“Chapter 15: Luke 1–3,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)
“Chapter 15,” New Testament Student Manual
As the third of the synoptic Gospels, the book of Luke is treasured for the additional witness it provides of many truths recorded by Matthew and Mark and for its unique content. Luke desired that his account would help others to “know the certainty of those things” (Luke 1:4) that they had previously learned about the Savior. The Gospel of Luke will broaden and deepen your understanding of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and help you more fully appreciate the inclusive scope of His love and compassion for all mankind, as manifested during His mortal ministry and through His infinite Atonement.
While the writer of the Gospel of Luke is not identified by name within the book, textual evidence as well as tradition credit Luke as the author of this Gospel. Much of this evidence stems from the book of Acts, which was also written by Luke. Though known as the “beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14) mentioned by Paul, Luke was foremost “a messenger of Jesus Christ” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 1:1 [in Luke 1:1, footnote a]). Luke was one of Paul’s “fellowlabourers” (Philemon 1:24) and Paul’s missionary companion (see 2 Timothy 4:11). Because Luke did not claim to have been an eyewitness of the Savior, but rather to have gained a perfect understanding from those who were “eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word” (Luke 1:2), it may be presumed that he was converted to Christianity at some point following the Savior’s Resurrection and Ascension.
It is not known exactly when Luke wrote his Gospel, but scholars estimate it was composed between A.D. 60 and 85. Luke’s sources were those people who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2) of the Savior’s mortal ministry and Resurrection. We do not know where the Gospel of Luke was written.
The book of Luke was intended for a Gentile audience, as evidenced by Luke’s use of Greek (Hellenistic) terminology and the literary style that characterizes his writing. Luke specifically addressed his Gospel and the book of Acts to “Theophilus” (Luke 1:3), which in Greek means “friend of God” or “beloved of God.” It is apparent that Theophilus had received previous instruction concerning the life and teachings of Jesus Christ (see Luke 1:4). Luke hoped to provide further instruction by offering a systematic account of the Savior’s mission and ministry. He wanted those who read his testimony to “know the certainty” (Luke 1:4) of the Son of God—His compassion, Atonement, and Resurrection.
Luke is the longest of the four Gospels and the longest book in the New Testament. Luke’s Gospel contains the most unique material of the three synoptic Gospels. Some of the most well-known stories of Christendom are unique to the Gospel of Luke: the traditional Christmas narrative (see Luke 2:1–20); the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy in the temple (see Luke 2:41–52); beloved parables such as the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:30–37) and the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11–32); the story of the ten lepers (see Luke 17:11–19); and the account of the resurrected Lord walking beside His disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13–32). Other unique features are Luke’s inclusion of teachings of John the Baptist not found in the other Gospels (see Luke 3:10–14); his emphasis on the prayerfulness of Jesus Christ (see Luke 3:21; 5:16; 9:18, 28–29; 11:1); and his inclusion of the calling, training, and missionary labors of the Seventy (see Luke 10:1–22). Moreover, Luke is the only Gospel writer to record that the Savior shed His blood in Gethsemane (see Luke 22:44).
In recounting the early spread of Christianity, Luke’s Gospel demonstrates the Lord’s interest in all people—Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles. It emphasizes the Savior’s regard for women, His empathy for the downtrodden, and His concern for those considered to be outcasts and sinners (see Luke 19:10). Because Luke’s Gospel begins and concludes at the temple, it also signals the temple’s importance as a principal location of God’s dealings with mankind (see Luke 1:9; 24:53).
The births and missions of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ were foretold. Witnesses testified that the infant Jesus was the Messiah. At 12 years of age, Jesus was found teaching at the temple. John the Baptist preached repentance and baptized Jesus Christ. Luke recorded a genealogy of Christ.
Christ was tempted in the wilderness. In Nazareth He proclaimed Himself as the Messiah and was rejected. Jesus Christ chose Twelve Apostles and taught His disciples. He forgave sins and performed many miracles.
The Twelve Apostles were sent to preach and to heal. Jesus Christ fed five thousand and was transfigured on a mountain. He called the Seventy and sent them forth to teach. He taught about discipleship, hypocrisy, and judgment. He gave the parable of the good Samaritan.
