scriptures and told them during his last conversation with people on earth, “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent” (Luke 24:47, emphasis added).
Repentance of sins is frequently emphasized in the book of Luke as a proper response to Jesus because someone receives salvation by repenting.[ref]Stein, “Luke,” 51.[/ref] In Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, vol. 3 he comments on repentance saying repentance “is almost universally added to believing as a requirement on the human side for salvation” (p. 372). He continues, “Repentance is not in itself equivalent to believing or faith, though, being included in believing, is used here as a synonym of the word believe” (p. 378).
While teaching to a large crowd Jesus told them, “You cannot be my disciple without giving up everything you own” (Luke 14:33).
Jesus had elaborated on this same point earlier in his ministry saying, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 9:26-27).
In these two passages Jesus spoke of sacrificing a person’s will, desires, needs, and ambitions all for the sake of following him. This sacrifice in order to follow Jesus is how to get salvation.
After opening the minds of his disciples to interpret the Scriptures Jesus gave this statement during his last time speaking with people on earth, “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent” (Luke 24:47, emphasis added). This forgiveness of sins was something only Jesus could do and was one of the expressions used in the Gospel of Luke to describe the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.[ref]Stein, “Luke,” 50.[/ref]
It is important to remember that these synonyms are not to be seen as different ways of salvation. They are simply different ways of expressing God’s opportunity for salvation. Neither are these synonyms a list from which people can chose which ones they like best. People “enter into God’s kingdom through one response that involves faith, repentance, baptism, confessing Christ, following Jesus, and keeping the commandments.”[ref]Ibid., 51.[/ref] This is not a process, it is an act which contains all of these responses.[ref]Ibid.[/ref] As this examination of synonyms has been used to discover the meaning of the word “salvation” in the book of Luke an examination of antonyms will also be presented.
IV. Antonyms of Salvation in the Book of Luke
“Anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels” (Luke 12:9, emphasis added). Jesus was clear that those who knew him on earth would know him in heaven, but those who denied him on earth would be denied in heaven.
When sending out his disciples for ministry Jesus told them, “Anyone who rejects you is rejecting me. And anyone who rejects me is rejecting God, who sent me” (Luke 10:16, emphasis added). Rejection of Jesus is a rejection of God, therefore also a rejection of the opportunity of salvation of which Jesus was.
While talking about the Pharisees to his disciples Jesus taught, “They [Pharisees] shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished” (Luke 20:47, emphasis added). Punishment will fall upon all those who do not confess Jesus as Lord and follow him.
V. Salvation in the Book of Luke
Salvation is an emphasis in the book of Luke.
From start to finish Luke presents Jesus as the Savior, Messiah. In chapter one of Luke, Jesus was pointed to as the one who would bring salvation through the forgiveness of sins (Luke 1:77). Then that message was affirmed by Simeon (Luke 2:30) and again by John the Baptist (Luke 3:6). Jesus himself claimed to be able to offer salvation when declaring that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ home (Luke 19:9).
With his final affirmation of salvation in Luke 19:44, Jesus stated that those who had not responded to the offer of salvation (himself) would be crushed, because he was the offer of salvation.