As we read through Luke, and as it relates to a people being prepared to receive their king, we have to keep in mind that this writing had a specific purpose. That purpose is stated in what came to be recognized as the first four verses of the work. There, we read, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the words have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (1:1-4).
So what we there find is that this work is directed to a man referred to as “most excellent Theophilus.” Scholarship and archaeology have come to point out that the title “most excellent,” when used preceding a name in official communication with stated purposes not unlike what we find here in Luke, was often directed towards Roman government officials of what was called “The Equestrian Order.” This must be borne in mind because of the language that we will find being used, beginning with the record of Gabriel informing Zechariah, that he “was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news” (1:19b).
This use of “good news” is not to be taken lightly, and along with Luke’s purpose of presenting a global king and kingdom, it demands to be heard within its immediate cultural context so as to grasp its import and impact. The Greek word used here for “good news” is “evangelisasthai,” which is a derivation of “evangelion,” the word that is commonly rendered as “gospel.” Because the word that is presented as “good news” was generally and primarily reserved and used in reference to the Emperor (Caesar) or to events that enhanced the glory of the Roman empire, this would have been highly impactful to this Roman government official to whom this book was directed.
As Theophilus continued reading (or listening as it was shared by a tradent), he would come to the story of Mary. With Mary, the language of preparation for a King would become even stronger and more pronounced. As the author communicates a similar experience to that of Zechariah, the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her that she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). Favor, in a world defined by honor and shame, and in which the patron and client relationship was prevalent, pervasive, and determinative, would have been a crucial component of the message to Mary, and it would not have been lost on someone such as Theophilus, who, like everyone else in his world, would have been well-versed in the dynamics of the patron client relationship, and the ongoing desire to secure favor from a patron.
It is worth digressing for just one moment to point out that Mary had not found this favor through any efforts of her own, but that God’s favor was being bestowed upon her, the evidence of which would be the fact that she was told that she would “conceive and bear a son,” and that she would “call His name Jesus” (1:31). This was most definitely the unmerited favor of God poured out upon Mary, and she is placed in the position of client to her patron, the Creator God of Israel, now owing Him service, gratitude, and loyalty.
This name, Jesus, which means “Jehovah Saves,” was quickly followed up by a few more titles. The kingly language comes at us and Theophilus quite quickly, as we read that “He will be great” (1:32a), that He “will be called the Son of the Most High” (1:32b), that “the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David” (1:32c), that “He will reign over the house of Jacob forever” (1:32d), and that “of His kingdom there will be no end” (1:32e). Is there any doubt as to the mission of Jesus and what Luke desires to make known about Him? A bit further on we read that Jesus shall be called “the Son of God” (1:35b). That’s quite an impressive list to read, especially in a world that is ruled by Caesar, and is the one for whom such language (especially “son of god”) is generally reserved.