Have We Gotten the Good News Wrong?

Most people who have identified as Christians for any amount of time have become familiar with the term “gospel.” Gospel means “good news.” I don’t think I am sharing anything groundbreaking so far. However, I want to spend the duration of this post addressing the gospel. What is this good news? What makes it so good?

I think the gospel, as it is explained by current western evangelicals, needs to be given a second look. If you were to ask most people today what the gospel is you will most likely get a response like, “Jesus died for my sins.” Now, I am not at all arguing against this truth. I will be the first to affirm the deep truth that statement carries, but I don’t think that is the gospel. I would say that it fits within it, but that is not the good news.

Rather I would say the gospel is the good news that God has become king in a new way in and through Jesus. The gospel is the decree that Jesus is Lord and has conquered sin and death, thus liberating creation from it’s slavery. Now I know that initially there is probably some backlash when first hearing that statement. I know this because I too became extremely uncomfortable when first entertaining the idea that something other than “Jesus died for my sins” was the gospel. So before you go screaming heretic and exiting out of this page I just want you to hear me out. I know that I do not have efficient room within this post to begin to build a thorough argument and address every single thing that a person might bring up. I simply can’t, but what I can do is give a brief introduction to why I think this, and hopefully leave you with something to think about as well.

Usage of the term “gospel.”

This first thing that I want to point out is where we get the term gospel. Christians do not have the corner on this word. It appeared before our usage describing the Christian good news. The word gospel is the greek word “euaggelion” (transliteration). This word, when heard in the time of Jesus, would have brought to mind Caesar. There was an inscription found in the first century that reads, “The beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus.” (Priene 105.40)

This was the good news and the life changing news that Caesar Augustus was now on the throne. Based on the usage of the word in that time, I find it to be a compelling reason to look at the Christian usage of the word as the life changing news that Jesus of Nazareth is now on the throne. I know that the early usage of that word is not enough to close the case, so on we move to scripture!

Usage of the word “gospel” in Scripture.

The word translated to gospel is found over 75 times in the new testament. By taking a look at some of the usages of the term we can begin to get a better idea of what the gospel is perhaps getting at.

Mark 1:1 begins by saying “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Messiah) the Son of God. From this passage we can see that this is the good news of Jesus the Christ or Messiah. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of the good news being about him dying for our sins or that he is Lord. However, I would like to point out that Messiah (or Christ) brings with it a connotation of king as well as savior. (Quick interesting fact: the earliest title given to Jesus was Lord, not savior.)

Acts 20:24 says “But I count my life of no value to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Here the gospel is being referred to as the good news of God’s grace. This can immediately bring to mind the notion of God’s forgiveness of sins. His grace, His compassion, and His mercy. Now to this I will absolutely agree. However, I would argue that the gospel of God’s grace is the same thing as Jesus becoming Lord and defeating sin, death, and Satan. The good news that Jesus is Lord means grace, forgiveness, and mercy to those who are “in Christ.” Those who have died to themselves and now have their lives hidden with the Messiah (Colossians 3:3)

Such passages that bring forth this point would be Romans 3:24, 1 Corinthians 1:4, 2 Timothy 1:9, 2 Timothy 2:1, and more.

2 Corinthians 4:4 has Paul stating the gospel as the good news of the glory of Christ. This seems to be devoid of Jesus’ dying for sins, unless we make the argument that the glory of Christ is found solely in his dying for sins. Which could be plausible.

Romans 1:16 says the gospel is God’s power for salvation. I would argue that the good news of Jesus being Lord and defeating sin and death is most definitely God’s power for salvation.

The usages that I’ve pointed out, as well as other passages using the term gospel, seem to leave room for interpretation. However, I would like to take a look and see how Jesus used the phrase good news throughout his ministry.

Mark 1:15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!”

Luke 4:43 “But He said to them, ’I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose.’”

Matthew 4:23 “Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

These are just three examples of many. It seems that Jesus’ “good news” that he was sent to proclaim revolved around the kingdom of God. He was ushering in a Kingdom that had finally come. This was good news, God was finally acting on behalf of His people and becoming king! This was ultimately accomplished in His crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

What was messiah?

Another interesting thing to take a look at is what exactly was expected of the Messiah. Definitely Isaiah 53 comes to mind. However, the common thought of the Jew was less focused on the suffering servant, and more on the victorious king (I would argue that one accomplishes the other.)

Now the Jews got quite a few things wrong so maybe they should have focused more on the “bearing our iniquities” part, yet I think that the New Testament writers seem to place a decent emphasis on this king motif. In fact, when it comes to the new testament writers quoting the old testament, we find something interesting. Psalm 110 is quoted in the new testament more than any other passage from the old testament [1]. This is the Psalm which states, “the Lord says to my Lord: sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Even after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the new testament writers continued to place an emphasis upon the idea of messiah as victorious king. When the writers go and quote something messianic they don’t reach for Isaiah 53 like they do Psalm 110. This would fit with my idea that it is by the suffering that He also accomplishes becoming king.

Why did Jesus come?

I think that most people would agree that the gospel is tightly intertwined with the mission and purpose of Jesus. I want to look at a couple of texts that tell us why Jesus came.

Hebrews 2:14–15 “Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death—that is, the Devil—and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.”

1 John 3:8 “The one who commits sin is of the Devil, for the Devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works.”

These two passages say that Jesus shared in flesh (became incarnate) specifically to destroy the Devil and his works by way of His death. The primary reason for becoming man was to defeat Satan, sin, and death. Jesus comes to accomplish His kingdom by binding the strong man and defeating the “god of this age” and “ruler of this world” (John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Jesus’ life and ministry was a strike against Satan and his fallen angels. It’s purpose was to liberate people from the one who held the power of death. To destroy him and be placed as king. The first gospel proclamation we have in Genesis is that the seed of the woman will come and crush the serpent’s head.

Peter’s Sermon on the Day of Pentecost.

lastly, I want to take a quick look at Peter’s sermon on the day of pentecost (which can be read here).

Peter’s whole point within this sermon is that the man, Jesus, who was pointed out to them by God had been crucified by them. They had nailed him to a cross and killed him! Yet God raised Him from the dead and has exalted Him to the right hand of the Father. He then says, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know with certainty that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah!”

The people then come under deep conviction and ask what they should do. Peter tells them to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. The good news of Peter’s sermon is not that your sins have been paid, but rather that this Jesus has been raised from the dead and is Lord! Now because of this good news that Jesus is Lord we can experience forgiveness of sins (Romans 10:9), but the forgiveness of and dying for sins is not the good news itself.

Conclusion

I believe that Jesus came do defeat sin, death, and Satan. I believe that on the cross this was accomplished, and God has raised Jesus to His right hand. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is king. This is good news. It is great news. God has done something about the evil and despair of this world, and we will experience the fullness of this victory later to come, but we can rest confidently in the good news that Jesus is Lord now.

I want people to see that the good news encompasses more than the substitutionary death of Jesus on our behalf. The Gospel is bigger than my individual sins being removed. The Gospel is about the whole cosmos and all of creation (Romans 8). It is about the light winning out over the dark (John 1:5). It is about good triumphing over evil in Jesus. It is about love and a new king in whom we can trust to right all wrongs and set captives free (Acts 26:18. A God who is transferring us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his Son, whom He loves(Colossians 1:13).

This is my Gospel, to which I am a slave.


Image by Jes via flickr

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Curtis Snell

I am first and foremost someone who is trying to follow the example and teachings of Jesus. I serve on the pastoral staff of a church in Iowa and I love writing, reading, and my dog Pepper.

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