Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Center of the Gospel


The center of the gospel is not my personal salvation. The center is Jesus. Mark begins his account of the gospel this way: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Notice that it does not say, “The gospel of Jesus the Savior,” but “The gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is the Greek form for the Hebrew “Messiah,” which means “Anointed.” So, the gospel relates back to the promises God made in the Old Testament about Messiah. Those promises pertained to God’s “Anointed,” that is, the one God anointed as King. So the center of the gospel is Jesus as God’s Anointed King.

A king implies a kingdom, which is also what God promised OT Israel — God would come and set things right in Israel and would rule over all the nations of the world. In Mark 1:14, Jesus came “preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.” The content of that preaching is found in verse 15: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the gospel.”

That is the primary thrust of the gospel — the announcement that God’s kingdom has come into the world, and that Jesus is God’s Anointed King. Now, within that is what we might call the “plan of salvation” (and which is often mistaken for the whole of the gospel). The question of personal salvation is, “How do I participate in God’s new kingdom that has come into the world?”

To answer that, look at John 3. Of course, John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses about personal salvation. But let’s take a look at the context to see how personal salvation fits in. In John 3:3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And again in John 3:5, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Notice that Jesus speaks of salvation in terms of the kingdom of God — how one sees it, how one enters into it — how one becomes a part of it. The primary thrust of the gospel is about the coming of the kingdom of God, through the coming of Jesus, God’s anointed King. But within that is the matter of personal salvation, how we enter into God’s kingdom.

Now look at John 3:16 in view of verses 3 through 5 and following. The word for “everlasting” or “eternal” is the Greek word aionios, from the word aion, which means “age” or “eon.” It is a reference to the “age to come.” In the Jewish context of Jesus and Nicodemus, this would be understood as the Messianic age, the age of God’s kingdom, which would set everything right in the world and would never end. “Eternal life,” then, is the life of God’s kingdom age.

God’s kingdom age has already broken into the world and, although we still await the fullness of it, we can become part of it now. Through faith in Jesus, God’s anointed King, we can receive now the life of the age to come, the life of God’s eternal kingdom reign.

So, the good news of the gospel is not primarily the announcement that Jesus is Savior, and that we can all know that we are going to heaven when we die. That is a result of the gospel. Primarily, the gospel is the announcement of the good news that the kingdom of God has come into the world, that Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, is both God and King. The good news for us personally is that we participate in God’s kingdom and the life of the coming age (which has already broken into the world) through faith in God’s Anointed King, Jesus.