I have suggested that reading the orderly account (which we know as Luke’s Gospel) requires attention to a number of elements, with one eye looking back to sources, to see how they are used in telling the story of Jesus, as the other eye looks forward to subsequent events, to see how they influence the story of Jesus.
As we read, and reflect on, this account in this way, we may well note a number of key features that characterise this orderly account.
Geography is one key pointer in leading us to an important central feature of this two-volume orderly account. The earlier work about Jesus made it clear that he was from Nazareth in Galilee (Mark 1:9) and that, after being baptised in the Jordan near Jerusalem (1:9–11), Jesus returned to Galilee, where all his activities took place (1:14–9:50). After that, Jesus left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan” (10:1) and then entered Jerusalem—for the first and only time in this account—where he spent the remainder of his time (11:11–16:8).
That same Nazareth origin of Jesus is acknowledged in Luke’s account (Luke 1:26–27; 2:4, 39) and in this account, Jesus also is active for some time in Galilee (4:14–9:50). However, the majority of the narrative in this orderly account is set outside of Galilee. Once Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51, 53) he is depicted as travelling relentlessly towards Jerusalem (13:22, 31–35; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11, 28, 41–44), where he spends the rest of his time (19:45–24:53).
Whilst in Jerusalem, Jesus spends time in the Temple precinct (Mark 11:15–19; 11:27–13:37; Luke 19:45–21:38). However, Luke takes great pains to emphasise the connection between Jesus and the Temple. Jesus does not leave the city once he has entered it (cf. Mark 11:19); in Luke, he remains there “every day” (Luke 19:47, 21:37) and this whole section is bracketed with explicit references to the Temple at 20:1 and 21:38.
In fact, the Temple connection has also been identified early in Luke’s narrative, where he tells of Zechariah the priest (1:5–10), the newborn Jesus, presented for purification (2:22–24), Simeon the prophet (2:25–35), and Anna the prophet (2:36–38), as well as the twelve-year-old Jesus himself in the Temple (2:41–52). Jesus, whilst he comes from Nazareth in Galilee, has a connection with the Temple, the centre and focal point of Judaism at that time. The story of Jesus begins in that central point, and comes to its climax also in that central location: the Temple in Jerusalem.
There are other key geographical markers in the orderly account we know as Luke. Samaria, for instance, figures in both volumes, even though there is no mention of it in Mark’s earlier narrative. (When Jesus leaves Galilee in Mark 10:1, he seems simply to go immediately to Judea! Even though Samaria is locked in between Galilee and Judea.) In the orderly account, Jesus travels through Samaria (Luke 9:51–53), tells a story about a Good Samaritan (10:25–37), and heals a group of lepers which 8n lures a Samaritan (17:11–19). By contrast, in Matthew’s account of Jesus, travel into Samaria is strictly forbidden (Matt 10:5–6).
Luke’s positive interest in Samaritans emerges in his second volume, for after the persecution in Jerusalem and the scattering of Jesus followers (Acts 8:1), it is in the region of Samaria that the good news gains traction; there is much joy after exorcisms and healings (8:8) and widespread acceptance of the message (8:12, 25), and consequent growth in believers (9:31). These scenes may well have influenced the author to include the distinctive elements relating to Samaria and the Samaritans in his first volume.
A third geographical marker is provided by the closing chapter of volume 2. Paul, the figure who has been centre-stage for 15 chapters, arrives in Rome (Acts 28:14–31). Rome was the capital of the political power which was dominant across the Mediterranean region, and had been the occupying power in Judea, Samaria and Galilee for twelve decades by this time.
Paul’s entry into Rome—even as a prisoner under house arrest (28:16, 23)—signals the arrival of the good news about Jesus in the centre of the empire. It indicates that the movement from Jerusalem, to Samaria, and then to Rome, makes it possible for this good news to reach “to the ends of the earth” (1:8). Not only Jews, but Gentiles also will become followers of Jesus (15:3, 12). So, in Antioch, Paul inform recalcitrant Jews that “we are now turning to the Gentiles” (13:46); in Corinth, he says that “from now on I will go to the Gentiles” (18:6); in Rome, he affirms, “this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles” (28:28).
The story has moved from Jerusalem, the centre of Judaism, to Rome, the centre of the dominant Gentile empire. The symbolism is powerful. Geography reveals theology.
This eventual destination of Rome, the centre of the Empire that stretches “to the end of the earth”, is read back into the story of Jesus. In fact, the Roman context for the story about Jesus has been signalled early in Luke’s orderly account, in the detailed dating provided in introducing John the baptiser (Luke 3:1–2).
The fact that the story of Jesus is to become known and valued amongst Gentiles is indicated in Simeon’s oracle that the child Jesus will bring “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32) and in the citation of Isaiah’s words that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (3:6, quoting Isa 40:5). There are a number of times in the Lukan narrative where Gentile receptivity to the good news is then affirmed.
So the reshaping of the beginnings of the good news of Jesus, the chosen one (the Gospel of Mark) into the orderly account of the things being fulfilled in our midst (the Gospel of Luke) retells the story in ways that give us clear indications about where all of this is headed. The Gospel becomes “a light for the Gentiles, salvation to the ends of the earth”.