Category Archives: The Gospel
In his wonderful book The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat sees the theme of kingdom-through-the-cross reoccurring throughout the Bible. For example he sees the theme show up in the book of Isaiah. He highlights of themes of suffering and victory throughout the prophetic book (while acknowledging the appropriate distinctions in emphasis in chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66). The depiction of royal figure of the first half of Isaiah is expanding and nuanced by the suffering figure of the latter half of the book. This figure establishes God’s kingdom reign by means of his atoning death. When we bring together these twin themes in Isaiah we should see them as mutually reinforcing, not at odds. The kingdom of God is presented both in new creation (emphasizing the cosmic), and as new exodus (emphasizing liberation from enslavement). Isa 52:13–53:12, according to Treat, serves as a vivid demonstration of how this is accomplished.
The paradoxical nature of the servant-king’s suffering and exaltation is at the heart of his glorious accomplishment. He who was “lifted up”…and exalted. (Isaiah 52:13) is the very one who “has born… our griefs” (53:4) and “bore… the sin of many” (53:12). In English, one simply misses the wordplay, but the irony could not be any greater. The one who is “lifted up” in exaltation is the one who has “lifted up” our sins onto himself in order that we may be reconciled to God and share in his victory. Although exaltation and humiliation seem to be extreme opposites, the servant is exalted through humiliation and victorious through suffering. Re-placing the song of the Suffering Servant in its canonical context provides a kingdom framework for the sin-bearing, sorrow-carrying, punishment-averting, guilt-offering, place-taking, atoning death of the servant-king. The significance could not be more crucial: the servant-king brings about a kingdom of servants through his atoning and victorious suffering (86).
But Mark’s Gospel, Treat argues, is also developed along these lines. As chapter 3 begins, Treat contrasts his understanding of the kingdom and cross relation in Mark with the following six positions: Kingdom despite the cross (Jesus’ life and resurrection, not death, bring the kingdom), cross despite kingdom (Jesus’ death is what really matters), kingdom and then cross (Jesus’ kingdom mission cut short by death), cross and then kingdom (Jesus’ death as precursor to the kingdom), kingdom qualifies Cross (theology of glory corrects theology of suffering), and cross qualifies kingdom (theology of suffering corrects theology of glory, 87-88). To this Treats responds, “I propose that the proper relationship is defined as ‘kingdom by ‘way’ of the cross”” (88). He then outlines Mark’s Gospel as follows (89-110),
- The kingdom in the shadow of the cross (1:1-8:26)
- The kingdom redefined by the cross (8:27-10:52)
- The kingdom established by the cross (11:1-16:8)
Treat contends that the cross is “the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom” (75), and that “the messianic mission culminates at Golgotha, where the crucified king establishes his kingdom by way of the cross” (110). In his crucifixion, the messianic king is exalted, and through his suffering is victorious (86).
Lastly, at least for our purposes, he also the theme popping up in the book of Revelation:
These passages from Revelation enlighten the relationship between the kingdom of Christ and the blood of his cross in three ways. First, Christ atoning work on the cross results in the people of God being made a kingdom (Rev. 1:5B-6). Second, the Lion-like victory was achieved through a Lamb-like means (5:5–6). By the blood of Christ, people of all nations have been ransomed from sin and made to be kings and priests (5:9–10) in the pattern and fulfillment of the Exodus (Exod. 19:6). Third, the establishment of God’s kingdom entails the defeat of Satan by Christ and his followers (Rev.12:10–11). In what is primarily a legal battle, Christ, by shedding his blood, paid the penalty for sin and therefore defeated Satan by disarming him of his accusatory force. Though the final defeat is yet to come, Christians continue to conquer Satan, exposing his deception but witnessing to Christ’s obedient life and a true efficacy of his death” (126-127)
Treat’s point here is that Kingdom and cross presuppose one another and work in tandem. “The proper view,” the author persuasively argues, “is exaltation in humiliation within a broader progression of exaltation through humiliation” (156). As in Mark’s Gospel, the cross is where the messianic king rules. It is the scepter by which he exercises his dominion and defeats the enemy of the people of God.
The gospel of justification by faith alone teaches us that we don’t have to prove our worth, value, or dignity to God and man based upon our productivity and accomplishments. Jesus lived a perfect life, one free from meaningless distractions and sloth, in order to pay the price for our petty laziness. Jesus’ work was singularly devoted to God and his kingdom, and yet he was crucified so our workaholism and other idolatries could be destroyed at their root. But he was raised to new life and lives today so his work record would be our work record.
When we believe in Jesus, his merit is our merit; therefore our identity isn’t determined by our work.
What does this mean for the way we should think about work? What practical effect does it have for the 9 to 5 grind? In the words of the apostle Paul, it means that whatever we do, we should work at it with all our heart, as if we were working for the Lord, not for human bosses or to gain accolades (cf. Colossians 3:23). If the gospel of grace really gets down into our bones it can’t fail to affect our work. That means that our work—whether we have our names on our office doors or on nametags—will be for the glory of God, for the betterment of the organizations we work for, and in service to those made in his image (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).
Unlike so many voices we hear in our culture, we are free to strive for excellence without the pressure to prove ourselves. We will no longer regard our work like a master that must be served. And when we fail, and we will fail, we won’t be crushed—since we understand that by faith in Jesus we have passed the cosmic performance review.
Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). In fact, according to the Apostle Paul, in Jesus are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). But how does this fact benefit us?
Jesus’ Life. Jesus is the fullest and final embodiment of one who “fears the Lord.” Christ’s thoughts, words, and actions were God-saturated. In his life is an example for his people. But unlike God’s sons Adam (Lk.3: 38), Israel (Ex. 4:22-23), David (Ps. 89:27), Solomon, (2 Sam. 7:14), and other Israelite kings (Ps. 2:12), Jesus is the perfectly obedient Son of God . He never sinned, and therefore is a substitute for the disobedience of the people of God.
Jesus’ Death. There are two ways to live: According to the wisdom of God, or according to man’s wisdom. Each side views the other path as foolishness (cf. 1 Cor. 1). The path of wisdom leads to ultimate security and blessedness. The path of foolishness only ultimately leads to destruction (Prov. 14:12). As our substitute and champion, Jesus perfectly followed the path of righteousness, but suffered the fate of the foolish, so we fools could enjoy the rewards of righteousness (1 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus’ sending of the Spirit. Wisdom is the internalization of God’s Law and Word to the degree that we know what to do in the circumstances that Scripture does not address directly. Wisdom is the empowerment of the spirit of the Law. This is only possible through the Spirit of the Law. What we need is the power of the Holy Spirit to have the mind of Christ (Rom. 8:3).
I apologize for the delay in getting to the next entry in our Theology Memeology series. So other responsibilities feel into my lap. I’ll be working to get some writing done this week. In the meant time, here is this golden nugget:
God’s cosmic purposes are also intensely personal and particular, seen in the way God has chosen to bring about these purposes through covenant promise and fulfillment, mediated through the line of Abraham. After demonstrating God’s creational origin of the whole universe and his salvation of all animal and human life through the Noahic flood, God builds a vision of the end of all things through covenant promises with a chosen people, beginning with Abraham. The Abrahamic covenant promised material land, a name of great renown, and a multitude of offspring (Gen 12:1–7; 17:1–14).
Thus, faith itself is defined as forward-looking and eschatological from the beginning—as Abraham offered up the promised son, knowing God could raise him from the dead (Gen 22:1–19; Heb 11:17–19) and as Joseph pleaded with his brothers to carry his bones into the promised land, knowing that his death could not annul God’s covenant purposes for Israel (Gen 50:25; Josh 24:32; Heb 11:22).
With the foundation of the Abrahamic promise, God further reveals the contours of biblical hope. Through the Mosaic covenant he outlines the blessings of an obedient nation and the curses of a disobedient people. In the Davidic covenant he promises a son to David who will build a dwelling place for God, defeat God’s enemies, and rule the people in the wisdom of the Spirit (2 Samuel 7; Psalms 2; 73; 89). In the prophesied new covenant God promises to unite the fractured nations of Israel and Judah into one people, a people who all know Yahweh, are forgiven of their sins, and are restored as a nation in the promised land (Jer 31:31–40).
The covenants look forward—past Israel’s then-present disobedience—to the day when the vine of God bears fruit (Ps 80:8–19; Isa 5:1–7; 27:6; Ezek 15:1–8; 17:1–24; 19:10–14; Hos 10:1–2), the harlot of God’s people is a faithful bride washed of all uncleanness (Isa 54:5–6; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:1–63; Hos 2:1–23), the exiled refugees are returned to a secure homeland, and the flock of God is united under one Davidic shepherd who will feed them and divide them from the goats (Jer 3:15–19; 23:1–8; Ezek 34:1–31; Mic 5:2–4; 7:14–17). In this coming future Israel will be what she is called to be, the light of the world, a light that the darkness cannot overcome (Isa 60:1–3). In this future God’s favor on Israel is clear to the nations because he is present with his people. The repeated promise of the covenants is: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” As Joel prophesies: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27).
With this in view, the covenants picture their fulfillment not just in terms of inheritance blessings but also in terms of a restoration of Eden (Ezek 36:33–36; 37:22–23), the building of a glorious temple (2 Sam 7:13; Ezek 40:1–47:12), the return of a remnant from exile (Isa 11:12–16), and the construction of a holy city of Zion in which Yahweh dwells with his people in splendor (Pss 48:1–14; 74:2; Isa 18:7; Lam 5:17–22; Ezek 48:30–35).3 The covenants will come to their goal when Israel is judged for sin, raised from the dead, and anointed with the Spirit of Yahweh—a public act in the face of the hostile nations (Ezek 20:21, 35–49; 37:11–27). These eschatological covenant promises are then inherently eschatological and messianic—a truth seen in the fact that the patriarchs themselves died and rotted away without seeing the realization of the promises (Heb 11:13–16). – Russell D. Moore, A Theology for the Church
At the heart of the gospel message (in the Old and New Testaments) is the idea of God’s rule as king, in other words, his kingdom. When the first Christians proclaimed this gospel of the kingdom, they were not copying the “gospel” of the Roman kingdom; they were exposing it as a fraud. It was God, not any human king, who ruled over all. This is the central theme of the Christian gospel…
What is the single most important idea driving our mission to the world?…The answer has to do with monotheism (one God) or, more correctly, Christological monotheism- the lordship of the one true God through his Messiah…To put it in simple and practical terms, the goal of gospel preaching-and of gospel promoting- is to help our neighbors realize and submit to God’s kingship or lordship over their lives.
[However] the Christian gospel does not just announce the concept “God reigns”; it outlines exactly how that reign has been revealed to the world…the core content of the gospel is the work of God’s anointed king, Jesus. Through his birth, miracles, teaching, death and resurrection God’s kingdom has been manifest (and will be consummated upon his return). Telling the “gospel”, then, involves recounting the deeds of Messiah Jesus.
-John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips, 114-115.
The gospel is an explosive announcement that the despised and rejected one is now installed in a place of authority and deserves the acclaim normally reserved only for the greatest of worldly kings, for the highest gods of the pantheon , and even for the covenant God, Yahweh put. In other words, Jesus is King and reigns over all.
But merely stating that Jesus is King is an insufficient representation of the gospel if we do not point out how he has shown his kingly power in giving himself up for our sins and being raised by God for our acquittal. The gospel is a royal announcement that God has become king in Jesus Christ and has expressed his saving sovereignty through the death and resurrection of the Son, which atones, justifies and reconciles. There is no gospel without the heralding of the king, and there is no gospel without atonement and resurrection.
-Michael F. Bird, Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message
At cliché as it sounds, looks like the gospel really is about Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This past week the Gospel Coalition posted a discussion with Tim Keller, D. A. Carson, and John Piper on whether Paul preached the gospel. Here’s the video:
I love Piper, Carson, and Keller dearly. Their insights (both in sermons, lectures, and books) have been a great influence on me. Much of what is said here is helpful and edifying. Yet, I am uneasy with Piper’s approach here. I think it’s too susceptible to the kind of criticism of N. T. Wright or Scot McKnight that this is an individualistic message. Both Wright (in What Saint Paul Really Said, and other works) and McKnight (in The King Jesus Gospel) claim that an approach like the one here presented by Piper
- downplays or ignores the Old Testament story of Israel (Piper is especially guilty of this), and
- functionally elevates the Pauline corpus into a canon within a canon, making Paul the cipher through which we interpret the Gospels.
I think these charges are worth considering (even if, at times, they are overstated). I would humbly add 1 more criticism to Piper’s approach
3. a lack of redemptive-historical emphasis.
That is to say, Piper focuses more on, in John Murray’s terms, the “gospel applied” (ordo salutis) than the “gospel accomplished” (historia salutis).
Here are some excellent discussions that basically land where I do.
As Carson pointed out, Paul does preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (ex: Acts 28:31). Likewise, as Piper correctly noted, the emphasis for Paul on kingdom gets centered on the reign of the king, king Jesus. The differences usually set forth are overblown (more blow). But there is a difference. Jesus doesn’t need to teach double-imputation (a doctrine I embrace) in order to “preach the gospel.” Jesus is the gospel. The Gospels are called the Gospels for a reason. Jonathan Pennington of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary makes this point wonderfully here:
As I understand the Bible the theme uniting Jesus and Paul is eschatology. Both proclaim (in their unique way, historical circumstances, and wording) that in Jesus YHWH is now at work to redeem Israel and hence the world. Jesus is the messianic embodiment of YHWH’s return to make good on his promises (albeit in surprising ways), and Paul is the messianic herald, explaining and proclaiming how Jesus fulfilled Israel’s story and how the Messiah’s victory is applied to those united to him by faith. Jesus taught the inauguration of the kingdom in his own prophetic message and messianic actions. Paul reflects back upon the accomplishment of king Jesus and applies that to the various issues of his (largely Gentile) church plants.
