Luke - the Gospel of the Peace Offering

Michael Hardt

T&T 2013, Q2

The peace offering was the only sacrifice eaten in its entirety (except for the fat and the blood) and the only one of which all parties were allowed to eat: the offering priest, the whole priestly family and the offerer and, last but not least, it was the food of God Himself (Lev. 3:11, 16; 7:13ff). Hence the peace offering speaks of fellowship or communion. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is often connected with thanksgiving and joy. This communion, thanksgiving and joy are brought out in the Gospel of Luke[1] as in no other Gospel.

The Four Gospels

The sacrifice of Christ in His death on the cross has been recorded in four gospels. In Leviticus 1–5 we read of four offerings involving blood and hence speaking of the death of Christ. More generally, the Bible often presents the Lord Jesus in groups of four (think, for instance, of the four colours in the tabernacle veil (Ex. 26:31) or the fourfold ‘behold’ in the prophets[2]). Similarly, a consideration of the character of the four living creatures (Rev. 4:7; Ezek. 1:10) will reveal four aspects of Christ corresponding to the four Gospels. More examples could be added but what has been said, together with the following, may suffice to confirm the reader in the expectation that the presentation of the death of Christ in the Gospels will correspond to the character of the four sacrifices speaking of His death in the opening chapters of Leviticus:

  • Only Matthew and Mark report the Lord’s words ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ thus giving the aspect of atonement for sin. But the emphasis in Matthew is on the guilt of the people (see e.g. Matt. 27:25: ‘And all the people answering said, His blood be on us and on our children’) whereas in Mark the matter of sin is considered more generally. Hence we see the trespass offering in Matthew and the sin offering in Mark.
  • John clearly presents the burnt offering aspect. The focus is on God being glorified in the sacrifice of Christ. There is no account of the agony in Gethsemane, of the three hours of darkness, of the Lord’s being forsaken, etc. Instead, John shows His devotion and obedience, glorifying God in life and death (12:27, 28; 13:31, 32; 17:4; 18:37). The triumphant cry ‘It is finished’ (19:30) encapsulates the central thought of the burnt offering: God has been glorified through the sacrifice of Christ. A sweet savour arose from the cross.
  • Luke presents the peace offering. This is the subject of the remainder of this article.

Luke’s Account of the Cross

The peace offering character of the Gospel of Luke comes out very clearly in the account of the Lord’s sufferings on the cross.

The first words we hear Him utter are, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (23:34). The perpetrators crucifying Him were in the process of committing the greatest crime ever. They had had abundant testimony of who the Lord Jesus was but knowingly rejected Him. They were fully responsible for what they did. But the Lord Jesus, in infinite grace, utters the words ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’. In their hatred they were blind and did not see the full extent of their guilt and the full implication of their actions. The Lord uses this to treat them as ignorant and, therefore, as manslayers instead of murderers. In other words, through this prayer He was opening the city of refuge to them (Numbers 35). This was the only basis on which they could be brought to fellowship with God.

The next word we hear from the lips of the suffering Saviour is the one addressed to the repentant criminal on His right side: ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise’ (23:43). Even on the cross He is seen leading a guilty sinner into fellowship with God, opening the way right into paradise, the place of delight. In this case it is not a potential opening for guilty people but an actual opening for a guilty individual.

Then we come to the moment of moments when our Lord went into death: ‘And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (23:46). He no longer says ‘My God, my God’ but ‘Father’, expressing full communion with the Father. You find this only in Luke. Mathew says: ‘Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost’ (27:50). Mark says: ‘And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost’ (15:37), and John, in accordance with the burnt offering character of his Gospel, says: ‘he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost’ (19:30).

It is remarkable that these three sayings of the Lord are the only ones reported in the Gospel of Luke, each one expressing the thought of communion. Not only this, but none of the sayings are reported in any other Gospel, again demonstrating the peace offering character of Luke’s Gospel.

The Remainder of the Gospel of Luke

Luke’s Theme

The thought of the joy of communion with God is not limited to the account of the Lord’s sufferings but is indeed central to the entire Gospel. We cannot be exhaustive here but we trust the following instances will suffice to establish the point. The overall theme of the Gospel of Luke is the tremendous fact that God, in man, comes to man, in grace. How could God possibly come nearer to man than by coming as man? This is why the Lord’s manhood is so central to this Gospel — for example, He is called ‘Son of man’ 25 times in Luke, His conception and the details of His birth are reported in Luke only and the report of His growing up as a child is peculiar to this Gospel (chs. 1–2). In short, Luke is the Gospel with ‘the face of a man’ (Ezek. 1:10; Rev. 4:7).

