Over the years I have spoken to many people about the claims of the Christian faith, I have continually asked myself if I am getting the Gospel right when I share it with others. There have been a slew of books questioning “What is the Gospel?” After looking at the Bible (where else might we get our understanding of this topic from?), I have concluded the Gospel is presented in a variety of contexts. Let’s take a look:
The Gospel Before Jesus
In the Tanakh (the Old Testament), Good news is proclaimed widely ( 1 Sam 31:9 ; Psalm 96:2-3 ; Isa 40:9 ; 52:7 ), spread rapidly ( 2 Sam 18:19-31 ; 2 Kings 7:9 ; Psalm 68:11 ), and declared and received joyfully ( 2 Sam 1:20 ; Psalm 96:11-12 ; Isa 52:7-9 ; Jer 20:15 ). Anytime the message of the gospel is for the Jewish people and based on God’s deliverance, the news is in every case but one ( Jer 20:15 ) related to God the Savior. (1)
The Gospel and Jesus: Pre-Resurrection
#1 Jesus and Isaiah
In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus reads from Isaiah 61: “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” ( Luke 4:18-19 ). So according to Jesus, the prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ own ministry ( 4:21 ) since He has come to free the physically infirm, such as the blind ( 4:18 ) and the leprous ( 4:27 ; cf. 7:21 ; 9:6 ). (2)
Therefore, Jesus helps the materially poor, like the widow in Elijah’s day ( 4:25-26 ; cf. Luke 6:20-25 Luke 6:30-38 ). Yet the spiritually poor are primarily in view people broken and grieved by misery and poverty, oppression and injustice, suffering and death, national apostasy and personal sin, who in their extremity cry out to God to bring forth justice, bestow his mercy, and establish his kingdom ( Matt 5:3-10 ). Jesus has come to usher in the kingdom, to rescue the lost, to liberate the enslaved, to cure the afflicted, and to forgive the guilty ( Mark 2:5 Mark 2:10 Mark 2:17 ; 10:45 ; Luke 7:48-49 ; 19:10 ). (3)
#2: Jesus and the Kingdom of God Gospel
We just touched on the reign of God theme. One of the most prominent themes throughout the Bible is the kingdom of God. The framework of Israel’s existence and self-understanding was formulated from God’s covenant with Israel and Israel’s servant to God the King. Israel is the people of the king, and the Holy land is the land of the king’s rule. Biblical scholar J. Julius Scott Jr. has noted that in the ancient world, “kingdom” referred to “lordship,” “rule,” “reign,” or “sovereignty,” rather than simply a geographical location. Scott asserts “sovereignty (or rule) of God” would be a better translation than “kingdom of God,” since such a translation denotes God’s sphere or influence or control and includes any person or group who, regardless of their location, acknowledge His sovereignty. (4)
On point that is generally agreed on by all scholars is that the central message of Jesus was about the kingdom of God. He preached the arrival of the messianic age and its activity of deliverance, contrasting the greatness of the kingdom era with the era of John the Baptist, which had now seemingly passed (Luke 4:16-30; 7:22-23). In the New Testament, the Greek word for kingdom is “basileia,” which denotes “sovereignty,” “royal power,” and “dominion.” The references to the word “kingdom” can be seen in two classes: First, it is viewed as a present reality and involves suffering for those who enter into it (2 Thess. 1:5). Second, the kingdom is futuristic and involves reward (Matt 25:34), as well as glory (Matt 13:43).
