So far I’ve explained that gospel translates a Greek word meaning a message of life and hope and rescue from death delivered by a messenger in the ancient world. In Part 2 I explained that when Jesus said in Mark 1:15 that “the time is fulfilled,” he was speaking of God’s plans announced through Israel’s prophets to redeem and restore.
It is easy for modern followers of Jesus to be confused about what the gospel is. Too often contemporary religion has emphasized the mechanism, the decision, or the smallest parts of the gospel, neglecting its cosmic scope and unparalleled beauty.
The gospel is as Jesus aid in Mark 1:14-15:
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.”
What is the kingdom of God? How did Jesus’ audience hear this message?
The kingdom of God is neither a time nor a place, though it involves them both. It is the rule of God, his reign as king. Of course God is king whether people recognize him or not and whether the creation is broken or not. Yet the rule of God is full where it is recognized and when all time and space are redeemed and restored and all people and creatures are redeemed and perfected.
The kingdom of God is something revealed by Israel’s prophets. It is also something Jesus demonstrated constantly by his actions.
The early part of Genesis shows the world rejecting the rule of God. The serpent had already left prior to the story and was already there to bring humankind down with him. When humankind chose a path other than God’s rule, all creation went with us, as symbolized by our ejection from the Garden.
God’s plan to restore the kingdom begins with Abraham. God said he would bless all the families of the world through one family, the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The kingdom of God comes to the world through the Jewish people and spreads to every family on earth.
God’s kingdom is blessing, not curse. It is healing, life, love, peace, and restoration.
At various times in history, God has revealed things about the time of his rule, when his kingdom overtakes all the failed kingdoms of man. Moses and the Israelites got an early taste in Deuteronomy 30. God said one day he would change the hearts of people (Israel, specifically), and circumcise hearts so that there would be no barrier to perfect love.
In this present darkness, love is imperfect and often seems weak. In the time of God’s rule, love will conquer all.
Jesus lived out the kingdom, demonstrating it like an Israelite prophet would often live parabolically, teaching not just with words but with symbolic actions.
Jesus healed every blind, hurting, or dying person he encountered because in the kingdom of God there is no pain, illness, or death. When a friend of Jesus died, he did not accept the death stoically or even make pious statements about life after death. He wept. And he called his friend Lazarus back out of the tomb. In Jesus’ weeping we can understand that God weeps over death and pain. It is not his will and has no place in the time of his rule.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is at hand. His hearers might have differed a little on the specifics, but everyone understood this meant the time of Israel’s restoration and God’s takeover of at least the land of Israel and ultimately the world.
The gospel is not simply about the afterlife or escaping punishment. It is about God transforming the cosmos, healing and restoring and perfecting all things.
The gospel cannot be reduced. It should not be understated. The gospel is the dawning of the World to Come.