Do You Know What the Gospel Is?
by Bill Edgar
My father, Bob Edgar, was pastor of a Church in NYC, as his grave marker reads, “Minister of the Gospel, 1917-1953.” As World War II drew to a close, he took a young soldier to Macy’s Department Store, where you could talk into a TV camera, while your friends watched you on a small black and white screen. When it was his turn, my father looked into the camera and said, “I am a minister of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
What is the Gospel? Don’t just think “Good News!” That’s merely the etymology of “.” The question is, what news is Good News?
The word “Gospel” appears 80 times in the NT, usually with no explanation. Matthew calls it “the Gospel of the Kingdom.” Mark begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” John never uses the word “Gospel.” In Acts, Luke calls it the “Gospel of the grace of God.” Paul writes “Gospel of God,” “Gospel of Christ,” and the “Gospel of peace.” In I Timothy 1:11 he calls it “the glorious Gospel,” like my father did.
In the whole New Testament, “Gospel” is defined at length only twice.
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel, which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve (I Corinthians 15:1-5).
Here is the other NT summary of the Gospel.
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:1-4)
These two passages name five parts of the Christian Good News: 1) It is about Jesus the King. (“King” is what the title “Christ” means.) 2) In Jesus God fulfilled His promise to keep a son of David on the throne. 3) Jesus the King died for our sins. 4) Jesus rose from the dead to reign as King from heaven. 5) Jesus chose and sent witnesses to announce the Good News about Him. The Gospel is about Jesus the King, descended from David, who died for the sins of his people, rose to life to take power, and is now sending out messengers about him.
First, the Gospel is about Jesus the King. All Christians know that, of course. Sometimes we get mixed up and think that the Good News is mainly about us, how we can have a happy life, or how we can dream big and go far, or how we can go to heaven and not hell. But mostly we know that the four biographies of Jesus, which we call Gospels, are about Jesus. Another mistake we sometimes make: thinking that “Christ” is Jesus’ last name. That’s understandable, since “Jesus Christ” sounds like “John Jones” or “Ron Wages.” But you can see that Christ is a title, not Jesus’ last name, when you read verses like Mark14:61. The high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ?”
“Christ” (Greek Christos) translates the Hebrew “Mashiach,” “Messiah” in English. It means, “Anointed.” To the Jews, “Anointed” meant “King,” because the Jews anointed their kings with olive oil. So the Gospel is about Jesus the King.
The second part of the Good News is that the Jewish prophets foretold Jesus’ coming. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Zechariah, and the rest of the prophets told Israel that God would send another son of David to be Israel’s king. These promises comforted Israel after the Babylonians ended David’s royal dynasty, and sustained Jewish hope as centuries passed, with the Jews home again but still living under the pagan rule of Persians, then Greeks, and finally Romans. Anyone who reads the Gospels can see how often they quote the OT prophets. Their point is, “Good News! God’s promises have come true in Jesus.”
Now we come to the third part of the Gospel. Many Jews stumbled over this part in Jesus’ day; Greeks thought it was just foolish. John the Baptist introduced Jesus to Israel, hinting that He would die some day: “Behold the Lamb of God! (John 1:36).” Roman soldiers crucified Jesus the King outside Jerusalem, at the insistence of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The King died, not a hero in battle, but without resistance at Passover. After his Resurrection, Jesus explained his death to two of His disciples. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ (King, remember) to have suffered these things and to enter into glory (Luke 24:25-26)?” Later, Philip explained Isaiah 53 to a visitor to Jerusalem: it was about Jesus the King dying (Acts 8:32-35).
The Book of Revelation presents Jesus the King as a slain lamb! In heaven in chapter 5, one of the elders says to John, “Do not weep, Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals. And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain…. (Revelation 5:5-6).” “Jesus Christ died for the sins of His people” means “Jesus the King died for our sins.”
