What is the Gospel? Part 2

[Photo by Jay Mantri on Unsplash]

If you missed part 1, you can read it here. In that post we saw four things: First, we looked at the scope of the Gospel. Paul tells us that the “gospel was preached…to Abraham” (Gal. 3:8) and that Christ died in “accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). If we are to have a “biblical” understanding of the Gospel it needs to makes sense of the Scriptural canon in its entirety. Second, the “gospel,” if we are to follow Scripture’s internal logic and shape prepares us for good news of a coming reign (Isa. 52:7), a reign which will usher in salvation (Joel 2:32), as the Creator God seeks to restore his fallen creation. Third, this biblical idea of a coming reign sets the gospel apart from our responses or the implications of the gospel. The gospel is inherently good news fundamentally rooted in history. Fourth, we should proceed to consider this good news through the lens of the kingdom, since Jesus’ message was the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). But, in order to tie these threads together, we need to trace the biblical story. We’ll do so in four movements. We begin by considering the kingdom established.

Movement 1: The Kingdom Established

God as Creator

Despite what some may think, Jesus did not invent the idea of the kingdom. The kingdom of God started in the Garden and has always concerned a people, a place, and kingly power.[1]

What we have in the beginning of the Bible is the beginning of God’s purposes for this world. Our Gospel must begin with God. And how does the Genesis account start? He is the all-powerful Creator. His word is packed with energy and authority. God did not wrestle with dark powers and defeat forces by a small margin. No, there is only one being acting in the creation account, and it is God. He needs nothing, for he speaks and all comes into being.

Listen to how this Psalm reflects on the creation account,

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
    he puts the deeps in storehouses.

 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
 For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

(Psalm 33:6-9)

He is the sovereign one over all things. He’s not in competition, he’s freely and wonderfully acting for the glory of his own name.

Sons of God

As King over creation, his finishes his work on the 6th day with the creation of humanity as the pinnacle, the crowning point of his creation, the cherry on the top, as it were.

Genesis 1:26–28 reads,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

      So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

There’s a divine counsel, and God himself forms mankind with his very own hands. Unlike anything else he’s created, this man and woman are made in ‘his image’.

The idea of image and likeness communicates at least two ideas: (1) kingship and (2) sonship. You see, in the ancient world, kings were depicted as representing the image of God, so Adam and Eve ruled on behalf of God, as signposts of the One who stood over all creation as the sovereign Lord.[2] They stood as the pinnacle because they were tasked with reflecting God’s glory.

And to reflect the divine image meant that humanity was to stand between heaven and earth. On the one hand their worship had a vertical aspect to it: they were to adore the Creator and give ultimate allegiance to him.

But it also had a horizontal aspect to it: they were to work and bring the Creator’s purposes into reality on earth.[3] Like a mirror, they literally reflected God’s likeness—His wisdom and justice—into the world and reflected the praises of all creation back to Him.[4]

Adam and Eve are tasked with working and tending to the garden (Gen. 2:15). Guard, keep, grow, expand, take dominion—this was their task. A task of living vertically and horizontally—of living in devotion with God, and expanding his glory, wisdom and justice—his kingdom!—to the ends of the earth.

Right here in the beginning we have all the ingredients for the rest of the story. If we miss any of these bits and pieces here, then the rest of the story may go down another road.

What’s the significance of this for the Gospel? Friends, we are created. We are made. And therefore we are owned.[5] Humanity is given delegated power on behalf of the ruler. Just as God has exercised his power to bring order to the cosmos, so Adam and Eve were to continue this triune work.

As Patrick Schreiner nicely states, “Adam and Eve are to administrate the kingdom under God’s authority, forming the earth and bringing flourishing to all nations.”[6] 

But, really…

Now at this point the picture painted is a beautiful one. God; a fresh creation; Adam and Eve unashamed, united to one another and in fellowship with the Creator; given a task to form and bring order to the earth for the glory of God! It almost seems like fantasy, right? Something out of the movies. We’re terribly aware that this is not so—that the world we live in today is not quite like this one.

But before we can go on to the next stage or movement in the story, we must grasp one more important aspect of the ‘kingdom established’. God and his creation, which helps to make sense of what comes.

God as Holy

God is not just any Creator. Sovereign, Lord, power—yes these things are essential to who God is—but we would be setting up an idol if we neglected one important aspect of the nature of God: his holiness. Without God’s holiness, without his justice and his goodness, what happens in the rest of this Gospel story won’t make sense.

You’ve heard this question before: if you could have anyone in the world to join you for dinner, who would it be? Answers range from politicians to sports heroes, queens and kings—maybe just another day with a loved one. Anything just to get to better know someone who we admire and love.

Well, in Exodus 34 we’re told that Moses wishes to see more of God, to know of his glory. And what we see is not a dinner table set with candles and roast beef, but God declaring some profound statements about himself,

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guiltyvisiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

(Exod. 34:6-7)

Did you catch that at the end? What is God like, among his mercy, grace, love and faithfulness? He also will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the sins of his people.

The rest of Scripture only confirms this right?

For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.

(Ps. 11:7)

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
    and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
    and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
    the man more righteous than he?

(Hab. 1:13)

So, where does this leave us? The Gospel must start with news that the triune God has created all things well, all things good, as the overflow of the loving Father he is–that he is the sovereign Creator over all, that he is just and holy; that he lays a claim to our lives—his rule is not just a suggestion but the reality. It is at creation that God established his kingdom, his rule over all things, with humanity—men and women—specifically created in his image, created as kings and queens to rule on his behalf. This is the ‘kingdom established.’

[1] Schreiner, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross (Crossway, 2018), 30.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] N. T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion (HarperCollins, 2016), 363.

[4] Ibid., 76.

[5] Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010), 42.

[6] Schreiner, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross, 31.

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