Christ taught in parables. He spoke of offenses, forgiveness, and faith. He healed ten lepers and taught of His Second Coming.
Jesus Christ continued to teach in parables, healed a blind man, and taught Zacchaeus. He rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, wept over the city, and cleansed the temple. Christ foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and spoke of the signs to precede His Second Coming. He instituted the sacrament, taught His Apostles, and suffered in Gethsemane. He was betrayed, arrested, mocked, smitten, and interrogated.
Jesus Christ was tried before Pilate and Herod, crucified, and buried. Angels at the tomb and two disciples on the road to Emmaus testified that He was resurrected. The Savior appeared to His disciples in Jerusalem, promised His Apostles they would be endowed with power, and ascended into heaven.
Beginning with the testimony of the angel Gabriel (Noah) and culminating with Heavenly Father’s own voice declaring the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ, chapters 1–3 of Luke present numerous testimonies concerning the divinity and redeeming mission of Jesus Christ. These chapters include the testimonies of Zacharias, Elisabeth, Mary, a chorus of angels, shepherds, Simeon, and Anna, as well as Jesus’s statement as a 12-year-old boy that He was about His Father’s business. In presenting a lineage of the Savior, Luke also affirmed the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ by noting that Joseph was the “supposed”—not actual—father of Jesus (Luke 3:23).
The first chapter of Luke also provides knowledge of the foreordained mission of John the Baptist, as announced by Gabriel and prophesied by Zacharias. Luke 3 then records how John fulfilled his mission to prepare others to receive the Savior, and it preserves some of John’s teachings not recorded anywhere else in scripture.
The Gospel of Luke begins with a prologue, which is a formal introduction. The use of this literary style was customary in classical Greek literature and served to establish the purpose and importance of the work as well as the credentials of the author. Luke’s purpose was to help Theophilus “know the certainty of those things” (Luke 1:4) he had previously learned about Jesus Christ. Luke’s assertion that he “had perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3) does not mean that he was an eyewitness of the Savior, but it reflects his diligence in incorporating the testimonies of eyewitnesses into his work.
Centuries before the birth of Jesus, King David had divided the priests of Israel into 24 families (called “courses”), each of which was called to serve in the temple twice a year for one week each time. Zacharias belonged to the priestly family of Abia (also called Abijah; see 1 Chronicles 23:1–6; 24:1–19). Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 1:8 replaces the word course with priesthood (see Luke 1:8, footnote b). The priests drew lots to determine who among them would receive the high honor of offering incense within the temple. Because of the large number of priests, the opportunity to burn incense was a rare privilege, one that would have been a high point in Zacharias’s life of service as a priest.
As part of the events recorded in Luke 1–3, numerous witnesses declared the divinity of Jesus Christ, including angels from heaven. While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Merrill J. Bateman explained why it was fitting for angels to be such an important part of the events surrounding the Savior’s birth and ministry:
“One might ask, ‘Why were angels so prominent at the Savior’s birth? And why were they such an important part of His life and ministry?’ The answers are twofold. The first pertains to the nature and mission of the personage whom they were heralding—a divine Being, the Son of God, the Only Begotten in the flesh who came to earth to save all of God’s children. The second concerns the ushering in of a new dispensation, a period of time when the gospel would be restored in its fulness. The ministry of angels is to assist in the ushering in of dispensations (see Moroni 7:29–31). …
“The last prophet of the Old Testament was Malachi, who lived 400 years before the birth of Christ. At that time Israel in large part had turned away from the covenants made with Jehovah. Consequently, they were in apostasy. Although the Aaronic Priesthood was on earth when Jesus was born, the Melchizedek Priesthood had been taken from the earth. Therefore, there was a need for the priesthood and the gospel to be restored in their fulness. …
“At the beginning of a new dispensation following a period of apostasy, there is no one with priesthood authority to administer the covenants in their fulness. Consequently, the Lord sends messengers from the other side of the veil to return priesthood keys and the gospel plan to the earth.
“It is not surprising then that an angel visited Zacharias and instructed him with regard to the mission of his son” (“A Season for Angels,” Ensign, Dec. 2007, 10, 14).