The fourth part of the Gospel is that after being dead for three days Jesus rose again to life. His tomb was empty. His disciples, women and men, saw him many times, individually and in groups. He talked and ate with them. Jesus’ Resurrection vindicates both his innocence and his mission; it proves that God accepted his sacrifice for sin. Without the Resurrection, the start of the Christian Church in Jerusalem fifty days after Jesus’ death is impossible.
Jesus’ Resurrection is central to the Good News. Here is a bewildered summary of the dispute between Christians and Jewish leaders by the Roman governor Festus. “When the accusers stood up, they brought no such accusation…as I supposed, but had some questions…about a certain Jesus, who had died, but whom Paul affirmed to be alive (Acts 25:18-19).” Here’s the point of the Resurrection: Jesus the King is alive, ruling from his throne in heaven. He will one day come back as Judge. If Jesus did not bodily rise from the dead, Christians have no King, no peace, and no hope.
The fifth part of the Gospel is that Jesus chose messengers to tell the world the Good News about Himself. The first messengers, called Apostles, were all Jews. What does it mean that preachers, now from China and Korea as well as from Europe and America, preach the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ? “” translated into English as “Gospel,” or “Good News,” had deep meaning in Jesus’ day. It meant “victory,” so we have peace. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news (Septuagint), who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Feet upon the mountains bringing Good News meant news of victory in battle. Paul quoted this verse in Romans 10 concerning Christian missionaries. They announce the victory of God. Jesus defeated Satan, he defeated sin, and he defeated death by rising from the dead. He brings peace.
The word also meant the Good News of a new king! Romans used it to announce the advent of a Caesar who would bring peace and plenty. Here is a 9 BC inscription about Augustus, who was Caesar when Jesus was born.
The providence which has ordered the whole of our life, showing concern and zeal, has ordained the most perfect consummation for human life by giving to it Augustus, by filling him with virtue for doing the work of a benefactor among men, and by sending in him, as it were, a savior for us and those who come after us, to make war to cease, to create order everywhere…the day of birth of the god [Augustus] was the beginning for the world of the Gospel that has come to men through him.
Kings of the earth like to think of themselves in these terms: they are Saviors and their reign is Good News. When Christian messengers from Jesus called their message about Jesus they openly challenged the political ideology of Rome. No wonder the Greeks in Thessalonica accused Jason of harboring Paul and his companions who “are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king – Jesus (Acts 17:7).” They were declaring another King; they said he would judge the world; they said he was King of Kings; they said He had all authority in heaven and in earth; they said He would return and defeat all his remaining enemies. The very word for their message, meant the announcement of a Savior King. The best we can do in English, perhaps, is to say, “Jesus is President.”
What is the Gospel? 1) Jesus is King; 2) Jesus fulfilled all of God’s promises to Israel about a Messiah; 3) Jesus the King died for our sins according to the Scriptures; 4) Jesus rose to life again to reign from heaven; 5) Jesus the prophet sends his messengers to the whole world with the Good News about him.
Let’s go now to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus died. Imagine yourself listening to Peter. You believe him. Jesus is King and in power, and you were against him. What might you ask in fear and despair? You’d ask this! “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Here is Peter’s answer. Jesus the King will forgive the sins of those who repent opposing Him and who pledge their loyalty to Him by being baptized in His name. Here’s how he put it, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38).” Our King is merciful because He loves His People and died for us even before we loved Him.
Like my father before me, and like my son after me, I am a minister (servant) of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of peace. We announce that Jesus is King and will be the Judge of all people. He opens the door to His kingdom by promising that if you repent a life of selfish pride and are baptized so that you belong to Jesus, He will forgive you. God loved the world so deeply that He sent His only Son to be born the Son of David according to the flesh, so that whoever believes in Him will be saved. Repent, believe, be baptized, and learn His new way of life! Then Jesus the King will forgive your sins and include you in His Kingdom of peace. He will make peace between you and God, give you peace within your own soul, and teach you how to live at peace with other people. The glorious Gospel is about Jesus, King of kings, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose again on the third day, and ascended into heaven, from where he will come to judge the living and the dead.