Why is the Gospel Good News?
In a series of recent posts I have been defending the position that Paul’s gospel is most basically understood as the good news that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified by the Romans, has been raised from the dead by Israel’s God and exalted to a place of supremacy as Lord of heaven and earth. This argument is based primarily on two Pauline texts, Romans 1:3-4 and 2 Timothy 2:8-9, where Paul provides some of the specific content of his gospel. The argument is strengthened by the historical use of the Greek word euangellion (gospel) which was an announcement about the reign of a new Caesar, Caesar’s birthday, or an important military victory.
The position that Paul’s gospel is the news that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead has come under criticism as of late. John Piper has recently charged that, “The announcement that Jesus is the Messiah, the imperial Lord of the universe, is not good news, but is an absolutely terrifying message to a sinner who has spent all his life ignoring or blaspheming the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and is therefore guilty of treason and liable to execution” (The Future of Justification, Crossway, 2007, p. 86). The aim of this post then is to answer this criticism by answering the question, “Why is the gospel of Jesus’ Lordship and resurrection good news?”
1. The announcement of Jesus’ Lordship is good news because it is the means of grace prior to conversion which brings conviction of sin and draws the guilty one to repentance and the obedience of faith. As in previous posts, Acts 2:36-37 is instructive. After vigorously proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, Peter brings his Pentecost sermon to a climax with the announcement that God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah. Luke then says of the hearers that they ” were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other disciples, ‘Brothers, what should we do?'” These men were guilty of handing Jesus over to be crucified by the Romans. Surely these guilty ones have blasphemed and rejected both the God of Israel and his Son. However, the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection and Lordship is used by the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and enable repentance and faith. In this case, the announcement of Jesus as imperial Lord of the universe was the power of God for salvation.
2. To say that Paul’s gospel is not the announcement of Jesus’ Lordship is simply to ignore the first century meaning of the word euangellion. Sure, Paul can take a word and fill it with new content, and that may be what is happening when Paul adds the idea of resurrection. No one was saying that Caesar had been resurrected. Paul doesn’t really seem to change the fundamental concept of euangellion though. Euangellion appears twice in the first three verses of Romans. If anyone would have understood the historical meaning of this word it would be the members of the church in ROME! Paul does not then go and change the meaning of euangellion to something other than a royal announcement. No. He says exactly what a first century Roman might expect him to say. He announces the new king saying that the gospel is about God’s Son who is descended from Israel’s very own King David. This claim gives Jesus a royal lineage far older than that to which any emperor could appeal. At this point Paul is right in line with the historical meaning of gospel. He then adds the news about Jesus’ resurrection. This is not a departure from the basic idea of gospel as royal announcement because it means that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom 1:4). The addition of resurrection may be new content to gospel, but it does not change the basic usage of the word as the proclamation of a king.
3. The message of Jesus’ Lordship and resurrection is good news because it means, at long last, that a fully righteous and just human being is Lord of the world and that death has been defeated.
4. The news about Jesus’ resurrection and Lordship is good news simply because Paul says so. It is, after all, the good news about God’s Son, descend from David (Lord/Messiah) and raised from the dead (Rom 1:3-4, cf. 10:9).
I am not denying that Paul can flesh this out differently on any given occasion. I am arguing that this basic message about Lordship and resurrection is the gospel. Paul certainly brought the doctrine of justification into his preaching on occasion as is the case in Acts 13:38-39. However, Paul has already announced that Jesus was raised from the dead (30) and was made Israel’s Messiah (32-33). However, Paul did not mention justification at the Aeropaegus (Acts 17:22-31). And, as we have seen, Peter did not address justification in Acts 2. So, the basic gospel is the good news that Jesus is Lord and God raised him from the dead. This is good news because it is the means of grace. It is good news because gospel means royal announcement. It is good news because death has been defeated and the only righteous fully human being is Lord of the universe. And, last but certainly not least, it is good news because Paul said so.