As a Christian I always thought it was odd that the Gospel of Luke was the only gospel to mention Jesus’ witnessed ascension into heaven. In my opinion, the Ascension is the greatest witnessed miracle in all of the Gospels. After all, no one claims to have witnessed the actual resurrection (reanimation) of the body of Jesus. But the author of Luke tells us that all eleven of the original disciples (minus Judas) saw Jesus lift off the ground and slowly rise through the air into the clouds! ELEVEN eyewitnesses!
I am currently reading “The Book of Miracles” by Kenneth L. Woodward. Woodward points out some very interesting insights about the Gospel of Luke:
“Luke is the longest of the four gospels and the one that most closely approximates a biography as that literary form was understood in Greco-Roman culture. …Curiously, Luke does not include six of the miracle stories found in Mark. Scholars regard this as part of “the Great Omission” and have yet to find a reason for their exclusion. But Luke does include several that Mark does not have. More to the point, Luke has a definite theological agenda, which his treatment of the miracles helps to make clear. Unlike Mark, Luke treats the miracles of Jesus as evidence that Jesus is the one anointed by God’s spirit (this is dramatized by his baptism) to carry out a divine mission in fulfillment of God’s promises as found in the Old Testament. Thus, Luke repeatedly emphasizes the people’s reaction to the miracles they have witnessed. Put another way, where Mark stresses what the people have heard, Luke stresses what they have seen, particularly in the miracles.” p. 126
Gary: Even as a Christian, I was aware that one of Matthew’s primary goals in his gospel is to portray Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. I had never really noticed Luke doing the same.
“More than the other evangelists, Luke emphasizes the compassion of Jesus. Here [Jesus’ miracle of the raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Nain, Luke 7:11-16] he does this by deliberately invoking a parallel with the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, the only prophets of the Old Testament who raised the dead. Luke’s line—Jesus “gave him to his mother”—is taken verbatim from the miracle of the Elijah story (I Kings 17:23). The people recognize the parallel and in their response signal their recognition of Jesus as a prophet who represents a new and powerful visitation of God to his people. At the end of Luke’s gospel, and again at the beginning of Acts [the same author], Jesus will ascend into heaven, just as Elijah was taken up into heaven.” p. 128
Gary: Is this why the Ascension story only occurs in the two books of the Bible written by “Luke”? Luke wanted to present Jesus as a new…and greater…Elijah, so he invented stories to make Jesus fit his theme!
Woodward goes on to present other parallels between Luke’s stories about Jesus and the stories of Elijah and Elisha:
In Luke 17:11-19 Luke presents a miracle story not found in any other gospel, the Healing of the Ten (Samaritan) Lepers. Woodward finds a parallel in this miracle story.
“Again, Luke echoes an earlier story, in which Elisha heals Naaman, a gentile commander of the Syrian army. The Judeans regarded Samaritans as barely Jewish and as rivals… Again, the miracle indicates that salvation through Jesus will be open to the Gentiles and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will spread to the ends of the earth.” p. 128-129
Gary: Interesting that this miracle is “unique” to Luke. It is as if…Luke invented it to fit his theme!
Note: Woodward also points out another “unique” event in the Gospel of Luke: During Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden, after one of his disciples has cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Luke has Jesus heal the man’s severed ear. No other gospel author mentions this deed. Woodward believes that this detail was part of Luke’s theme of “the compassionate Jesus”.
Anyone who doubts that the authors of the Gospels invented stories for evangelistic purposes needs to read Woodward’s book!