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The Gospel of the Kingdom (Part 1)
“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.” – 2Timothy 2:8
What is “the gospel”? Why, it’s “good news,” of course! Indeed it is. But just exactly what kind of “good news” is it? The good news of salvation? The doctrine of justification by faith? Is it the message of faith, repentance, and baptism? Just what is it that makes the gospel the “good news”? I do not believe that any of these summaries accurately captures the heart of what makes the gospel the gospel. Further, such inadequate definitions of the gospel are at the heart of the greatest problem facing churches and the largest obstacle confronting Christians today.
In this article I want to define the biblical understanding of the gospel, and then in future articles I want to explore the ramifications a proper understanding of the gospel has for those who claim the name of Christ.
The Gospel Jesus Preached
Let’s start with what Jesus himself preached. Notice how Matthew summarized the message of the Messiah. “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (4:23). “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction” (9:35). Jesus’ message was “the gospel of the kingdom,” the very message He later said that His followers would preach in the days leading up to the end of the Jewish commonwealth. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (24:14).
Jesus preached “the gospel of the kingdom.” If we are to understand the gospel, we must begin with the concept of the kingdom of God. In the abstract sense, God’s “kingdom” refers to His royal power, His kingly rule (as in Psalm 103:19). And in the concrete sense, God’s “kingdom” refers to the realm over which His authority is exercised (as in Revelation 11:15). So when Jesus preached “the gospel of the kingdom,” He was preaching about the rule of God and its implications. Gospel and kingdom are inseparable. This is borne out by the record of the preaching of Jesus as well as His predecessor, John. Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (see also 3:1-2).
Any understanding of the gospel that does not have the reign of God as its centerpiece is therefore fundamentally flawed.
The Gospel Paul Preached
A kingdom-centered view of the gospel was not only the heart of the message of Jesus, it was also the central theme of Paul’s preaching. Consider his concise description of the gospel in the introduction of his letter to the church at Rome:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 1:1-4).
What is the gospel according to Paul?
- First, it is a message about something “promised beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures.”
- Further, it is a message about Jesus, “the gospel… concerning His Son.”
- More specifically, the gospel is about one who was a descendant of David and declared the “Son of God.” From the time of God’s promise to David in Second Samuel 7, the Davidic king was known as “the son of God” by virtue of the Lord’s promise, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be to me a son” (2 Samuel 7:14; see also Psalm 2:7, 12).
- Finally, Paul’s gospel included the substantiation that Jesus was indeed the promised Son of God, namely, “his resurrection from the dead.”
Paul’s gospel was the declaration that Jesus is the Messiah whose coming fulfilled the promise made long ago to David and the prophets, vindicated as such by His resurrection.
Now it is starting to come into clearer focus why Matthew called the gospel “the gospel of the kingdom.” In its most basic essence, as Paul explained in Romans 1, the gospel is the declaration that Jesus is King. This is how he summarized his life’s work in his last letter. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8).
In fact, the very Greek words translated “gospel” and “proclaim the gospel” would have suggested to those living in the first century a proclamation about a king.
“The Gospel” in the Ancient World
“Gospel” and “evangelize” look nothing alike in English but come from very similar words in Greek (euangelion and euangelizomai). We could translate them “the proclamation” and “proclaiming,” or “the announcement” and “announcing,” or just make up a word and say “the gospel” and “gospeling.” While these terms had a wide variety of meanings in the Greco-Roman world, the most significant nuance was in connection with proclamations regarding the emperor. Consider for instance this inscription from the ancient city of Priene, written in 9 BC to celebrate the birthday of Caesar Augustus.
Since providence…has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things…and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good tidings (euangelion) for the world that came by reason of him….
For many in the first century, the gospel was the proclamation that Caesar was Lord. Christians had a different gospel. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news (euangelizomai) of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). These competing gospels set forth the choice facing the ancient world, and our own world. Who is the world’s true King?
(Next month: Isaiah’s Good News and the Gospels as Gospel)