What Exactly Is The Gospel?
I keep reading that Christians need to get back to the gospel. Or that we've gotten away from the gospel. Or that we've got to get the gospel right. But what exactly is the gospel? We are told it's a divine purpose. It's a historical event. Okay, but what is it exactly? It seems there is no end of talk about The Gospel but very little telling us what exactly the gospel is and what specifically it means for those to whom it was delivered. It's almost as if it's kept vague intentionally and that we're just supposed to know what it is through some sort of religious osmosis.
So let's change that and take a direct look into exactly what the gospel means and its implications. Matthew mentions the word gospel the first time in the New Testament. The Greek word for gospel is euaggelion, which means good tidings or good news.
What is the good news we need to get back to? What is the good news we've got to get right? What is the divine purpose of this good news and what was the historical event that this good news was delivered, by whom to whom?
Let's go to the verses in Matthew chapter four where the good news is being delivered by Christ.
"Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet saying, 'The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.' From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand ... And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people." [v.12-17, 23]. Not only did Christ physically heal the sick, he spiritually healed the wound suffered by the people in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.
Let's take it one step at a time. Christ left Nazareth when John the Baptist was put into prison. And he went to Galilee of the nations. Where exactly in Galilee? Christ went to Capernaum by the sea, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, in the regions of Zebulun and Napthali. Why there? Because they were the people who sat in darkness, the same people who sat in the region and shadow of death. [For the relevant historical background of the gospel, see the Feature article, Damascus A Heap Of Ruins].
Who are these people Zebulun and Naphtali and why were they sitting in darkness, in the shadow of death to begin with? And why did Christ single them out to begin his ministry, to be a great Light, "the bright morning star," to them? The answers to these questions gives us our answer to what is the gospel or good news. So let's let the Biblical record give us its answers.
First off, Zebulun and Naphtali are two sons of Israel, the House of Israel to be specific. They are not Jews, or descendants of Judah. You can read about them in Genesis 49, see verses 13 and 21, concerning them as nations in the last days, which means they are still around as Christian nations in the 21st century even though, most likely, they are oblivious to their identity as Zebulon and Naphtali. [See the Feature article, Ten Horns, Ten Nations].
Why were they sitting in darkness in the first century, in the early days of the Roman Empire? Well, they were, along with their eight other brothers of the House of Israel, divorced from God as we can read in Jeremiah 3:8. Being put away for their idolatry and other sins, they were cast out of the covenant made with all the children of Israel. This is the law covenant given on Mt. Sinai. Once outside the law covenant agreement, they were lost, sitting in darkness in the shadow of death. [See the Feature article, Moving Forward].
But why did Christ begin his ministry here, teaching and preaching the gospel in their synagogues, in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, and not some place else, like the temples of the gentiles? The synagogues were places of worship for those of Israel, which is why descendants of the House of Israel would be found there initially. Once the gospel was understood to be for the House of Israel in this age, eventually Christians moved away from the synagogues. The apostle to the nations, Paul, explains, "As He says also in Hosea [a prophet to the nations of Israel, not the gentiles of the world]: 'I will call them My people, who were not My people, And her beloved, who was not beloved. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' There they shall be called sons of the God of the living.'" [Rom. 9:25, 26; Hosea 1:6, 10; also Mark 12:27]. "Them" here is a reference to the House of Israel, not the gentiles of the world. [See Eze. 34:30; also the Feature article, The Good News Colour Revolution].
The reason why Christ began his ministry in that place was that when the House of Israel was divorced by God, they were taken captive by the Assyrian king, Tiglathpileser and dispersed throughout the Assyrian empire in the 8th century BCE. [See Jer. 5:15; 2 Kng. 15:29]. And the very first place from which the children of the House of Israel, and not the gentiles of the world, were taken captive by the Assyrians was in Galilee of the nations of Zebulun and Naphtali. And as it was prophesied in Hosea, the first of the Assyrian period prophets, in the place where the sons of the House of Israel were first taken captive was the first place they would be called the sons of the God of the living, no longer in the shadow of death. Thus, the Light, Jesus Christ delivered the gospel, the good news first to them as the prophets of the Old Testament foretold.
Later, when Christ began sending out his apostles to preach the gospel, Peter in particular, he sent them to all the lost sheep of the House of Israel and not to the gentiles. [Mat. 10:5-7]. And Paul was sent to travel the road to Europe, including as far as current day England, delivering the gospel, as promised by the prophets in the Old Testament, to the lost nations [ethnos] of the House of Israel. [Rom. 1:1-3; also see the Sneakers article, Nope To Pope].
So what is the good news, the gospel? Well, the bad news was that for more than seven centuries all the House of Israel, beginning with Zebulun and Naphtali, were divorced from God. They were cast out of the covenant relationship with God. Spiritually, they were dead before God. There was no hope for them. From this condition, they got the good news delivered to them by Christ in person. The House of Israel was now given a new covenant, a covenant built on the better promises of Abraham and his seed, Christ, based in faith and grace not on the works of the law covenant. They were to have access to the Spirit of God being called sons of the God of the living. This is the good news, the gospel, delivered by Christ in the first century to the House of Israel. [See the Sneakers articles, His Treasured Possession].
Is this the gospel being preached today? Hardly. While the tenured evangelists and pastors bemoan the state of Christianity among our youth today, claiming they hold the theological high ground, these same ministers don't even know or understand what the gospel is, to whom it was delivered by Christ and why. It doesn't get any more basic than this in terms of understanding first century Christianity. When we step off the path delivered by Christ, no matter where we go from there, we are not where we need to be. Christians are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. [See the Feature article, The Tale Of Two Covenants].
This is why Christ began his ministry in Galilee. This is the good news he preached first to Zebulun and Naphtali. This is why Christ said, "I am sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." [Mat. 15:24]. The lost sheep of the House of Israel were the only ones divorced, told by God, "You are not my people." They were the only ones cast out of the covenant relationship with God and therefore sat in darkness in the shadow of death. They were the only ones who needed redeeming. And to them Christ said, "Repent [change your ways], for the kingdom [royal power and authority] of heaven is at hand [through the Spirit of God]." [Mat. 3:2]. And this all began on that first day of Christianity, Pentecost, a fulfilling of the high holy day of Israel, the beginning of the summer harvest, when Peter stood up and said to 'all the House of Israel,' "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." [Acts 2:36-38].
The gospel, the good news was delivered by Christ to the House of Israel in Galilee, where the Assyrians, more than seven centuries earlier, first took them captive. These people are our Christian ancestors. And they are nations today according to the prophecy given by Israel to his twelve sons in Genesis forty-nine.
It is correct that we've gotten away from understanding what the gospel is and for whom it is meant. And yes we need to get the good news right. After all, if evangelists don't know for whom the gospel is meant, and what it means, how can they preach the gospel delivered by Christ in the first century? [Again, see the Feature article, The Good News Colour Revolution].
As the apostle Paul told the church in Galatia, "I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: as we said before, so say I now again, If any preach any other gospel to you than that you have received [from the apostles, in the Biblical record for us today], let him be accursed." [Gal.1:6, 9]. This is a strong warning for Christian leaders. [See the Feature article, Three Temple Ages Make A Plan].
The good news as first delivered by Christ, is for the people who sat in darkness. Since the first century, the children of the House of Israel were called the sons of the God of the living [Mark 12:27]. We are no longer divorced. We no longer sit in the shadow of death. Now, we Christians just need to realize who we truly are in order for us to fully understand the gospel delivered by Christ and the apostles in the first century. [For more details, see the Feature articles, We're Abraham's Seed And Heirs and And It's Still A Mystery].
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"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."