The Visits in Luke

Luke reports many visits. In Luke 1 Gabriel ‘appeared’ and ‘came in’ (1:11, 28). In Luke 1:40 we read that Mary ‘entered into the house’ and Elizabeth said ‘the mother of my Lord [comes] to me’ (1:43), and we then read that Mary ‘abode with her’ (1:56). So you find the fellowship of the godly remnant in this chapter, fellowship with one another and a visit by a heavenly messenger. In the next chapter the shepherds in the field find that ‘there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host’ (2:13). But the greatest visit is God’s own. Three times we read of this tremendous fact: ‘God has visited his people’ (7:16; see also 1:68, 78)!

The Houses in Luke

Luke is not the only evangelist giving us an account of the Lord Jesus coming into houses but he reports far more of them, and the following ones are reported in his Gospel only:

  1. The house of the Pharisee (7:36–50) where grace leads a poor sinner into the joy of sins forgiven!
  2. Martha’s house (10:38–42) where Mary chooses the good part, that of fellowship with the Lord’s mind by sitting as learner at His feet.
  3. A ruler of the Pharisees’ house (14:1–4) where, again, the Lord brings healing grace despite the opposition of the enemies.
  4. The house of Zacchaeus (19:1–10), a house that experienced salvation, and a house where He was received joyfully (incidentally, this visit is an illustration of more permanent fellowship as the Lord says, ‘I must remain in thy house’: 19:5).

In addition to these four literal houses that are peculiar to Luke there is also the house that was not yet full in Luke 14 and the father’s house in Luke 15, again, both unique to Luke and both speaking of man coming into fellowship with God.

The Meals in Luke

Meals speak of fellowship (this is the scriptural meaning of the table: see 1 Cor. 10:14–22). This fellowship aspect comes out in the meals reported in Luke’s Gospel (5:29; 7:36; 10:38–42; 11:37; 14:1; 14:16–17; 15:23; 19:5; 22:14).

The Conversion Stories in Luke

It seems that Luke takes special delight in reporting conversions, either in the form of people actually receiving Christ (such as Zacchaeus) or in the form of parables or incidents with a figurative meaning (such as the man fallen among the thieves or the prodigal son). In this way Luke furnishes striking and touching pictures of what it means for a sinner to be introduced into the fellowship and joy of the Father’s house (Luke 15).

Salvation in Luke

Communion and joy can only be established on the basis of salvation, which, when it is experienced, in turn becomes the subject of communion and joy. This is also a keynote of Luke’s Gospel. To see this, consider the use of the following words relating to ‘salvation’:

  • soterion:
    • ‘for mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ (2:30)
    • ‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’ (3:6)
  • soteria:
    • ‘and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us’ (1:69)
    • ‘deliverance from our enemies and out of the hand of all who hate us’ (1:71)
    • ‘to give knowledge of salvation unto his people’ (1:77)
    • ‘And Jesus said to him, To-day salvation is come to this house’ (19:9)
  • soter:
    • ‘and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour’ (1:47)
    • ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’ (2:11)
  • sozo (‘to save’), which occurs 19 times in Luke (e.g. 19:10).

The Joy in Luke

The peace offering was celebrated in connection with occasions of joy: ‘And thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God’ (Deut. 27:7; see also 1. Sam 11:15). It is the joy of being able to share with God something of the prosperity He has granted (hence the alternative translation ‘prosperity offering’) and of having fellowship with Him in this way.

The Gospel of Luke brings out this fellowship with God and with one another and abounds with references to joy. The birth of the Lord’s herald, John the Baptist, was to be a matter of joy: ‘And he shall be to thee joy and rejoicing, and many shall rejoice at his birth’ (1:14). If this was the case at the birth of John, whose task it was ‘to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (1:17), the birth of the Lord Himself was a subject of even greater joy: ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy’ (2:10). The angel used the word mega: mega-joy!

