Luke’s Gospel stands out as unique among the Gospels in various ways. For one thing, it is the longest of the Gospels, starting earlier in Jesus’ life than the others (with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist), and ending later (with Jesus’ ascension to heaven). Only Luke reveals anything about Jesus’ childhood, describing his family’s visit to Jerusalem when he was 12 years old (Luke 2:41–52). Even more significantly, Luke is the only Gospel writer to provide a sequel, the Book of Acts. Luke continues his story beyond the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the birth and growth of the early church.
Luke was clearly a faithful friend of the apostle Paul and appears with him during the apostle’s second Roman imprisonment (2 Tim 4:10–11), which ended in Paul’s execution. In Colossians 4:11–14 Paul associates Luke with his Gentile rather than his Jewish coworkers. This Gentile identity may help to explain Luke’s strong interest in the universal scope of the Gospel. It is a message of salvation for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.
Luke addresses his two volumes to an individual named Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). We don’t know for sure who Theophilus was, but he clearly had high social status since Luke refers to him as “most excellent Theophilus.” Our best guess is that he was the patron who sponsored the writing of Luke and Acts. He may also have been a recent convert to Christianity or perhaps an interested unbeliever. Having investigated everything carefully, Luke wants to provide a trustworthy account “so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).
Though Luke’s Gospel and Acts are dedicated to Theophilus, Luke clearly has a larger audience in mind. Since he has so many passages affirming the universal scope of salvation, and since he spends so much time in Acts defending Paul and the mission to the Gentiles, it seems likely that he is writing to a church or group of churches that were predominately Gentiles. These believers are likely under fire from those challenging the legitimacy of their faith. Luke writes to confirm that Christianity is not a new religion. It is rather the fulfillment of God’s promises given to Israel in the Old Testament. Jesus is certainly the Jewish Messiah, but he is also the Savior of the whole world. His death, resurrection, and ascension brought forgiveness of sins, not only to Israel but to all people who respond to him in faith. The church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles, represents the true people of God in this new age of salvation.
Mark L. Strauss is a professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego and author of numerous works, most relevent to today's topic being "Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels." We would recommend any serious student of the Gospels give it a thorough read!