What is the Gospel? What is the Good News that this blog purports to be about? Let’s find out!
The word “Gospel,” which means “Good News,” does not come to us from a vacuum. The word has a background, a history. It was used for other purposes before Jesus’ followers began using the word to describe their teaching.
In Isaiah 52:6-7, the prophet Isaiah writes this:
Therefore my people shall know my name; on that day they shall know that it is I who speak—it is I! How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Already at the time of Christ there was an expectation that God would reign as king once more and that someone would bring the good news that because God is king, salvation is now possible. Good News was that God was king over his people.
But that’s not the only history this word has. As we come to the New Testament and switch from Hebrew to Greek, we need to look at the Greek word for “Good News,” which is euangellion. This word’s primary usage was to announce epic, world-shaping news. In the Priene Calendar, dating to the first century BCE, the writer announces “glad tidings” (euangellion) because Augustus was Caesar, a “savior” sent by divine providence who will bring salvation to Rome and everything it touches. (Yes, honey, I thought about the Roman Empire today.)
So we can see already that the word “Gospel” is tied up with salvation and lordship. Isaiah’s good news was that God was Lord over his people and brought salvation with him. Rome’s good news was that Caesar was lord and he brought salvation for all of Rome with him. “Gospel,” in its generic use, is good news about salvation that is good for all who hear it.
Paul and other apostles were not making up something out of nothing; they were taking a word in common usage and applying its meaning to the story they were telling about Jesus.
What is the Gospel About?
Paul introduces his letter to the Romans by writing that he has been “set apart for the Gospel of God…” He has been called into Gospel ministry. But what is his Gospel? We know what the Jewish people expected and we know what Rome’s gospel was, but what is Paul’s? He continues, “…concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…” The Gospel concerns God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. The Good News is a story about Jesus.
A Story About Israel
That story is first about how Jesus fulfills the story of Israel. Paul writes that the Gospel was “promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” The Holy Scriptures at this time would be what we today call the Old Testament. It is the story of God and his people Israel. The gospel is about how Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament by fulfilling the story of Israel. The Old Testament leaves off with Israel still waiting their Messiah; Paul is telling people that Jesus is that Messiah and that he fulfills Israel’s story. The Good News is a story about how Jesus fulfills the story of Israel.
A Story About David
Paul gets a bit more specific after that. He writes that Jesus was a “descendant of David according to the flesh.” He’s right. Jesus was the great-great-great-great-great-great-OK you get the point-grandson of the great King David. This is significant. The promised Messiah was believed to be from the line of David. God promised David that a descendant of his would rule over God’s people forever. So this Messiah would be a Davidic king who would reign over God’s people for all eternity. The Messiah would deliver God’s people from their enemies. Paul is arguing that Jesus is that Messiah, is that Davidic king.
Now Paul is not espousing full-blown Nicene Christology here but specifying that a human being was born a descendant of someone “according to the flesh” is interesting. Paul could be alluding to the preexistence of the Son of God, became human flesh in the person of Jesus. The Good News is about how the Son of God became a man in order to claim Israel’s throne and deliver his people.
A Story About the Son of God
Paul is not done yet. He continues, “…and was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.” There is a lot to unpack there. I’ll always marvel at Paul’s ability to cram as much dense theology into a small half-sentence as he does.
Claiming divinity was not an uncommon occurrence in antiquity. Today, if you were to go around claiming to be a god, you’d be locked up and heavily medicated. Back then though every emperor of Rome claimed to be a son of god, claimed to be divine. Caesars were worshipped (this will get Christians into a bit of trouble later on) as gods.
For Paul to tell these Romans that, no, Caesar wasn’t a god but actually this Jewish carpenter from the fringes of the Roman Empire was pretty bold. It is a bold claim.
Part of what gave Octavian (later Caesar Augustus) credibility to claim to be the emperor of Rome was his claim to be the son of Julius Caesar, who had ascended into godhood. He was literally the son of god, or so his propagandists told the people. Because he was the son of Julius Caesar, newly ascended to godhood, Octavian was qualified to be the emperor of Rome.
Paul, in claiming that Jesus is the Son of God, is saying that he is qualified to rule over not just Rome but the entire world. His sonship is confirmed by his resurrection from the dead and he is appointed to be the Son of God in power by God according to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Good News is the story of how Jesus is the Son of God.
Jesus is Lord
Paul’s point is that all of these stories come together in Jesus and because they do, Jesus is Lord. Now, in our time, “Lord” isn’t all that lofty of a title. But in Jesus’ day, Lord was a title claimed by the Caesars, making it the highest rank a person could claim. To be a lord means to be the master of everything under your dominion. For Caesar, that meant the Roman Empire (boy, I am thinking a lot about the Roman Empire today). For Jesus, that means everything and everyone. Jesus claims lordship on the basis of Hebrew prophecy, his status as a son of David, his status as the son of God, all of which was confirmed when he rose from the dead.
Jesus is therefore the Lord who brings salvation, not Caesar. Octavian was said to have brought salvation to Rome by ending a dark civil war and bringing Rome to new glory as a world empire. Jesus bring salvation to everyone on earth, rescuing the world from sin and its deadly consequences. The Good News is the story about how Jesus became Lord in order to bring salvation to the world.
As Martin Luther nicely summarizes: “The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord.”
What’s the Good News?
The Gospel is a story, and as we will see next time, this story has the power to bring people to salvation from sin and evil. The Good News is truly good, that Jesus is Lord and is at work bringing everything under his dominion and making the world the way it should be. We are invited into this story to partner with Jesus in bringing everything in this world under the rule of Christ.
So, in summary, the Gospel is the Good News that Jesus is Lord over everything and now has the authority to save people from sin and evil.