In chapter 15 there is ‘joy in heaven’ (v. 7) and ‘joy in the presence of the angels of God’ (v. 10) over one sinner who repents. In chapter 24, the risen Lord comes into the midst of the disciples, and those gathered with them, and shows them his hands and His feet, the marks identifying Him as the one who accomplished the work of redemption. When the disciples saw this they ‘believed not for joy’ (v. 41). The Gospel ends with the disciples having ‘great joy’ — again, mega-joy (24:52).

Praise and Thanksgiving in Luke

The law of the peace offering makes it clear, right from the start, that the peace offering was to be brought in connection with thanksgiving: ‘Besides the cakes, he shall offer for his offering leavened bread with the sacrifice of thanksgiving of his peace offerings’ (Lev. 7:13; see also v. 15; 2 Sam.6:15–18; 1 Chr. 16:2). This was borne out in the history of the people, for instance in the days of Hezekiah who appointed the priests and the Levites ‘for burnt offerings and for peace offerings, to minister, and to give thanks, and to praise in the gates of the tents of the Lord’ (2 Chr. 31:2).

Again, it is remarkable, how the notion of praise comes out so clearly and frequently in Luke’s Gospel. Before the coming of the Saviour there was only prayer and incense (1:10) but once He had arrived on the scene the praise begins: in chapter 2:20 we find the shepherds ‘glorifying and praising’ God; in chapter 2:28 Simeon ‘took … him up in his arms, and blessed God’; and at the end of the Gospel we find that the disciples ‘were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God’ (24:53). No less than 14 times Luke uses the word ‘bless’[3] and several times the word ‘praise’. [4] If God comes so near to man in order to bring man into fellowship with God then the result must be praise!


Full fellowship with the Father and the Son already belongs to us here and now (1 John 1:3), but in heaven our enjoyment of it will be unhindered. In Luke’s Gospel we see heaven being opened up (‘heaven’ occurs 37 times in the Gospel). Initially, before Christ came, heaven was shut (4:25). Then a heavenly host appeared with good tidings (2:10). Then the heavens opened over Christ at His baptism (3:21–22). More references to heaven follow (e.g. 10:18, 20, 21; 11:2; 12:33; 15:7; 19:38; 22:43) showing the disciples’ names written in heaven, joy in heaven, a treasure in heaven, etc., and at the end of the Gospel we have a man ‘carried up into heaven’ (24:51).

The Temple

Luke starts and finishes with a temple (1:9; 24:53), but there is a great difference: in Luke 1 the people stand outside (v. 10) and inside is a priest who is dumb (v. 20)! but at the end of the Gospel the disciples ‘were continually in the temple’, and there they were ‘praising and blessing God’ (24:53).

Now in Him, our God and Father,

Sharers of Thy love are we;

Now partaking with our Saviour

His unceasing rest in Thee.

Grace divine is this, transcending

All that else the heart employs:

’Tis the Son and Father deigning

Us to give of Their own joys.[5]

Michael Hardt


[1] Some expositors connect Luke’s Gospel with the meal offering rather than the peace offering because Luke emphasises the true manhood of Christ. The first two chapters are peculiar to this Gospel and provide the details of His coming into this world as man. This is true but His manhood (which is also brought out in other Gospels) was an important prerequisite for His death through which fellowship with God (the peace offering) could be established. Further, the features of the peace offering that can be traced in Luke’s Gospel are so abundant that one can hardly overlook the peace offering character of this Gospel.

[2] ‘Behold, thy King’ (Zech. 9:9); ‘Behold my servant’ (Isa. 42:1); ‘Behold the man’ (Zech. 6:12); ‘Behold your God’ (Isa. 40:9).

[3] The Greek word eulogeo (‘speaking well’) is used in the sense of blessing man and praising God and hence is translated ‘praise’ in Luke 1:64. The other 13 references are: 1:28, 42 (2); 2:28, 34; 6:28; 9:16; 13:35; 19:38; 24:30, 50, 51, 53.

[4] Luke uses several different words to express the thought of praise, presenting many different people engaging in it: the angels (2:13); the shepherds (2:20); Anna (2:38); the Lord Himself (10:21); the people in Jericho who witnessed the healing of the blind man (18:43); and the disciples on the mount of Olives (19:37) and in the temple (24:53).

[5] William Kelly, Spiritual Songs, hymn 422.