Let’s quickly return to my [added] third critique of Piper’s approach, his lack of a redemptive-historical emphasis (especially the kind championed by Richard Gaffin, G.K. Beale, Thomas Schreiner, and others). N. T. Wright states the redemptive-historical
It should be clear from all this that if Paul had simply trotted out, parrot-fashion, every line of Jesus’ teaching – if he had repeated the parables, if he had tried to do again what Jesus did in announcing and inaugurating the kingdom – he would not have been endorsing Jesus, as an appropriate and loyal follower should. He would have been denying him. Someone who copies exactly what a would-be Messiah does is himself trying to be a Messiah; which means denying the earlier claim. When we see the entire sequence within the context of Jewish eschatology, we are forced to realized that for Paul to be a loyal ‘servant of Jesus Christ’, as he describes himself, could never mean that Paul would repeat Jesus’ unique, one-off announcement of the kingdom to his fellow Jews. What we are looking for is not a parallelism between two abstract messages. It is the appropriate continuity between two people living, and conscious of living, at different points in the eschatological timetable. (N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 180-181)
PS: Here’s the article Keller-recommended by Simon Gathercole on “The Gospel of Paul and the Gospel of the Kingdom” from the book God’s Power to Save.
PPS: I’ve taken my swing at defining the gospel in light of the whole drama of Scripture here and especially here. My approach there still leans in direction of an individual application. This is fine, but I recognize I could have done more to incorporate the Old Testament and the Gospels. I hope to do that in a future post.
Here’s is one of N. T. Wright’s most exciting claims in his work How God Became King:
The equivalent sayings and Mark and Luke simply highlight the coming of the kingdom itself, with Mark adding “in power”:
“Some people standing here won’t experience death before they see God’s kingdom come in power.” (Mark 9:1)
“There some standing here who won’t experience death until they see God’s kingdom.” (Luke 9:27)
These parallel versus, in the intention of all three evangelists, are best read as indicating a kingdom fulfillment that day, the authors of the gospels in question, believe had already come to pass in the death and resurrection of Jesus…The best hypothesis is that all four gospel writers believed that with his crucifixion Jesus of Nazareth had indeed been enthroned, however paradoxically, as Israel’s Messiah and that, with that event, Israel’s God had established his kingdom on earth as in heaven.
They believed this, of course, because of Jesus’s resurrection…
Here’s a great summary of the redemptive story of Scripture put together by The Gospel Project.
Anything like this that encourages Christians to grasp the entire Bible as one, complex, but nevertheless united, story is much needed. Pass it on!
For some of my own recommendations on books that tie together both Testaments, see here.
N. T. Wright, in his latest work How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, on the deity of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the cross:
It is possible to state the doctrine of Jesus’s divinity in such a way as to let it float loose from both kingdom and cross, but this is what the New Testament never does. The “God” who has become human in Jesus is the God who, as he had always promised, was returning to claim his sovereignty over the whole world (note the other sheep in John 10:16) and would do so by himself sharing the pain and suffering of his people, “laying down his life for the sheep.” It is all too possible to “believe in the divinity of Jesus” and to couple this with an escapist view of salvation (“Jesus is God and came to snatch us away from this world”) in a way that may preserve an outward form of “Christian orthodoxy,” but that has left out the heart of the matter. God is the creator and redeemer of the world, and Jesus’s the launch of the kingdom – God’s worldwide sovereignty on earth as in heaven – is the central aim of his mission, the thing for which he lived and died and rose again.
How can we even begin to understand this? Perhaps we should say that, with the hindsight the evangelists offer us, God called Israel to be the means of rescuing the world, so that he might himself alone rescue the world by becoming Israel in the person of its representative Messiah.
Another great quote from Wright:
… the gospel, in the New Testament, is the good news that God (the world’s creator) is at last becoming king and that Jesus, whom this God raised from the dead, is the world’s true lord. … The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being ‘left behind’), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else. Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present.
