We’re getting close to the end! Thanks for your patience. Before drawing any conclusions about the nature of the gospel, it only makes sense that we take a look at a few of the verses that actually speak of the gospel.
Now, I’m not trying to define “gospel,” as it’s not so easy to do as I once thought. For example, if we define “gospel” as the availability of salvation by faith in Jesus, we have to deal with the fact that Jesus preached the gospel long before he announced that he is the Messiah. And John the Baptist preached “good news” before Jesus was baptized, much less known to be the Son of God (Luke 3:18).
Indeed, “gospel” goes back to Old Testament prophetic passages and is the announcement of the coming of the Kingdom (Mark 1:15) in which God himself will sit on the throne of David.
(Ezek 43:7a) He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.”
In his ministry, Jesus further revealed the gospel the Jews were already expecting. Indeed, it’s striking how many times the Gospels refer to “good news” or “gospel” or “kingdom” without offering any explanation, as though the terms were already well known when Jesus began his ministry.
When John’s disciples ask Jesus if he was the Messiah, he responds by quoting from Isaiah 61. In Luke 4, Jesus begins his ministry by reading from the same passage.
It was typical of Rabbinic teaching to quote a verse while referring to the larger context, assuming the listeners knew the text well enough to understand the meaning. Therefore, let’s consider Isaiah 61 —
(Isa 61) The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
We want to take this language as highly metaphorical, but Jesus gave a nearly literal interpretation in Matt 11:5, in response to John’s disciples, saying these very things are happening. Therefore, we have to understand that the gospel involves ministry to the poor, the brokenhearted, prisoners, and mourners. I mean, we could hardly contend that the good news for the poor and mourners ended with the Ascension.
… 6 And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God.
Priesthood in the Old Testament was not about direct access to God so much as the making of sacrifices. Luther argued that the priesthood of believers contradicted the Catholic Church’s doctrine that God’s grace was mediated to Christians through the church. But that’s not why the verses were written (although it’s true). They were written to tell us that we get to make holy, acceptable sacrifices ourselves.
… 8 “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed.”
And the gospel Isaiah speaks of involves social justice — fair courts, honest dealings.
10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
Finally, this gospel will be for all nations (Matt 24:14; Rom 16:26).
Among the significances of the gospel is the end of racial and ethnic distinctions. Paul upbraids Peter in Gal 2 because he ate only with Jews (tacitly denying the salvation of Gentiles). Paul said he was “not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.” Indeed, the “mystery” of the gospel is the unity of Jews and Gentiles (Eph 3:6).
The gospel, moreover, imposes certain ethical obligations on those who obey it —
(1 Tim 1:9-11) We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
These sins are not just rules but violations of the gospel.
Paul teaches that the gospel includes the promised Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16).
Finally, we are taught that the gospel is a command to worship God —
(Rev 14:6-7) Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth — to every nation, tribe, language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Next, we draw some conclusions. Finally!