In ancient Israel, childlessness among married couples was regarded as a serious misfortune; some even believed it to be a punishment for sin. It is evident from Luke 1:13 that Zacharias and Elisabeth had prayed for the opportunity to become parents. Zacharias had no posterity through whom his priesthood line could continue, and Elisabeth later remarked that her barrenness had been viewed with “reproach among men” (Luke 1:25). In spite of this trial, however, Zacharias and Elisabeth had remained “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). This is the first of many instances recorded in the Gospel of Luke that demonstrates the Lord’s awareness of and mercy toward those who are afflicted or downtrodden.
The angel Gabriel told Zacharias that his son, John, would go before the Savior “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17; see also verses 14–19). Elias is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Elijah. “Elias is also a title for one who is a forerunner” (Bible Dictionary, “Elias”). Just as Elijah would appear before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ to prepare the way for Him (see Malachi 4:5–6), John the Baptist was foreordained to come before the Savior’s mortal ministry “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). In this way, John would be like Elijah—a forerunner to the Savior:
“Being the forerunner was neither a simple task nor an honorary title. Difficult and dangerous work needed to be done. … John, a mere mortal—armed with the Aaronic Priesthood, a divine commission, personal righteousness, the truth of God, and a huge amount of courage—was launched on his ministry to prepare the way for the Son of God. What John was called to do placed his life in jeopardy.
“The term forerunner is descriptive. Forerunners anciently would run before the chariot of the king and clear the path of rocks or other obstacles, and loudly proclaim the coming of the ruler. … John was both a forerunner and a proclaimer of Jesus. He was the divinely appointed herald” (Robert J. Matthews, Behold the Messiah , 46).
The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) taught the identity of the angel Gabriel: “Noah … is Gabriel; he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood; he was called of God to this office, and was the father of all living in his day, and to him was given the dominion” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 104).
Long before her birth, prophets knew of Mary’s sacred role as the mortal mother of Jesus Christ, and they identified her by name (see Isaiah 7:14–15; 1 Nephi 11:13–20; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10). President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) taught that “in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball , 215).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why Mary was chosen to be the mortal mother of Jesus Christ: “As there is only one Christ, so there is only one Mary. And as the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:85).
Mary is a great role model for women. She exemplifies the attributes that a woman today should seek to develop in her life.
Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the importance of Gabriel’s declaration regarding the parentage of Jesus Christ (see Luke 1:32): “That Child to be born of Mary … was of right to be called the ‘Son of the Highest.’ In His nature would be combined the powers of Godhood with the capacity and possibilities of mortality. … The Child Jesus was to inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits, tendencies, and powers that characterized His parents—one immortal and glorified—God, the other human—woman” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 81).
Elder Talmage also taught that through Jesus’s mortal mother, Mary, He inherited the ability to “lay down His life voluntarily.” But from His Heavenly Father, Jesus inherited the ability to endure suffering during His atoning sacrifice “such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible” (Jesus the Christ, 613). Since this suffering would be “more than man can suffer, except it be unto death” (Mosiah 3:7), only a Being with power over death could endure it.
President Russell M. Nelson declared: “From His immortal Father, Jesus inherited the power to live forever. From His mortal mother He inherited the fate of physical death. Those unique attributes were essential for His mission to atone for the sins of all mankind. Thus Jesus the Christ was born to die (see 3 Nephi 27:13–15). He died that we might live. He was born that all humankind could live beyond the grave” (“Christ the Savior Is Born,” New Era, Dec. 2006, 5).
When Mary asked how she could become the mother of Jesus, “seeing I know not a man” (Luke 1:34), Gabriel simply informed her that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and that her child would be the Son of God (see Luke 1:35). Other scriptures that refer to the conception of Jesus Christ (see Matthew 1:18–20; 1 Nephi 11:15, 18–21; Alma 7:10) likewise emphasize that He is the Son of God but do not reveal how this miracle took place.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994) cited these particular scriptures and then forthrightly affirmed that “the testimonies of appointed witnesses leave no question as to the paternity of Jesus Christ. God was the Father of His fleshly tabernacle, and Mary, a mortal woman, was His mother. … He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!” (“Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Dec. 2001, 10–11).
