What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the good news of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return of Jesus of Nazareth.
The Gospel is described as the euangelion, the “good news” (e.g. Mark 1:1). The gospel is news: the heralding of what God has accomplished through Jesus the Christ. News can have a dramatic effect on our lives: consider how you strongly hold on to memories of when you were informed about news regarding major events in your own life, in the lives of those you love, or of national or international significance: getting accepted or rejected by a college or a job; receiving news of illness or death; the acceptance of a marriage proposal; the death of a leader, or a major incident in a nation’s history. News can transform our lives.
Yet the power of news is not in the expression of the information, but in the reflection of reality in that information. The Gospel can only be “good news” if what it says actually happened. The good news is that God really did take on flesh and dwell among us as Jesus of Nazareth; He died, but God raised Him from the dead on the third day; He later ascended and received an everlasting Kingdom from His Father; He will return again soon. If any of these things did not actually happen, or will not happen, then the “good news” is fake, a lie, we bear false witness regarding God, are lost in our sins, and are of all people most pitiable (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-20).
For good reason we consider the recounting of Jesus’ life and ministry the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born of a virgin as the Emmanuel child, the Son of God, God in the flesh, a powerful miracle that facilitated later miracles. He grew up as a Second Temple Palestinian Jewish man and ministered in Galilee in humble circumstances. He went about doing good and teaching regarding the Kingdom of God. He explained all things more thoroughly to twelve disciples He selected, men of little social standing but chosen to bear witness to what God accomplished in Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6): in His life He satisfied the Law completely, embodied the story of Israel, and fulfilled all what was written regarding the Messiah in the Law and the Prophets. By His life as recorded in the four Gospels we can know and understand how we should live.
Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples, tried, tortured, and crucified as a political insurrectionist. The Romans thought they made an example of Him, and yet His death had been foreordained as the means by which God would rescue humanity from their sins. Jesus offered Himself on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind; the forces of evil subjected Jesus to a wide range of their devices, inflicting mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma upon Him in humiliation, degradation, pain, and suffering, and He overcame it all by enduring it to the point of death, and all without responding in kind. Jesus gave His life so that we might live; yet Jesus’ death is very much a part of His life, and thus part of the way He pioneered that we might have standing and life before His Father. The only way to the Father is the way of the cross: suffering, loss, humiliation, and pain, perhaps even to death.
If that were the end of Jesus’ story it would have been a great tragedy but of little further significance; He was not the first “Messiah” the Romans had crucified, nor would He be the last. Jesus’ life and death can only be “good news” because His disciples bore witness that God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. Jesus’ resurrection represented the core transformative “news” of the Gospel as the Apostles proclaimed it: it was Jesus’ resurrection that changed everything. Jesus had humbled Himself; His Father had exalted Him. He was raised to die no longer: He endures in His resurrection body to this very day. Jesus overcame death; death did not have the final word. Jesus’ resurrection was the word that turned the world upside down; Jesus’ resurrection made void the power of the tyrant, for those who trusted they would receive a resurrection in Jesus would not shrink back from the threat of death. Jesus’ resurrection assures us there is life after life after death; God has not given up on His creation, and in Jesus we can overcome sin and death.
Forty days after Jesus arose from the dead He ascended to the Father. It was necessary for Jesus to ascend into the heavens in order to cleanse and provide a way for us to stand before the Father; He was established as priest forever, continually interceding for His people before His Father. In His ascension Jesus as the Son of Man received eternal dominion, a Kingdom which would never be shaken and the name that is above every other name: Jesus now reigns as Lord of lords and King of kings. Jesus empowered the disciples who saw Him in life and in the resurrection with power to establish the governance and maintenance of the ways of His Kingdom. These disciples, now known as Apostles, went about proclaiming what God had done in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and imminent return, declared He was the Christ, the King, the Son of God, and set forth how Christians ought to live so as to glorify God in Christ. When people accept this good news about Jesus, they ought to submit to Him in trusting faith; when they do so, they can be made a part of the body of Christ, also known as the church, and serve Jesus in His Kingdom. Christians are to jointly participate in life with one another as they do with God in Christ, and all they do ought to be patterned according to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, in hope that if we share in Jesus’ sufferings, we might share in His resurrection.
God has accomplished great things in Jesus, but His purposes in Christ have not reached their ultimate fulfillment. The final enemy, death, has not been fully defeated; we still suffer the effects of the curse and the decay and corruption of the creation. Jesus solemnly promised that He would return one day to judge the living and the dead on the day of resurrection: all would come out of the tombs, the faithful to a resurrection of life, glorified by God, sharing in life in the presence of God in the “new heavens” and the “new earth,” and the disobedient to a resurrection of condemnation, suffering in the lake of fire with the Evil One and his angels for eternity. God has displayed covenant loyalty in Jesus; if we believe in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and lordship, then we must maintain confidence He will return soon. We will never know exactly when; such is why we must always be prepared for the Lord’s return, so that whether we live or die we will always be with the Lord.
Thus the Gospel is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return, as we have heard from the Apostles who saw and experienced Him, and bore witness in the pages of the New Testament. This is the foundation of the faith delivered once for all the saints (cf. Jude 1:3); we cannot add to it or take away from it, for who among us saw Jesus in His life or in His resurrection? All that is true in the faith derives somehow from Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return; any message that would not root itself in this good news of Jesus, or would contravene it in part or in whole, is not the Gospel, but a fraud and imitation, warped and corrupted, the doctrine of demons. We do well to root and ground ourselves in the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, lordship, and imminent return; we ought to proclaim this good news to others, embody this good news in our thoughts, words, and deeds, and always be prepared for Jesus to return and to share in the resurrection of life. May we affirm the Gospel of Jesus Christ, accept no substitutes, and share in life in God in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry