Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?
Is there enough Jesus in our gospel? Did Jesus preach the gospel? Is the gospel primarily about how we can get our sins taken care of so we can miss hell and make heaven when we die? For the most part, this constitutes the standard approach by evangelicals in defining and declaring the gospel.
Without question, Jesus’ public ministry began with an announcement of the gospel. What did he preach? Did he preach justification by faith? Did he declare, believe in the virgin birth, sinless life, the sacrificial death of the Christ on the cross, His bodily resurrection, and victorious ascension back to Heaven? NO.
Professor Scott McKnight tells of being in an airport and bumping into a pastor that he recognized. The pastor asked him what he was currently writing, and he replied, "A book about the meaning of gospel."
That's easy," he said, "justification by faith." After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him, "Did Jesus preach the gospel?
His answer made me gulp. "Nope,” he said, "Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost."
"Not even Jesus?" I asked.
"Nope. Not possible," he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: "Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn't get to preach the gospel." My satire, if not sarcasm, would not have helped, so I held back. But I've heard others make similar claims about Jesus, Paul, and the gospel.”
Any account of the Christian gospel that does not narrate the basic content of the books we rightly call the Gospels does not deserve to be called a "gospel outline". It might be a true and accurate statement of biblical truths-and, for that reason, valuable and useful for our hearers - but it is not the gospel that Jesus said must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10). – John Dickson
Having said all this, I have been reflecting over my perception and proclamation of the gospel for the last 56 years of my Christian life - and the last 51 as a full-time vocational pastor - and have concluded that I haven’t been proclaiming the gospel from the Gospel accounts, nor from the Old Testament. In fact, it’s basically been a how to go to heaven when you die presentation that can be done from one verse like Romans 6:23. Again, I’m not depreciating this approach, but just realizing that it’s at best a very diluted, one-dimensional approach that leaves out the primary aspect of Jesus’ message and ministry.
I can’t recall who said it, but I concur with them as they declared, “If we are tempted for even a passing moment to wonder if the Gospels preach the gospel, then we have fallen from the apostolic gospel. Why? It was the apostolic generation that called Mark (and probably Matthew) the "gospel." Why? Because the gospel is the completion of Israel’s Story in the Story of Jesus, and that is precisely what the Gospels in fact do.
John Dickson helpfully summarizes both the message of the gospel and the message of Christian mission: At the heart of the gospel message (in the Old and New Testaments) is the idea of God’s rule as king, in other words, his kingdom. When the first Christians proclaimed this gospel of the kingdom, they were not copying the “gospel” of the Roman kingdom; they were exposing it as a fraud. It was God, not any human king, who ruled over all. This is the central theme of the Christian gospel…
“What is the single most important idea driving our mission to the world? The answer has to do with monotheism (one God) or, more correctly, Christological monotheism - the lordship of the one true God through his Messiah. To put it in simple and practical terms, the goal of gospel preaching - and of gospel promoting - is to help our neighbors realize and submit to God’s kingship or lordship over their lives.
“[However] the Christian gospel does not just announce the concept “God reigns”; it outlines exactly how that reign has been revealed to the world…the core content of the gospel is the work of God’s anointed king, Jesus. Through his birth, miracles, teaching, death and resurrection God’s kingdom has been manifest (and will be consummated upon his return). Telling the “gospel”, then, involves recounting the deeds (not just his birth, death, and resurrection) of Messiah Jesus.”
Notice how Jesus begins his public ministry in Mark 1:14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus said, in essence I have come from heaven, and I brought my world with me - that world is called the kingdom of God or heaven.
Jesus proclaimed that the long-promised kingdom of God, or heaven, was breaking into time in His person. We have lost, or left out, the King Jesus gospel of the kingdom of God. The good news Jesus announced was that in His person the faithful Son had come and would complete the story that begin with Adam, Moses, Abraham, David and the children of Israel.
The gospel of the kingdom of God is the good news of a new creation – a new order of God’s government – one of righteousness and justice, bringing peace to all peoples and nations as they receive the good news in repentance and faith. For many, it is a shock that this has already begun in the person of God’s Son. Through becoming man, living his sinless life, learning obedience through suffering, and finally through his death, resurrection and ascension to the Father, the kingdom has come definitively to this planet. With God becoming man, a permanent shift of cosmic proportions has occurred. Restored to the image of God, man has been reinstated into co-partnership with King Jesus in rulership of the universe, and the new creation has begun.
The First Century Christian’s message was the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom, which is God’s dynamic rule, breaking into human history through Jesus, confronting, combating, and overcoming evil, spreading the wholeness of personal and community of faith well-being, taking possession of his people in total blessing and total demand. As “keruxes” or “heralds” of the King they made known the good news of God’s renewed reign over all of creation. Christ’s kingly authority extends over the entirety of creation. God’s mission is equally comprehensive. It is to declare the fact that to surrender to King Jesus is to embody the good news that He again rules over marriage and family, the market place and all government, art and athletics, the sauna room and the schoolroom, sex and the city! Since it is a gospel of the kingdom, its coverage is as wide as creation.
This is a far cry from the individualized, watered-down gospel message of today that pleads for people to come to Jesus for peace, purpose, prosperity, problem-solving power and the personal security of positive identity and the promise of an eternal destiny in heaven when you die. This is not the message that causes governments and religions to want to kill Christians.
Paul and the early Christians understood something we do not. The gospel of the kingdom is not just about a gift. It is about a change of allegiance. If Jesus is King, then Caesar is not. The problem, of course, was that the affirmation of the Lordship of Caesar was the fundamental assumption upon which the Roman life and society of New Testament times was built - it’s political, social, economic, cultural, and religious life. The declaration “Jesus is Lord” was understandably viewed as subversive and a threat to everything the Romans held dear. That’s why Christians had to die. That’s why tyrants such as Stalin and Mao both tried to stamp out the church.
Jesus established His kingdom definitively at His First Advent, is extending it progressively through His kingdom agents and ambassadors, the people of God - His Church - and He will establish His kingdom decisively, victoriously, and permanently at His Last Advent.
In the redemptive work of Christ, the kingdom of God is an actual reality that is available and accessible and upon entering it by the miracle of the new birth, we have access to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, all the hosts of elect angels, the company of the redeemed of God – to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant who are ministering spirits to those heirs of salvation (Hebrews 1:14) everything is new. We have a new standing – a new approach – a new name – a new sacrifice – a new priest – a new law – there is a new kingdom, a new body, a new covenant. In chapter 10 of Hebrews, we are told that He has perfected forever those who come to Him, and the Holy Spirit has brought us into the covenant and then brought the covenant into us – writing in our hearts and minds (Hebrews 10:15-17).
The Gospel is about forgiveness and eternal life, but it is also about much more. It is about embracing a new King and his “now” reign. It is about heralding the death of the gods of our age - whatever they are. We announce their ruin and proclaim that there is one God, and His Son Jesus is Lord. Our proper response to the gospel – “repent and believe in the gospel.” Please take note that the words “repent and believe” in Mark 1:15 are present tense, active voice, imperative mood verbs, which means we’re to on repenting and believing the gospel. If you’re an unbeliever – repent and believe. If you’re a believer, go on preaching the gospel to yourself daily and then announce to others as often as the Holy Spirit sets up the appointments. Truly, the gospel of the kingdom of God is the POWER OF GOD unto salvation in every sense of the word!