President Benson further taught: “[Jesus Christ] was the Only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father in the flesh—the only child whose mortal body was begotten by our Heavenly Father. His mortal mother, Mary, was called a virgin, both before and after she gave birth. (See 1 Ne. 11:20.)” (“Joy in Christ,” Ensign, Mar. 1986, 3–4).
President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) offered this caution: “Remember that the being who was brought about by [Mary’s] conception was a divine personage. We need not question [God the Father’s] method to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps we would do well to remember the words of Isaiah 55:8–9: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.’
“Let the Lord rest His case with this declaration and wait until He sees fit to tell us more” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 14).
As a witness to Mary that “with God nothing shall be impossible,” the angel Gabriel testified that Mary’s cousin Elisabeth, who was an aged and barren woman, was six months pregnant (see Luke 1:36–37). This was a witness to Mary that she could also have a child in a miraculous manner.
Mary’s consecrated utterance, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), signaled her complete willingness to accept and to fulfill her sacred role. “Her faith, obedience, and humility set a standard for all women” (Virginia U. Jensen, “Ripples,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 93). To better understand the difficulties Mary may have faced after receiving her calling as the mother of the Son of God, see the commentary for Matthew 1:18–25.
In the same way that Mary eagerly accepted her opportunity to be a mother, women today can prepare to fulfill their own divine potential as mothers. Sister Julie B. Beck, while serving as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency, offered the following encouragement:
“Oh, that every girl and woman would have a testimony of her potential for eternal motherhood as she keeps her earthly covenants. …
“Female roles did not begin on earth, and they do not end here. A woman who treasures motherhood on earth will treasure motherhood in the world to come, and ‘where [her] treasure is, there will [her] heart be also’ (Matthew 6:21). By developing a mother heart, each girl and woman prepares for her divine, eternal mission of motherhood. …
“In my experience I have seen that some of the truest mother hearts beat in the breasts of women who will not rear their own children in this life, but they know that ‘all things must come to pass in their time’ and that they ‘are laying the foundation of a great work’ (D&C 64:32–33). …
“… [A woman with a mother heart] knows that the influence of righteous, conscientious, persistent, daily mothering is far more lasting, far more powerful, far more influential than any earthly position or institution invented by man. She has the vision that, if worthy, she has the potential to be blessed as Rebekah of old to be ‘the mother of thousands of millions’ (Genesis 24:60)” (“A ‘Mother Heart,’” Ensign or Liahona, May 2004, 76–77).
Verses 46–55 of Luke 1 are traditionally known as the Song of Mary, or the Magnificat (which in Latin means “magnifies”). Similar hymns of praise were spoken by both Elisabeth and Zacharias. When Mary came to visit Elisabeth after learning that she would be the mother of the Son of God, Elisabeth recognized Mary’s remarkable mission and, filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke words of praise and testimony, as recorded in Luke 1:41–45. When Zacharias’s tongue was loosed at the time his son, John, was circumcised and named, Zacharias, also filled with the Holy Ghost, spoke beautiful words of praise, testifying of the mission of the Savior, as found in Luke 1:67–80. Zacharias’s hymn of praise is known as the Benedictus (which in Latin means “blessed”).
Hymns of praise are also recorded in the Old Testament, which acknowledge Heavenly Father’s gracious blessings upon His people (see Exodus 15:1–21; Judges 5:1–31; 1 Chronicles 16:7–36). Mary’s song closely resembles the song of Hannah. Hannah was a handmaid of the Lord who, through faith, miraculously conceived Samuel and dedicated him to God’s service (see 1 Samuel 1:11, 28; 2:1–10). The Song of Mary associates the birth of Jesus Christ with Israel’s sacred past and celebrates the Lord’s mercy in once again reaching out to bless and honor His people—particularly those of “low degree” (Luke 1:52).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained the significance of what occurred eight days following the birth of John the Baptist: “Naming of children and circumcision of male members of the house of Israel took place on [the eighth] day. In the case of John, he ‘was ordained by the angel of God at the time he was eight days old’—not to the Aaronic Priesthood, for such would come later, after his baptism and other preparation, but—‘unto this power, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews, and to make straight the way of the Lord before the face of his people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord, in whose hand is given all power.’ (D. & C. 84:28.) That is, at this solemn eighth day ceremony, an angel … gave the Lord’s Elias [John] the divine commission to serve as the greatest forerunner of all the ages” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:89).
