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Last month I laid out the case that the gospel in its basic essence is the declaration that Jesus is King (Romans 1:1-4). It is, as Matthew repeatedly called it, “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). We also looked at the usage of the term “gospel” (euangelion) outside of the New Testament and its association with news regarding the imperial court.
The Gospel of Isaiah
There is another important background to the word “gospel.” It comes from the Book of Isaiah, in two great promises God made to reassure His people that He would restore them from exile. Here’s the first:
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:9-11, emphasis added).
When this passage was translated into Greek for the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the phrase “herald of good news” was rendered euangelizomenos, “one who brings the euangelion (good news/gospel).” And what was this gospel message according to Isaiah? “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him” (40:10). Isaiah’s gospel was the announcement of the coming reign of God.
And then there is this promise in Isaiah 52:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the LORD to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:7-10, emphasis added).
Once more we read of a bearer of good news, one involved in “gospeling.” His proclamation to the citizens of Zion is the wonderful announcement, “Your God reigns!” Israel’s King is returning to Zion and bringing it salvation for all the nations of the world to behold. And of course, this is the very passage Paul cited in Romans 10:15 to explain the urgent need for preachers to share the message of the gospel with Israel, demonstrating the continuity between Isaiah’s gospel and his own.
What is especially important to see from these passages in Isaiah is that the gospel message is about God coming to His people as King, baring His arm to redeem them. Consider then the opening verses of Mark:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’” [quoted from Isaiah 40:3]
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:1-4).
According to Mark, John the Baptist was the messenger foretold in Isaiah 40, as his ministry of preaching and baptizing “in the wilderness” demonstrated. But if John was indeed the one crying in the wilderness, this can only mean that the “Lord” whose way he was preparing was Christ. Mark is making the astonishing claim that the promised gospel of Isaiah, the return of God the King to save His people, was fulfilled in none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
If I haven’t convinced you yet that the central focus of the gospel is the kingship of Christ, let me try one more line of reasoning with this question – why are the gospels called the gospel?
The Gospels Are the Gospel
The gospels begin with birth stories that announce that Jesus is the King prophesied in the OT. They continue with the values of the kingdom, the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:2), and stories Jesus told about the kingdom, called parables (“the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field,” Matthew 13:24). They describe great miracles Jesus performed that led the people to want to make Him King (John 6:15), and exorcisms that Jesus explained in royal terms (“if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Matthew 12:28).
They reach a climax with His entrance into the city of Jerusalem, where the multitudes shouted, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:9). They accelerate with His arrest and trials, in which the High Priest asked Jesus if He was “the Christ, the Son of God,” only to hear Jesus say He is the great King promised in Daniel 7 and Psalm 110 (Mark 14:62). The gospels then recount His crucifixion, where soldiers mocked Him, “Hail King of the Jews,” and mobs taunted Him, “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross” (Mark 15:18, 32). They record the inscription of His crime posted above the cross, “The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26). And they conclude with the vindicated King proclaiming, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).
Why are the gospels the “gospel”? Because on every page they are showing us that Jesus is King!
(Next month: “Gospeling” in Acts, and the difference a proper understanding of the gospel makes)