What is the Gospel?
What is the gospel?
If you were asked, “What is the gospel?”, how would you answer?
There are many ways in which we can answer this question. And when we think about how we see the gospel presented in Scripture or behind the pulpit there are numerous ways in which the gospel can be framed. Even within Scripture each author presents it slightly differently.
However, I would guess that the most common response to this question would likely be “the good news.” And in its most basic summary, most people would probably include the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus coupled with the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:46-47, Acts 13:32-38). While all of this is true, it is worth considering, what is the gospel that Jesus preached?
Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, Mk. 1:14, Acts 1:3). In fact this was the message Jesus talked about more than anything else during His ministry on earth. Of the 158 times we see the word “kingdom” appear in the New Testament, all but a few occurrences refer to the “kingdom of God.” Of these, 127 are found in the gospels, and 108 are the words of Jesus Himself. Some of these remaining mentions are of Jesus’ including “the gospel of the kingdom” in His teaching (Matt. 4:23).
So then, what is the “gospel of the kingdom”?
The word “gospel” in Old English, godspell, originally simply meant “a good story.”1 While this is a fairly literal rendering of the Greek evangelion (“glad tidings” or “good news”), this basic English translation fails to capture the full meaning and depth of the word's usage in the Greco-Roman world.2 One of the most famous appearances of the word evangelion outside the New Testament occurs in an inscription from first century Priene, a city in modern-day Turkey about 20 miles south of the biblical Ephesus.3
This inscription tells the story of a victorious king who has cast down his enemies, punished evildoers, established a reign of universal peace, and is even described as the “savior” of his people. Looking back, the moment of his birth is considered to be the beginning of the “good news” (evangelion) which will ultimately result in peace for all mankind. The only problem with this inscription: it doesn’t describe Jesus Christ, but Caesar Augustus.4
Inscriptions like this, however, give us a look into the world of thought behind such passages as Mark’s opening phrase, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ…” (Mk. 1:1). Given the cultural context provided by such sources as the one above, it seems ancient readers of Mark and the other “Gospels'' would not have understood the story of Jesus as merely “good news.” It’s not “good news” in the sense of nice weather, having a good day at work, or getting a new job. Rather, the phrase “the gospel of Jesus Christ” would have had a much greater implication than it does to us today. It would have alluded to a victorious, reigning King and the establishment of a kingdom.
The message of the Gospels is very similar to that of the Augustus inscription. The King has come and is about to establish His universal reign. This reign will be joy to His friends, but terror to His enemies. This reign is universal in scope and more expansive than we can possibly imagine. The King has won, He’s coming again, and it’s time to get about His business.
As Jesus Himself tells us, His kingdom “moves forcefully” and “forceful men” lay hold of it (Matt. 11:12). Our job is to be men on mission, to be His heralders. In ancient times heralds would run from city to city proclaiming good news from their rulers. This news, as we’ve discussed, was usually a public declaration about the advancement of a kingdom such as a great military victory or the birth of a royal heir. Likewise, we are to be heralds of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Scripture says, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (or herald) the good news” (Is. 52:7). May we run from place to place, from person to person, so that everyone within our Personal Mission Field might hear the “good news” that “your God reigns” (Is. 52:7).
3 Craig A. Evans, "Mark's Incipit and the Priene Calendar Inscription: From Jewish Gospel to Greco-Roman Gospel" (Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism, 2000, 1: 67–81).