When John’s father, Zacharias, was released by God from his inability to speak, he praised God and prophesied of John’s mission. As recorded in Luke 1:69, he mentioned that God had raised up a “horn of salvation,” which is a messianic title that refers to Jesus Christ (see 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 18:2). The horn was a symbol of power—an allusion to the strength of horned animals indigenous to the Near East (see 1 Samuel 2:10; Psalm 75:10).
Caesar Augustus was a capable and energetic Roman ruler whose reign—from 31 B.C. to A.D. 14—was marked by order and lawfulness. The “taxing” mentioned in Luke 2:2 was actually an enrollment of persons for future taxation purposes, an enrollment that required the taxpayer to personally submit required information. Because both Joseph and Mary were descendants of King David, they were required to make the journey to Bethlehem, which was King David’s hometown. It is also possible that Joseph owned property in Bethlehem, further mandating him to register in Bethlehem. Ancient prophets had testified that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, in the land of Jerusalem (see Micah 5:2; Alma 7:10).
Bethlehem lay approximately 85–90 miles (137–145 kilometers) south of Nazareth, a trek of at least four to five walking days, perhaps longer considering Mary’s condition. Travelers typically stayed at quarters known as caravansaries, which were rectangular structures with open rooms overlooking a central courtyard, where the travelers’ animals were kept. The Joseph Smith Translation indicates there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the “inns” at Bethlehem (Luke 2:7, footnote b). It is therefore likely that there were no openings in the rooms of the caravansaries, and on the night of the Savior’s birth, the couple was required to stay in the crowded courtyard of a caravansary—where the travelers’ animals, including donkeys, dogs, oxen, and camels, were kept.
To read about New Testament “espousal” traditions, see the commentary for Matthew 1:18.
Swaddling clothes were generally blankets or strips of cloth wrapped tightly around tiny infants. To swaddle means to “wrap snugly.”
Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy identified some lessons we can learn from the Savior’s humble birth: “His birth, like his life, teaches us that there is nothing wrong with humble origins, with poverty, simplicity, and obscurity. There is nothing to be ashamed of in being outcast from society, in being forced to dwell apart from the world, literally or figuratively. Poverty is no disgrace, and a shelter for animals may be a temple of God’s spirit as surely as any more elegant dwelling. … Christ’s birth and simple upbringing are a reminder to us that we must never look down on anyone because of their origins or worldly status. If we scorn the humble, we may unwittingly scorn the chosen of God’s children on the earth” (The King of Kings , 26).
Luke recorded that after the shepherds’ visit and after finding the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, Mary pondered the events and sayings, and she kept them “in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). Her actions demonstrate the importance of treasuring sacred experiences. While it is vital that we share our testimonies with others, President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that we should ponder our sacred experiences and share them only when we are prompted to do so:
“It is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. They are to be guarded with care and shared only when the Spirit itself prompts you to use them to the blessing of others. …
“I heard President Marion G. Romney once counsel mission presidents and their wives … , ‘I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me.’
“We are, I believe, to keep these things and ponder them in our hearts, as Luke said Mary did of the supernal events that surrounded the birth of Jesus” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).
The law of Moses declared women to be ceremonially unclean after giving birth. To become clean, a new mother had to present a lamb at the temple for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or turtledove for a sin offering (see Leviticus 12:5–6). “And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles [turtledoves], or two young pigeons” (Leviticus 12:8). That Mary presented turtledoves or pigeons instead of a lamb is evidence Jesus Christ was born to a mother of little material means.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency explained that Simeon and Anna knew through the Holy Ghost that the infant Jesus was the Promised Messiah:
“In obedience to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple at Jerusalem after forty days, to present him to the Lord. There, two aged and spiritual temple workers received a witness of his identity and testified of him. …
“Anna and Simeon were eyewitnesses to the infant, but, just like the [Savior’s] Apostles, their knowledge of his divine mission came through the witness of the Holy Ghost. ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ (Rev. 19:10.) Therefore, we can properly say that when each received this witness, Simeon was a prophet and Anna was a prophetess. Each then fulfilled the prophetic duty to testify to those around them. As Peter said, ‘To [Christ] give all the prophets witness.’ (Acts 10:43.) This was what Moses meant when he expressed the wish ‘that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!’ (Num. 11:29.)” (“Witnesses of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 30).
