Last time we talked about the word gospel. Its ancient meaning is like the message brought by a runner to a city whose armies have gone out to defeat the marauding foe. The messenger stops to catch his breath and shouts, “We won!” The message means there will be no death and suffering. It means life and hope. So Jesus came to bring a message of life and hope replacing despair. That is the gospel.
Our key texts for this series are Mark 1:1 and 1:15:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God . . . Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.”
The gospel always was a Jewish message, though the world forgot, and it continues to be a Jewish message, as more and more people are discovering. The Jewish reclamation of the gospel is well underway, to judge from books of theology and biblical studies. The gospel is a Jewish man talking to the Jewish people about the Jewish God and the fulfillment of his plans as revealed long ago to the Jewish prophets. This is not in any way to deny that the gospel belongs to non-Jews as well. The prophets specifically said it would. Nonetheless, the Jewish origin and meaning of the gospel must not be forgotten.
The first phrase in Jesus’ gospel is “the time is fulfilled.”
This is a statement at once about personal time and world time. It is a statement declaring God’s ownership of time. It is a statement that cannot be made by human beings, but only by the Holy One, the Lord of time, and his prophets. No human can declare when the times are fulfilled since we are contingent upon time and not transcendent above it as God is. God rules time and we experience it. That is a huge difference.
God had much to say about time in the Jewish scriptures. He said things like, “this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days” in Jeremiah 31:31. He said things like “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established” in Isaiah 2:2. A common phrase in the prophets is bayammim ha-hem, in the last days.
Daniel talks about times. He said of God to the emperor of Babylonia, “He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings” in Daniel 2:21. He said of the ultimate times to come:
At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. –Daniel 12:1-2.
Very significantly Daniel spoke of the times and epochs to come as a sequence. He said, “I heard him swear by him who lives for ever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time; and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be accomplished” in Daniel 12:7.
The Jewish prophets said there would be times. There would be a time of the Gentiles, a time for trampling God’s court and putting Israel in exile. There would be a time when God would rescue Israel and bring Israel into the land and give Israel a new heart and a new spirit. There would be a time of Messiah, a time of peace and an end to war. And there would be the unending time of the world to come, with God dwelling in the midst of his people in an agricultural paradise.
The times are fulfilled, Jesus said. Only God or a prophet could say that. No man knows the day or the hour.
The time is both personal and global. Global time follows a pattern foretold in the prophets of wars, famines, exile, and evil followed by rescue, redemption, peace, and unending joy.
But personal time is important too. The rabbis have a saying, “Repent one hour before you die.”
The sharp disciple says to his master, “But how can a man know when he will die?”
“Thus,” says the rabbi, “repent now in this very hour.”