~ N. T. Wright, Surprised By Hope
(HT: Creedal Christian)
Russell Moore on the cosmic scope of Christ’s redemption:
The kingship of Israel, with its Davidic line, is…presented in terms of a Spirit-anointed king charged with subduing and defeating the enemies of the people of God (1 Sam. 8:19-20). Indeed, the removal of the Israelite kingship from Saul takes place precisely because Saul refuses to destroy utterly the enemies of Yahweh (1 Samuel 15), resulting in the loss of Saul’s monarchy and the anointing of the Spirit of God, both transferred instead to the house of David (1 Sam. 16:1-3, 12-14). Indeed, as soon as David receives the anointing of oil by the prophet Samuel, he is anointed with the Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13), and immediately David as the “anointed one” leads the nation in the defeat of the Philistine attackers (1 Sam. 17:20-58), an activity that Saul recognizes as inherently kingly (1 Sam. 18:6-9). The definition of Jesus’ messianic identity as the “anointed one,” the bearer of the Spirit (Luke 4:18-19), is therefore set within this context of the anointed warrior-king.
This means that, contra dispensationalist traditionalism, there is no dichotomy between the “offer of the Kingdom” and the “forgiveness of sins,” as though the forgiveness of sins can be anything other than a Kingdom act. Instead, in the Gospel of Luke, for example, messianic salvation is defined in terms of Jesus’ promised Davidic kingship (1:32-33); the forgiveness of sins (1:50, 72, 77); the defeat of all enemies (1:51, 71); the crushing of political pretenders-to-the-throne (1:52); the provision of material blessings (1:53); the covenant restoration of national promises to Israel (1:54-55); the redemption of the Gentile nations (1:79; 2:32); and the monarchial anointing of the Spirit (4:18). In Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, salvation is a Kingdom activity whereby the Second Adam, the Son of David, displays His anointing by God and His faithful obedience to His mandate as King by protecting the created order, crushing the head of the ultimate enemy of the Kingdom, the Serpent (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Rev. 12:9). The dispensing of the Spirit on those united to Him in faith is possible only because of union with the messianic King who is declared to be the Son of God (Gal. 4:4-7). It is this Christocentric focus of salvation that ties the salvation of human beings to the motif of the Kingdom of God and to the broader aspects of cosmic salvation. The defeat of Satan by the man Christ Jesus is pictured by the apostle John as the establishment of the Kingdom (Rev. 12:10; also John 12:31; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8). The cosmic extent of salvation is seen as the Second Adam offers up to the Father a created order in which He has subdued every enemy (1 Cor. 15:24-26), and there is nothing unclean in the garden over which He rules (Rev. 21:1-8). Thus, salvation is portrayed in the New Testament as more than simply the salvation of so many individual souls. Redemption is the transfer from the satanic kingdom to the eschatological Kingdom that God the Father has prepared for His Messiah (Col. 1:13), a transfer that is by definition a violent act of subduing “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:3-4, NIV) or “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:1-7).”
– Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
It has often been thought the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement is incompatible with the traditional Protestant model of penal substitutionary atonement. The former teaches that in the atonement Christ defeats death and Satan, leaving Jesus the Messiah as the triumphant champion of his people. The latter teaches that on the cross Jesus took the penalty (‘penal’) of God’s wrath on behalf of his people (‘substitution’). There’s been a long history of theologians playing these two approaches off against one another, especially over the last century. In my view, this is unfortunate because both are clearly presented in Scripture and work together in tandem. Here Russell Moore shows why:
The historic Protestant understanding of the cross as essentially propitiatory and substitutionary ironically serves as the only way to make sense of the cosmic implications of both redemption and the fall since, in both, the destiny of the created order is tied to the mandate given to the human vicegerents responsible for creation. Indeed, it is the only way to make sense of the “Christus Victor” model itself. Thus, the defeat of the powers of darkness in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus means that the ancient serpent is indeed defeated, but this defeat comes through reversing human slavery to sin and death (John 8:31-47; 12:31-33; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 2:14-15) by hearing the punishment due to a humanity justly accused by the satanic powers (Col. 2:14-15; Rev. 12:10-12), and thereby restoring humanity as king of the cosmos in the person of the Second Adam (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:21-28; Heb. 2:5-18).
-Russell Moore, The Kingdom of Christ: The New Evangelical Perspective
Sinclair Ferguson ties this all together quite well:
A comprehensively biblical exposition of the work of Christ recognizes that the atonement, which terminates on God (in propitiation) and on man (in forgiveness), also terminates on Satan (in the destruction of his sway over believers). And it does this last precisely because it does the first two.
-Sinclair Ferguson, For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, 185.
For more on the atonement, see,
“If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior. ”