Though the scriptures contain little information regarding the youth of Jesus Christ, they contain enough to teach us some powerful lessons. Elder Bruce R. McConkie summarized what has been revealed concerning the childhood of Jesus Christ:
“In our present state of spiritual understanding, it apparently is not intended that we have any appreciable knowledge of the life of Jesus prior to the commencement of his ministry. No doubt complete and full accounts will be available during the millennium, for in that day the Lord has promised to ‘reveal all things.’ (D. & C. 101:32.) Such knowledge as is now available, however, leads us to believe that the Son of Mary (1) participated in the normal activities and experiences of the time, and (2) was endowed with talents and spiritual capacities exceeding those of any other person who ever lived. That he was obedient and sinless is evident; yet, with it all, he was subject to the restrictions and testings of mortality, was in all points tempted as other men are (Heb. 2:10–18; [4:15]; 5:8–9), and having ‘continued from grace to grace,’ he finally (after the resurrection) ‘received a fulness of the glory of the Father,’ and perfected his own salvation. (D. & C. 93:6–16.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:111). For additional scriptural insight on the childhood of Jesus Christ, see the commentary for Matthew 2:23 and the Bible Dictionary, “Education.”
At an early age Jesus Christ was found in the temple, and throughout His ministry He continued to be at the temple. The temple was a source of inspiration and strength for Him. President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained that the account of Joseph and Mary discovering Jesus at the temple is part of a larger pattern that reveals the significance of the temple throughout the Savior’s mortal life:
“It was in the temple that Jesus received much of his early education. It was there he revealed the spiritual insight he had received to be about his Father’s business. In the temple the Savior announced his Messianic mission. Simeon came by the Spirit to the temple and there had fulfilled for him the promise by the Holy Ghost that he would not die until he had seen ‘the Lord’s Christ’ (see Luke 2:18–29). The last verse of Luke’s gospel states that after the ascension the apostles ‘returned to Jerusalem … and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God’ (Luke 24:52–53). Why were the apostles continually in the temple if it was not an important part of what Christ taught?” (James P. Bell, In the Strength of the Lord: The Life and Teachings of James E. Faust , 444–45).
The Joseph Smith Translation reveals that the doctors conversing with Jesus “were hearing him, and asking him questions” (Luke 2:46, footnote c). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that as a boy, Jesus Christ possessed superior intelligence to all mortals: “When still a boy He had all the intelligence necessary to enable Him to rule and govern the kingdom of the Jews, and could reason with the wisest and most profound doctors of law and divinity, and make their theories and practice to appear like folly compared with the wisdom He possessed” (in History of the Church, 6:608). Additional insight into how Jesus Christ gained His great knowledge, even at the age of 12, is provided by the Apostle John, as recorded in John 8:25–30.
The statement “and was subject unto them” (Luke 2:51) provides valuable insight concerning the Savior’s meekness. He was the Creator of the earth and the God of the Old Testament. In spirituality and understanding, Jesus Christ was superior to Joseph and Mary, even at age 12. Nonetheless, He honored His mortal guardians “and was subject unto them.” While serving in the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr. referred to the Savior’s submission to Joseph and Mary:
“Sometimes you might feel that your parents and leaders respond like Mary and Joseph did. After Jesus answered by asking His important question about His Father’s business, Luke records, ‘They understood not the saying which he spake unto them’ [Luke 2:50].
“Nevertheless, please pay close attention to what Jesus did! It is an example for what we must do if we are really to fulfill our duty to God. ‘And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them …’ [Luke 2:51–52].
“You must remember that your duty to God is very clearly linked to your duties to your own family members, particularly your parents. It is not only in being properly subject or submissive to God, but also to parents and priesthood leaders, that we can truly fulfill our duty to God” (“Our Duty to God,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 43).
President Ezra Taft Benson taught that the progression of Jesus Christ in His youth provides a perfect pattern for our individual development:
“What manner of man was Jesus during those thirty years when He was personally preparing Himself for His three-year public ministry? Turning to the book of Luke in the New Testament, we read these words: ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.’ (Luke 2:52.)
