"The gospel" is about so much more than the death and resurrection of Jesus

May 20, 2020

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The common modern understanding of the Gospel is that "Jesus died and rose again so we can go to heaven when we die", but Luke writes several times that people proclaimed "the gospel" before Jesus even said that he was going to die and rise again (Luke 3:18, Luke 9:1-6, Luke 20:1). So, what would the hearers of John the Baptist, the Twelve, and Jesus have heard when "the gospel" was preached to them, and how does this relate to the death and resurrection of Jesus? The preexisting story of the Old Testament and the Jewish apocalyptic framework of the first century gives us a clear answer.

Transcription

Hi there friends, Josh here. I wanted to follow up to a couple of my older videos, first is one that I titled “Jesus is Jewish”, and the other I called “The Bible wasn’t written to you” - go back and watch those if you haven’t - the links are in the description. In both of those my heart was to communicate how important it is to read the Bible in context and first read it from the perspective of the authors and the original hearers. I also emphasized how Jesus was Jewish and how he spoke to first century Jews in the land of Israel who had a specific worldview and expectations of the future that was based on what God had done with them and spoken to them in the past. This means that we should view the life and the words of Jesus in the larger Jewish apocalyptic framework of the Hebrew scriptures. In other words, we should understand the words of Jesus in context to the Jewish story that Genesis through Malachi had been portraying, not a new or a redefined story that began with the ministry of Jesus or with the coming of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts or with Paul’s letters a few decades later. I trust this is gonna become even more evident today as we discuss the word “gospel” for a little bit.

Now just saying that word - gospel - probably brings several ideas to your mind. Typically here in the West, the average Christian hears “the gospel” and thinks “oh, yeah, the good news of Jesus’ sinless life, his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, and my salvation from sin so I can be with him in heaven forever when I die.” But we should first ask: is that what Jesus and Jews of the first century would have had in mind when they heard the word “gospel”? Keep that question in mind, and let’s read just a few scriptures from the book of Luke. I’ll start from Luke 3, and this is the story of John the Baptist. This is Luke 3 verse 7:

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

First of all before I keep reading, just look at what John’s talking about - he’s talking about very commonly understood themes in Jewish apocalyptic eschatology. The ideas of the wrath to come, the covenant God made with Abraham, the axe being laid to the root of the trees and the ones that don’t bear fruit being cut down and thrown into the fire … This is language directly from Genesis, Isaiah 6, Isaiah 66, and other passages from the Law and the Prophets that reiterate these same themes. And though these ideas may be foreign for us 21st century Gentiles, John’s Jewish hearers understood what he was talking about because this was their world, this is what they grew up with and what shaped them as a people and a nation.

Well let’s continue in verse 15. Luke says:

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.

Look at that right there, verse 18. It says “with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people”. In Greek this is the same word that gets translated in modern English translations as the word “gospel”, and here specifically this is verb form of the Greek word “euangelion”. So John is heralding “good news” here, he is “gospeling” the crowds of Jews who are getting baptized. Now Luke is explicitly setting up John in the same way that the Old Testament prophets are introduced, and he’s doing the same thing as they were - calling Israel to repent and obey the covenant again. Why? Because God made a promise that it would be through the descendants of Abraham that all the rest of the nations of the earth would be blessed. The Jewish people are God’s treasured possession, Israel is his royal priesthood and his holy nation. They were the ones called to proclaim the glory of their God and to be a light to the Gentiles, yet here they are again in the first century not walking in that role, and so John is warning them - just like the Old Testament prophets did - that the day of the Lord is coming and they aren’t exempt from the wrath of God just because they are ethnic descendants of Abraham. So this is interesting, right? Luke said that John was preaching the “gospel” to the people.

Let’s look at a couple more passages. This is Luke 9, starting at verse 1:

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

This is the story of Jesus sending out the twelve before him, and look what it says at the end of verse 6 - they went through the villages, preaching the gospel. Okay, so now we see a more explicit reference here… same Greek word, different people than John the Baptist, but still all Jews. Interesting, right? First, John the Baptist, now the Twelve - preaching “the gospel”. Notice the parallel from verse 1, Luke says Jesus sent them out to “proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” and then verse 6, they went out “preaching the gospel and healing”. I’ll talk more about this in a second, but let’s look at one more verse. Luke 20, verse 1:

“One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up…”

So now this time it’s Jesus himself - in the temple, preaching “the gospel”. Ok… Have you noticed what’s wrong yet? We can’t just gloss over this or insert our typical Western view of what “the gospel” is into these verses, because it’s not going to fit. If you noticed, Jesus hasn’t died on the cross yet, he hasn’t risen from the dead yet. So then, what’s the gospel that John the Baptist, the Twelve, and Jesus preached if it wasn’t “Jesus died for your sins and rose again so you can go to heaven”?

Well in all three of these passages in Luke, “the gospel” should be understood in a Jewish apocalyptic framework, in the same line as the Old Testament prophets. The day of the Lord, the judgment on the wicked, the restoration of Israel, the Davidic kingdom, the resurrection of the dead, the age to come, the nations flowing up to Mount Zion, these are the grand themes of the Law and prophets, and these are the things that Israel was longing for. So the message here was that the day of the Lord was at hand, and this is what John, the Twelve, and Jesus were preaching. The day of the Lord didn’t happen in the first century, Jesus didn’t sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem, the Gentiles didn’t flow to Mount Zion to hear God’s instruction, and the twelve tribes weren’t gathered back to the land either. The need for repentance from both Jew and Gentile in light of this soon and coming Day is what the apostles went on to preach in the book of Acts. And this is good news first to Israel, because these are promises that involve them and the covenants God made with them. This is why Paul says in Romans 1:16 that “the gospel” is first to the Jew and then the Greek. It’s the joyful, expectant proclamation that God is going to be faithful to his covenantal promises to Israel.

So we have to see the story of Jesus’ first coming in continuity with the Jewish story of the Old Testament. Jesus isn’t redefining or reimagining that story through his ministry, and “the gospel” doesn’t become something new in the book of Acts or in Paul’s letters. In fact, the apostles talk about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as the explicit confirmation of that Jewish story. So by faith, by counting God as trustworthy and reliable to his words, and as we see what the apostles say later, that we can be confident, whether we’re Jewish or a Gentile, that through the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, that we will inherit that certain hope held out in the scriptures - the good news of Israel’s coming restoration and reign of the Messiah, Jesus. Or as the New Testament says often, this is “the gospel - the good news - of the kingdom”.

Amen. Well there’s so much more to say, but I hope this was helpful and stirring to you. If it has been, then hit that thumbs up button, leave a comment down below, and subscribe for more. Now don’t misunderstand the point of this video… I’m not saying that the what we proclaim as “the gospel” today is 100% wrong. My heart is just to help you see that it is incomplete, and that there’s a greater and more thrilling story going on here than maybe what we’ve thought. I’d encourage you to check out this short video on Paul’s two-fold Gospel as well as a documentary called “Enduring Witness” that was produced by some fellow pastors and mission workers. You can watch it free at enduringwitness.com. I’ve put all these links down in the description below, so check them out. Well, God bless, and maranatha.

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