Unlike every other religious book, the Bible is rock-solidly based on historical facts, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Luke’s writing. In both the gospel of Luke and in the book of Acts there are many historical facts that crowd the chapters of those narratives. Luke writes of real, historical people and even tells about details of their lives and the specific dates when they lived. He also writes of real historical places which either still exist today or have been found in archaeological digs. And it must be remembered that Luke’s gospel was in circulation when the people he mentions were still known. In other words, if these were not real people, then the ones hearing the gospel account or reading the gospel record would know that the names were fictional people and thus the entire account would also be suspect.
This means that Luke’s gospel can be shown to be either truth or fiction. The facts could be validated by those early readers or hearers and they would also be denied if they were false. And the facts prove to be true in every case. Why is this important? It is important because if every historical fact in the gospel account proves to be true, it means that what Luke writes about Jesus is also true. Luke proves himself to be a trustworthy and accurate historian so that his readers will trust what he writes about Jesus. This is Luke’s goal, to arrange his gospel account in such a way that the truth of Jesus, of what He said and did, will be understood and believed (Luke 1:1-4).
As an example of Luke’s meticulous attention to historical detail, read Luke 3:1-2 carefully. Luke gives us at least eight verifiable historical facts of real people to establish the precise time when John the Baptist preached in the wilderness. The timing of this is important because Jesus immediately follows John. Thus Luke establishes the timing of the baptism, temptation and initial ministry of Jesus the Messiah, but more than that, by giving a host of historical facts that prove to be true, Luke is giving no reason to doubt the rest of what he writes.
So what are these historical facts? First, Luke mentions that these events took place during the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. Not merely sometime during the reign of one of the Caesars, but in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius is when these events take place. Next we read of Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea. Here is a name that would have been unknown to history except for his meeting with Jesus. So Luke mentions Pilate. Then Herod, the wicked and sensual ruler of Galilee is mentioned, to further establish the historical setting. Herod’s brother Philip is another historical figure, as is the otherwise unknown Lysanias. Further pinpointing the exact time of these events is “the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” This is especially noteworthy, since it speaks of an unusual joint high priesthood, which may have been unique in Israel’s history. By including this minute detail, Luke not only shows an intimate knowledge of the state of Judaism at that specific time, but he also further showcases the painstaking efforts he has taken to capture with precise accuracy the historical context of the events he is going to describe. It is as if he is shouting, “These events really happened. There is nothing that is even slightly fictional about these accounts. There is no way I made this stuff up!” Real names; real dates; real places; thus, real events.
Finally, Luke re-introduces John the Baptist, the son of Zachariah as his last historical marker. John was well-known during his ministry and also after his ministry and his life ended. He thus serves as an historical figure and as the forerunner to the Messiah.
Again, all this verifiable, reliable historical information established Luke as a completely credible writer and witness. His testimony is true and the events he describes really happened. Yes, the Jesus he describes is the Jesus who lived. Jesus taught with authority, He called sinners to Himself, He lived a sinless life, He died on the cross and He rose from the dead. And one day He will return. Will you be ready? SDG rmb 4/17/2016