#3: The Gospel after the Resurrection: A Look at Paul
For Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection are central ( 1 Cor 15:1-4 ), with the cross at the very center ( 1 Col 1:17-2:5 ; Rom 3:21-26 ; 2 Col 5:14-21 ). Paul declares ( Rom 1:16 ; 1 Col 1:17-18 ) the gospel to be “the power of God “not merely a witness to, but an expression of his power. The gospel is no bare word but is laden with the power of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Col 2:1-5 ; 1 Thess 1:5-6 ). Thus it cannot be fettered ( 2 Tim 2:8-9 ). The gospel effects the salvation it announces and imparts the life it promises. (5)
For Paul, in offering his Son as a sacrifice for sins ( Rom 3:25a ), God demonstrates his righteousness ( Romans 3:25 Romans 3:26 ). In Jesus’ death sins formerly “passed over” ( 3:25c ) become the object of divine wrath ( 1:18 ). Yet in the place where God deals justly with sins, he shows grace to sinners. For the judgment is focused not upon the sinners themselves but upon the One who stands in their place ( 4:25 ; 5:6-11 ; 2 Cor 5:21 ; Gal 3:13 ). (6) Sinners are therefore freely pardoned ( Rom 3:24 ). The gospel is a channel of God’s grace. “A righteousness from God is revealed” in the gospel ( Rom 1:17 )not merely expounded but unleashed, so that the gospel becomes “the power of God for salvation” ( 1:16 ). God activates his righteousness by bestowing it freely upon sinners ( 5:17 ). They are acquitted, justified, “declared righteous, ” by God the Judge by virtue of their righteousness ( 1 Col 1:30 ; 2 Col 5:21 ; Php 3:9 ). (7)
Let’s look at Romans 1: 1-7:
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints:Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So for Paul, the Gospel is first and foremost a message about Jesus. Six things stand out:
1. In Jesus of Nazareth, specifically in the cross, the decisive victory has been won over all the powers of evil, including sin and death themselves.
2. In Jesus’ resurrection, a new age has dawned, inaugurating the long-awaited time when the prophecies would be fulfilled, when Israel’s exile would be over, and the whole world would be addressed by the one creator God.
3. The crucified and risen Jesus, was, all along Israel’s Messiah, her representative king:
Paul lays great emphasis on Jesus’ resurrection in other places in the NT. Through Jesus’ resurrection, He installed as Son of God (Rom. 1:4), as universal Lord (Rom. 14:9; Eph.1:20-21; Phi.2:9-11), and judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31).
4. Jesus was therefore, also the Lord, the true king of the world, the one whose very knee must bow:
In the Roman Empire, pagans would have seen Caesar as their “Lord.” But for Paul there is a different “Lord” and his name is Jesus. Hence, the willingness to do call Jesus “Lord” is to place Jesus in a role attributed to God in Jewish expectation. For a Jewish person, when the title “Lord” (Heb. Adonai) was used in place of the divine name YHWH, this was the highest designation a Jewish person could use for deity.
5. The God of Israel is the one true God, and pagan deities are mere idols:
This sounds alot like 1 Corinthians 8: 5-6: “For though there are things that are called gods, whether in the heavens or on earth; as there are many gods and many lords; yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we live through him.”
Here is a distinct echo of the Shema, a creed that every Jew would have memorized from a very early age. When we read Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is our God, the Lord is one,” Paul ends up doing something extremely significant in the history of Judaism.
If we look at the entire context of the passage in 1 Corinthians 8:5-6, according to Paul’s inspired understanding, Jesus receives the “name above all names,” the name God revealed as his own, the name of the Lord.
In giving a reformulation of the Shema, Paul still affirms the existence of the one God, but what is unique is that somehow this one God now includes the one Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, Paul’s understanding of this passage begets no indication of abandoning Jewish monotheism in place of paganism.
6. The God of Israel is now made known in and through Jesus himself. (8)
#5: The “Kerygma” in the Book of Acts
1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).
2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).
3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).
4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).
5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).
6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).
7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).
8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).
9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).
10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).
One way or the other, if we look at the variety of ways the Gospel is presented in the Bible, there is no basis for a pragmatic Gospel or a message that says “Come to Jesus and He will fix all your problems.” Furthermore, if we follow the examples of Paul and the Apostles after the resurrection, there is no Gospel apart from the resurrection. To go and tell people that the Gospel is “Jesus died for your sins” is incorrect. Without the mention of the resurrection, it is an incomplete Gospel. Hence, either give people the whole Gospel or don’t mention it at all.
1. J. Knox Chamblin “Gospel” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 305-308.
4. J. J. Scott Jr, Customs and Controversies: Intertestamental Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 297.
5. Chamblin, “Gospel” featured in Walter Elwell, Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1996), 305-308.
8. These six points were made in N.T Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Group, 1997), 60. I have added some of my own thoughts after each point as well.