Some time ago I spent a few days doing a small “word study” on “gospel”, just looking for where the word was used in scripture and what it meant in those places. I was motivated to do this because many of my understandings about salvation have been shifting, further and further away from a “legal view” in which the good news of God is primarily about my forgiveness, and in which the news stops at Christ’s death for my sins.
Now, this is an observation, not a robust explanation or argument, but one passage in particular stuck out to me during this word study:
“After Jesus called the twelve together, he gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 9:2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick….Then they departed and went throughout the villages, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. Luke 9:1-2, 6 (NETbible.org, emphasis mine)
The word for “proclaiming the good news” is ευαγγελιζο, and the same verb is used also in:
Acts 8:12, 8:35, 10:36, 11:20, 14:7, 14:21, 16:10, and several other places in Acts.
The intriguing part to me is that Jesus is said to have sent the disciples out, and they are said to have proclaimed the good news, but Jesus had not yet died, nor did any of them even know that he was the Son of God. It is later in this chapter that Peter states that Jesus is the “Christ of God”, not even “Son of God”.
Obviously, a word can mean different things in different places. But, I think that many Christians would read Luke 9:1-6 and assume the words “proclaiming the gospel” mean the same thing they do later in the New Testament, when some of the same disciples are doing the same thing. To me, this is an indication that while Christ’s death and resurrection re-framed the apostles’ understanding of God’s mission, the fact that the good news could be proclaimed prior to Christ’s saving work on the cross means we should be able to understand his mission within a larger context, and that this larger context is most fundamental to the Gospel. Jesus said:
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!
Jesus gave us a pretty clear indication of what the gospel is all about, “the kingdom of God is near”. It seems even less likely that Jesus would have been referring to his own atoning work here with the word gospel. The apostles were preaching the gospel before Christ was resurrected, because it was obvious to them that Jesus was ushering in a new kingdom by his very life and miracles, and they had faith in God, that the old order of sin and death was passing away. While we now must speak about Christ’s death and resurrection when telling people the good news, we must be careful not to forget that this good news is the overarching reality that God’s kingdom is near, among us, within us. Our confidence of this is rooted in the reality of Christ’s death, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit living in us.