So, this series has been started where I am looking to lay out what the gospel truly is. I started out by concluding that it is both simple and not simple. It’s simple in that it isn’t to be overloaded with rules and regulations of what the gospel really is, but it is also not simple in that I don’t believe you can just quote John 3:16 or a few verses in Romans to define the gospel in its full sense. There is more to this thing called the gospel than quoting such passages.
I also noted that, regardless of how one ends up defining the gospel, we must at least all admit that it is good news. I am only saddened when it seems that many do not understand this simple truth about the gospel.
Now, what I am aware of is that when some Pentecostal church groups speak of the ‘full gospel’, it is in reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit included as part of the gospel. These groups emphasise that the gospel is not just about forgiveness of sin at the cross, but also the rest of the story – the resurrection of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit on God’s people to fully accomplish Acts 1:8.
Though I am part of a charismatic grouping of churches, I’m not here to argue for or against the tenets of such a claim above. But I will say that is not what I am hinting at when I refer to the full gospel.
So, where does one start when considering what the content of the gospel truly is?
There is a theological ‘rule’, more of a guideline, known as the law of first mention. This means that, to better understand a theological word or concept, it is best to start with its first mention in Scripture. Of course, following this guideline is not always helpful, as I would contend with the first mention of the English word church. The first place is Matthew 16:13-20, specifically in vs18. But I wouldn’t say that passage always helpfully clarifies for many of us (well, it does for the Roman Catholic church, but that is another article for another day).
But, what about the word gospel? Where does it first show up?
Well, that shouldn’t be too difficult – it first shows up in the Gospels.
But where do we start in the Gospels?
Well, for that, I say let’s look at Mark, since the word shows up in the very first chapter. Now, the word actually shows up in the very first verse, but as with starting in Matthew 16 to understand church, I don’t think starting in Mark 1:1 helps clarify too much. But I might return there near the end of this series to make a few comments.
But, interestingly enough, the first words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark reference the gospel:
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (vs14-15)
Here we are told that the Christ steps onto the scene proclaiming the gospel, or good news, of God. And, with Mark staying true to form with very short summaries of the words of those individuals he quotes, he attributes one sentence to Jesus: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
So, the second half of that statement tells the people to repent and believe in the gospel, but I think we are still left asking questions, trying to ascertain more about this absolutely astounding news.
Now, we could see this second phrase as Jesus communicating, ‘Repent and believe in Jesus’. And such is not wrong. It’s actually a truth of the gospel. But, what are we believing about Christ or what is our believing in Christ about?
Let’s go back to Mark 1:15 – The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
Well, it’s the second half of that sentence that is intricately connected with the first half. The repentance (literally ‘changing one’s mind’) and the believing the good news (gospel) has to do with the kingdom of God being at hand.
The Messiah arrives proclaiming that the time is now here, the kingdom of God is at hand. This is the time! Get yourself ready! The kingdom is near! The kingdom is at hand!
What we don’t realise is that this was outright good news to a Jew of the first century. The problem is that, many times, we can read Scripture with no reference to what was happening in that day. But what was the mindset of the Jewish people in those days? They were awaiting the arrival of the kingdom of God. There expectation was that the kingdom would soon come, via some messianic figure.
So, Jesus enters onto the scene speaking a kind of music to their ears. But really, the tune wasn’t perfectly in line with the Jewish song. For the kingdom to arrive, it meant the end of Rome for them. Yet that messianic figure came and went, but Rome still stood.
Still, the reality is that Jesus came with the message of the kingdom, the good news that the kingdom of God had come. It was the rule of God that had broken into humanity history. This was the good news, for the Messiah was bring the messianic kingdom!
But, wait. We don’t see Jesus really ever called Messiah in Scripture. Wasn’t that a loaded term?
Yes, it was loaded. They are thinking the end of Rome. He is thinking the end of a greater enemy. But, in all actuality, Jesus is known quite a few times as Messiah (over 50 times in the Gospels). Ah, but the trick is that the New Testament originally comes to us in Greek, not Hebrew. Messiah is from the Hebrew root, Christ is from Greek root.
So, whenever Jesus is referred to as Christ, He is definitely being identified as Messiah.
But Scott, your muddling this all up for us!
Well, I am somewhat good at that. But the point is that I’m trying to lay a little groundwork to get somewhere. I know that stuff is boring, but I will try and go somewhere, even if it is a long way around. Remember, it is simple, but it isn’t always so simple.
So, the Messiah-King shows up announcing the good news of the arrival of the messianic kingdom rule of God. Of course God is King. But here is God-in-the-flesh arriving to bring that rule on earth as it is in heaven. Messiah is faithfully fulfilling His messianic role.
Note these words of one author:
‘To acclaim anyone as Messiah is to announce in him the coming of the Kingdom of God, for it is precisely the business of the Messiah to establish the Kingdom. Messiah cannot be separated from Kingdom…when Messiah comes, the Kingdom comes.’ (John Bright, The Kingdom of God)
That’s paramount! For remember, Jesus is Messiah and He is announcing the kingdom come. This was gospel to the ears. Forget Rome. The rule of God was here to break the rule of another more powerful enemy. Jesus is here to establish the rule of God over Satan and sin!
And that’s the gospel, or good news, message He came proclaiming – the kingdom had come, the rule of God was being established for God’s people.
Bright goes on to remark in his book:
‘It lies at the very heart of the gospel message to affirm that the Kingdom of God has in a real sense become present fact, here and now.’
The central heart of the good news is this – Christ came to save sinners. I would say, ‘No.’ Christ came into the world to establish the rule of God on earth as it was in heaven. That was central to Christ’s message, since the kingdom was on His lips some 100 times in the Gospels. That’s the centerpiece of the gospel.
What? Are you serious, Scott!
What about 1 Timothy 1:15? What about John 3:16? What about the cross? What about the blood shed at the cross? What about forgiveness of sin? Are you really trying to leave this stuff out and tell me its about some kingdom up there coming to earth?
Hold your horses. Those are important factors of the gospel, indeed, outside of the statement that the kingdom is somehow ‘up there’ and trying to come ‘down here’. But I would say such realities are a result of the gospel of the kingdom. They were instrumental because the rule of God had come with Messiah. But let me take up that premise in my next article.