When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first recorded words are a command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel, when translated from the Greek, literally means “good news” and is obviously an important and central teaching of the Christian faith. But do you know what it is?
For most of my life, I would have answered that question the same way almost anyone else who grew up in the modern Church would have answered it. The gospel is about the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Right?
Let’s examine the scriptures to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.
Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where you will see the word “gospel” accompanied by a descriptor. Some of the examples we see are “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1), “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), and “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Does this mean there are many different gospels? And if there is no descriptor included, how can we know which gospel is being referenced?
In general, our culture has done a good job of proclaiming a gospel of salvation. The problem is that the Bible depicts the gospel as something more than just our own personal salvation, as evidenced above. Yet, we often miss the full gospel because we tend to focus on just one aspect of it. While there is certainly only one gospel, it manifests itself in many different ways.
Perhaps the best question we should ask is, “Which gospel did Jesus preach?”
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
If we go back again to the first recorded words of Jesus, we see Him speaking about the coming “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). In Matthew 9:35, we also see that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” In Luke 4:43, Jesus even goes so far as to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.”
Have you ever truly noticed that before? Jesus is saying the very purpose He was sent to Earth was to preach the gospel, or the “good news,” of the kingdom of God. But did the focus of the gospel change after Jesus’ death and resurrection? According to Acts 1:3, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to speak about the kingdom of God.
The Apostle Paul preached the very same gospel. While living for two years in Rome, Acts 28:23 tells us that “from morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”
Paul wasn’t the only apostle preaching this message either. In Acts 8, we’re told that the Apostle Philip “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
What’s interesting is that both the good news (the “gospel”) of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus were preached. This indicates that the message of the gospel and the message of the person of Jesus are not the same message. The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of your salvation, the gospel of peace – these are all the same gospel, because they all point to the same thing: the coming kingdom of God. When Christ comes again, ushering in his Kingdom to begin his millennial reign here on Earth, the good news is that those of us counted among the righteous will be there with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
You can’t remove Jesus from the gospel. Without Him, there is no gospel. But if we only preach a gospel of salvation, then we reduce the gospel to merely a benefit. We may currently understand the gospel in relation to how it affects our lives today, but Jesus wants us to know how the gospel impacts us after we die. Salvation is our entry point into the Kingdom of God, but salvation is only a one time event. The Kingdom of God is forever.