The Gospel is a topic I’ve addressed on a couple of occasions. But it is important enough to revisit. I have some new insights since I last wrote about it. Many of us are aware that “gospel” means good news. This is true, but there is more to it that just this. One specific and important use of the term “gospel” was to announce a new emperor of the Roman Empire. Messengers were sent (apostles) to proclaim (preach) the gospel (good news) of a new emperor. This was to be good news because the emperor was good (or at least claimed himself to be). He was also called lord, savior and the one who establishes peace. Because the emperor was good, the empire would be good too.
Sound familiar? Jesus is called these things. And it isn’t a mistake. Jesus’ disciples were saying that Jesus was a new emperor, though not of the Roman empire nor any kingdom previously found on earth. He is the ruler of “the kingdom of heaven” and his kingdom truly is good because Jesus is at his core perfect good. And don’t be mistaken—the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” doesn’t mean it’s far off, in another dimension, up in the clouds, and/or somewhere we go only after death. “Heaven” in the original language referred to the sky, the heavens (outer space), and also even the air we breathe. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The idea is that heaven is near, not far.
In fact, throughout the Bible, the temple is the place where Jews believed heaven and earth met, where God came to dwell on earth. The garden of Eden was a prototype of the temple. Later the Israelites had the tabernacle, and then three different temples were built in Jerusalem after this. When Jesus arrived, he acted and spoke as though God was on earth where he himself was. In other words, Jesus thought of himself as a temple in a very real and important sense. When the disciples declared how impressive the temple in Jerusalem was, Jesus responded saying “Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.” We all now understand he was talking about himself and his body. But he wasn’t just using this as an odd metaphor. As Paul states, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Col. 2:17). In other words, the temple was a foreshadow of Christ.
The new temple is Jesus. His body is where heaven and earth meet, where God comes to dwell. And his body is still on earth. As Paul explains repeatedly, we (those who follow Jesus) are his body. Again, this is true in a real and important sense and isn’t just another metaphor. And similarly, his empire, the kingdom of heaven, has come and is here among us. Of course there are still other kingdoms, countries, rulers, and authorities, etc. Jesus has not yet taken complete control over the world. So the kingdom of heaven exists in many cases in conflict with the other existing kingdoms.
As I’ve mentioned, the gospel has often been reduced to “Jesus died for you sins so you can go to heaven”. While this is true, it’s just such a small piece of the bigger picture. If this is all the gospel is, it doesn’t make sense that we call the entire books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John “gospels”, nor does it make sense when they describe how Jesus preached a gospel. But if we understand that Jesus is the gospel, these make complete sense. The gospels are so called because they are about Jesus. And Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven—his kingdom—had come. And he demonstrated its reality though forgiveness and healing.