We have dealt with this group of words before, in the study of “evangelists” (W.S.#43). However, the primary focus there was on the people so designated, and their activities. Due to the ubiquity of abuses of the English word, “gospel”, it may be useful also to concentrate more specifically upon the message itself.
There is a sense in which every one of these studies is a “gospel” message, since they are all offered as “good news” of the graciousness, power, and provision offered to all of us who choose to identify with the Kingdom of the King of Kings, in sharp contrast to the “bad news” so often mistakenly perpetrated under the label of “gospel,” in efforts to compel submission.
As we shall see, distortion of God’s message and intentions is not a modern problem. Jesus himself had to deal with “establishment-types” who resisted his message of welcome and transformation so adamantly that they eventually felt it necessary to get rid of him, and carefully plotted his demise.
The Good News is that their schemes failed! In the power of his resurrection, “He destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel (I Tim.1:10)! In the process, “Through death, he destroyed the one who had the power of death, – that is, the devil – and rescued those who, by fear of death, were held in slavery all their lives” (Heb.2:14,15)! “He (God) rescued us from the [power] authority of the darkness, and transported us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love (Col.1:13)! Folks, This is good news – a news-flash that has been transforming people’s lives and relationships for more than 2000 years!
Euaggelion, literally, means “a good (or favorable) message.” Historically, it was usually used of the report of a military victory. The word appears a few times in the LXX, as a verb, mostly referring to victories, but also in the prophesies of Isaiah which are familiar from “The Messiah” – Is.40:10, 52:7, 60:6 – and the passage (Is.61:1) that Jesus quoted in Nazareth (Lk.4:18) as he introduced his Kingdom. It only occurs three times as a noun (I Sam.4:10, 18:22, 25). It also referred, classically, to a reward given to a messenger who delivered good news, or a sacrifice offered in gratitude.
In the New Testament, Mark opens his account clearly labeling it (1:1) “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus himself began his ministry with the triumphant announcement (Mk.1:14), “The time has been fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has arrived!” Both verbs are in the perfect tense, which refers to past action with present effects/implications! The requisite response is cast in the present imperative (indicating progressive, continuous action): “Change your ways [re-orient your lives] (see “repent”, W.S.#6), and become faithful (W.S.#1) to the gospel [good news]!” There is not a word about assenting to a list of “doctrines”, or groveling in one’s supposed “unworthiness” or “sinfulness”. It is a simple, gracious invitation to become loyal to the King and his Kingdom! (Please see the introduction to Citizens of the Kingdom.)
As his disciples walked together with Jesus, and observed/assisted with his teaching and healing, it became clear that this was no “free ride.” Jesus soon began to speak of “losing one’s life for my sake and the gospel’s” (Mk.8:35), and the adoption of a new set of priorities that could involve the leaving of family and property (Mk.10:29), but also the creation of new relationships that would be even closer – along with persecutions (v.30).
Early on, too, Jesus made clear that this “gospel” is intended to be available to all nations [Gentiles] (Mk.13:10) – see also W.S.#62 – an aspect that took his followers a bit longer to assimilate.
One can almost hear the wonder in Peter’s voice as he recounted his unprecedented visit to Cornelius. It is helpful to observe the elements included in his message on that occasion (Ac.10:34-43), which he later characterized as “the gospel” (Ac.15:7-8):
v.35 – “in every nation, one who respects him (God) and does justice” is acceptable to him.
v.36 – “The good news of peace, through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all”
v.38 – a brief summary of Jesus’ earthly activity
v.39 – “they” did away with him
v.40 – “God raised him!”
v.41 – “We saw him!”
v.42 – God made him judge of the living and the dead
v.43 – he takes away (W.S.#7) the failures of all who are faithful to him!
Paul provides a similar summary definition of the gospel in Rom.1:1-6, adding
v.4 – that Jesus was “certified” as the Son of God by his resurrection
v.5-6 – the purpose of all this was to enable all who belong to him to learn faithful obedience.
“Its source and goal are faithfulness!” (Rom.1:17)
To the folks at Ephesus, he also emphasized the inclusion of Gentiles as “fellow heirs, joint members of the Body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph.3:6), which he later (6:19) equated with “the mystery of God (W.S. #57).
In I Thes.1:5, he reminded them that the “gospel that you all have received” is not a matter of theoretical debate, but of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, and is expected to result in faithful living. Notice, please, that the rare reference to the destruction of the opponents of the Gospel (II Thes.1:9) is intended as encouragement to the beleaguered faithful. It is NOT part of a “sermon” to threaten prospective converts!
To be sure, the faithful are sternly warned against people who advocate “another gospel” (II Cor.11:4, Gal.1:6), who “pervert the gospel” (Gal.1:7), or refuse to “obey the gospel” (I Pet.4:17, II Thes.1:8, Rom.10:16), terms which usually apply to those who tried to impose the strictures of the Jewish law upon Gentile converts, as if it represented some sort of superior “spirituality”. But these admonitions are aimed at the faithful, who may be in danger of being deceived by such teachings, and not at the perpetrators of the error, who are left in the Lord’s hands.
There is nothing complicated or obscure about “the truth of the gospel” (Gal.2:5, 2:14, Col.1:5). It is hidden (II Cor.4:3,4) only from those who are willfully disobedient. Paul admonished his co-workers in Philippi (1:27) to “continue acting like citizens worthy of the gospel … standing firmly in one spirit, with a single identity, working faithfully as a team for the gospel.” That is by far the best insurance against error!
“Healthy teaching” (I Tim.1:11) is “patterned after the good news of the blessed God!”
This is the gospel message that we, his followers, are expected to acknowledge, to incarnate, and to share:
“The Kingdom has arrived, because the King is alive and active among us!
Come and see!
Learn together to follow his instructions – and to live!”