What is the Gospel, Exactly?

Did you know Jesus himself summarised the Gospel for us in the book of Acts?

The word “gospel”, as many well know, means “good news”, “good message”, or “glad tidings”. It comes from the old English godspel from god “good” and spel “story, message” 1. In Greek, the word is evangel, from which we get the words evangelism and evangelist –  the messenger of the good news. And boy, is it ever good news! 

Are words necessary?

There has been some confusion about what that news actually is… Can we, as the quote attributed to Francis Assisi suggests, “spread the Gospel” , or evangelize, without using words? Or is it an actual message that requires articulation? If so, what is that message exactly?

God’s kingdom has many wonderful aspects to it, but the good news that we have to share, the actual message of the Gospel, is that we have been invited to enter into that kingdom, thanks to the sacrificial death and victorious resurrection of the Messiah who paid the penalty for our sin. The Gospel is a message of invitation to be conveyed, and words are absolutely necessary!

God is a fan of words, indeed he is the creator of them. He spoke this world into being, and Jesus is even called “The Word”. He chose to deliver truth about himself both in person (through the nation of Israel and ultimately the Messiah) and in word (the Bible). This Gospel message must be both lived out and held out as hope to a world in darkness.

Yeshua’s own summary of the Gospel Message

When trying to grasp what we need to convey exactly, what better place to look than to the words of Jesus himself, when he gives his own explanation of the essence of the Gospel! In Acts 26, Paul describes his encounter with the risen Messiah, who charged him with these words:

‘I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:15-18)

To break it down, Jesus sends his messenger / evangelist:

  1. To open eyes
  2. That people may turn from darkness to light
  3. From the power of Satan to God
  4. In order that people can receive forgiveness and release from sins
  5. And a place, or inheritance
  6. Together with others who have been made holy by faith in Jesus.

Of course, the messenger cannot do these things, but it is the powerful message that they carry. The message of the Gospel has power to:

  1. Bring revelation of spiritual truth (opens eyes)
  2. Inspire a change in direction, a turning (from darkness to light)
  3. Transfer us from one kingdom to the other (Satan’s to God’s)
  4. Bring forgiveness of sin (we just have to receive it)
  5. Provide us with an inheritance, a place (with God)
  6. Make us holy, by faith in Jesus (sanctification is through faith in Jesus alone)

Potent stuff! According to Yeshua’s own explanation, the Gospel message is not so much about the ways of kingdom life, but the open door of invitation into that kingdom. It is the power of God for salvation.

“For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who trusts—to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)

The essence of the Gospel is God’s offer of a transfer of spiritual position and destiny, based on faith in Jesus. We can be transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves.

The original meaning of the word “Gospel”

The word actually shows up quite early in the Jewish Scriptures. In Hebrew the word for good tidings, or gospel, is besora (בשורה), and the bringer of the message is a mevaser (מבשר). The root word much the same in Hebrew’s sister, Semitic language, Arabic, and many Middle Eastern people have names along these lines: Bashar, Bshara, and so on. It has been knocking around long before Jesus came to earth in the flesh (besar – בשר), so what was it’s meaning back then?

The root word is said to have a connection to the word for flesh (בשר) because important news has an impact on our flesh, either brightening our faces or the opposite.2

According to scholar Andrew J. Spallek, implicit in the word is the concept of specifically GOOD news. Why? It was originally connected to messengers bringing word in battle.

It had connotations of victory.

Spallek explains that since the message came to be associated with the battlefield and news of victory, every messenger from battle came, by extension, to be called a mevaser (מבשר). This is the same word as evangelist in Greek. Spallek adds that by far the most prominent use of the root word is the proclaiming of good news, especially news of victory.3

Still, one side’s victory is the other side’s loss. Good news for one person can be bad news for another. So it is with the Gospel. The victory of God triumphing over the grave was bad news for Satan.

After disarming the principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross. (Colossians 2:15)

The Gospel is news from the battlefield: Jesus has conquered.

Sin and death have been vanquished. Forgiveness and freedom is ours! The way back to the Father has been reopened. That’s the best news there is, and we are the messengers who have been sent to declare it.

 

 

[1] Online Etymology Dictionary
[2] Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon
[3] Andrew J. Spallek, The Origin and Meaning of εὐαγγελιον in the Pauline Corpus, Concordia Theological Quarterly 57:3, p.180

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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