“From modern-day revelation we learn that Jesus ‘received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace … , until he received a fulness.’ (D&C 93:13.)
“We, too, should be moving from grace to grace in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. … May we all follow our leader, Jesus Christ, and increase in stature mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially” (“In His Steps,” Ensign, Sept. 1988, 4, 6).
Luke mentioned that although Annas and Caiaphas had filled the presiding office of high priest, the word of God came not to them but to John. This simple observation provides an important insight into the deficient spiritual condition of Israel’s leaders at the time of John the Baptist. The Aaronic Priesthood still operated among the Jews prior to John (see D&C 84:26–27). Following the children of Israel’s rejection of the Lord at Mount Sinai, the Lord had removed the Melchizedek Priesthood from the people. Therefore, until the time of Jesus Christ, under the law of Moses a high priest was the presiding priest in the Aaronic Priesthood and presided over all other priests in their functions and ordinances, particularly in those of the temple. However, the presiding office of high priest had become corrupted. For years, Herod and other Roman officials had appointed high priests based on political expediency or bribery.
The Jews lacked a divinely authorized priesthood leader and, as a nation, they were in need of spiritual rebirth. Because John had been chosen by God and properly ordained to be God’s representative, the children of Israel could again turn to the Lord through the authorized channels of repentance and baptism.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “John, at that time, was the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom there was then on the earth, and holding the keys of power. The Jews had to obey his instructions or be damned, by their own law. … The son of Zacharias wrested the keys, the kingdom, the power, the glory from the Jews, by the holy anointing and decree of heaven” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 81–82).
Luke quoted a prophecy from Isaiah to describe the mission of John the Baptist (see Luke 3:3–6; Isaiah 40:3–5). The Joseph Smith Translation adds additional prophecies from Isaiah that beautifully describe the mission and ministry of the Savior.
“For behold, and lo, he shall come, as it is written in the book of the prophets, to take away the sins of the world, and to bring salvation unto the heathen nations, to gather together those who are lost, who are of the sheepfold of Israel;
“Yea, even the dispersed and afflicted; and also to prepare the way, and make possible the preaching of the gospel unto the Gentiles;
“And to be a light unto all who sit in darkness, unto the uttermost parts of the earth; to bring to pass the resurrection from the dead, and to ascend up on high, to dwell on the right hand of the Father,
“Until the fullness of time, and the law and the testimony shall be sealed, and the keys of the kingdom shall be delivered up again unto the Father” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 3:5–8 [in the Bible appendix]).
The Jews believed that they were the only people who could provide righteous children for Abraham and that only Abraham’s literal descendants could be saved. But John rebuked their pride and unrighteousness by saying that God could raise up descendants of Abraham from stones. Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave the following explanation of this statement: “Our Lord’s forerunner is teaching the principle of adoption: that Abraham is ‘the father of all them that believe’ (Rom. 4:11) both Jew and Gentile; that through belief in Christ all men become ‘Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3:28–29); that all who believe the gospel shall be accounted as Abraham’s seed and rise up and bless him ‘as their father.’ (Abra. 2:10.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:120).
For further information about John’s rebuke of the Jews, see Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 3:13 (in Luke 3:8, footnote d).
John declared that he would baptize with water but that Jesus would baptize “with the Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3:16). This refers to the purifying and sanctifying effect of receiving the Holy Spirit. After the angel appeared to Alma, he declared, “I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.” He then taught that “all mankind … must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; and thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (Mosiah 27:24–26).
To read about the baptism of Jesus Christ, see the commentary for Matthew 3:13–17.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that the Holy Ghost did not appear as a dove after the baptism of Jesus Christ. Rather, the descending dove signified that the Holy Ghost was present on that occasion: “The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of the dove, but in sign of the dove. The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 81).
Luke’s genealogy notes that Jesus was the “supposed”—not actual—son of Joseph and traces the Savior’s descent back to Adam, and from Adam to God (see Luke 3:23, 38). These details confirm the testimony of Gabriel that Jesus would come to earth as “the Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32). They also confirm the testimony of God the Father that Jesus was His Beloved Son (see Luke 3:22). To learn how Luke’s genealogy of the Savior compares to the one given by Matthew, see the commentary for Matthew 1:1–17.