And Our Message!
IS THE GOSPEL?
NO UNDERSTANDING OF CHRIST'S MISSION can be complete
without an understanding of the message that He preached, and that
message is termed the Gospel. It was central to Christ's Message to man
while on earth, and is central, therefore, to our faith as His
followers. But, surprisingly, there is much disagreement today as to
what that message really was. As a result, conflicting
"Gospels" can be found in much of our modern Christian
literature. What really is the Gospel? Does anyone know?
After reviewing a dozen or so leading Christian
reference sources, this writer was struck with the absurd contradictions
in modern views concerning Christ's Message to man. One Bible
encyclopedia asserts that the Gospel has "a stress upon
justification," or right standing before God.(1) Yet another
reference "does not regard the doctrine of justification as the
content of the Gospel, but as its theological consequence."(2) One
source insists that the gospel "carries the specialized sense of
the good tidings of the Kingdom of God,"(3) while others, equally
scholars, assert that "the essential core is not the dawn of the
Messianic Age" at all.(4) A number of sources approach the problem
by listing 5 or 6 elements constituting Christ's gospel, yet none of
their lists match or agree. To understand the source of their confusion,
let's begin with some background.
The English word, gospel, itself comes from the early Anglo-Saxon
phrase, "god-spell," meaning a story about God. But the word
as Christ used it came instead from the Greek word, evangelion, meaning
"proclaiming good news." That Christ had a specific idea of
what that good news was, is self-evident. Yet there is apparently no one
place in the New Testament where we are given a precise definition. Some
Christians consider the Apostle Paul's explanation to be found in either
the first chapter of Romans or the fifteenth chapter of First
Corinthians. But Christ's death for our sins is never mentioned in the
first of Romans, nor the incarnation in the Corinthians passage. It is
more probable to look for the answer as to what Christ taught,
therefore, in the Gospels themselves which record His life and
THE EARLY CHURCH GOSPEL
Why have we been given four Gospels? This question has been on minds and
hearts for centuries. The early church explanation was that each of the
four presented a different emphasis of Christ's life and teaching.
Stated differently, each of the four evangelists looked at Christ's
Words and events of His Life from a different key doctrinal perspective.
One historian tells us that the early church explained the Gospel,
"first by Matthew, announcing the Redeemer as the promised King of
the Kingdom of God; second by Mark, declaring him 'a servant and prophet
mighty in deed and work' (Luke 24:19); third by Luke, of whom it might
be said that he represented Christ in the special character of the
Savior of sinners (Luke 7:36-50); fourth by John, in whom deity and
humanity became One."(5)
The apostolic-era church used the symbol of a lion for
the Gospel of Matthew, to Mark that of the ox, to Luke that of man, and
to John that of the eagle. Therefore, the Gospel reveals our Savior
first as a King or Ruler, then as Suffering Servant, next He is
presented in His Humanity as our Kinsman Redeemer, and finally as a
Heavenly Deity. These four evangelists, with their four separate records
and symbols, combine to form a complete understanding of Christ's
mission: He was King, Servant, 100% Man, and 100% God.
THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES
This understanding of the early church was not without a basis in the
scriptures. In Revelation 4:6-8 the four Living Creatures appear
"round about the throne" as the exact same symbols in the
exact same order: lion, ox, man, and eagle. Bible scholars believe that
they symbolize Cherubim, Angels, or Holy Beings. There were Cherubim
upon the holy Ark of the Covenant, attached to the Mercy-Seat in the
Tabernacle. In a striking connection with this, the New Testament tells
us that Jesus is "the propitiation for our sins." (1Jn. 2:2;
4:10) That word, 'propitiation,' is a translation of the Hebrew word for
the "Mercy Seat" of the tabernacle, so it is Christ (our
propitiation or angel of the mercy seat) Who is being depicted by the
Cherubim, including the four Living Creatures of Revelation.
In the Old Testament the same symbolism appears in
Ezekiel 1:5-14. The story has been told that famed evangelist, Aimee
Semple McPherson was preaching from this Ezekiel passage in Los Angeles
in the 1930's, and under inspiration coined the term, "the
Four-square Gospel," when referring to these four Living Creatures.
Although she did not tie her symbols to each of the four Gospels as did
the early church, the term stuck, and the "Four-square Gospel
Church" was born.
These figures appear again in the standards of the
four lead 'quadrant tribes' of Israel: Judah the lion, Ephraim the ox,
Reuben the man, and Dan the eagle. "The banners carried by the four
leading tribes... bore as emblems 'the likeness of the four living
creatures,' seen by Ezekiel."(6) In combining these four symbols,
we have a representation of Christ and His Message, the Gospel, in Old
Testament typology. (Gen. 49, Num. 2, Deut. 33)
Let's briefly look at the four evangelists in the New
Testament and see how they each emphasize a different aspect of the
complete, four-fold Gospel.
MATTHEW: Symbol = LION, "the King"
The early church recognized that the theme of the Evangelist Matthew was
Christ as the King of a kingdom. In fact, only twice does Matthew
mention the Gospel without reference to a kingdom; in total, 56 times
the Divine Kingdom, or Messianic Rule, is referred to! In Matthew 13:19
the Gospel message is "the Word of the Kingdom;" in 24:14 it
is "the Gospel of the Kingdom." In Matthew 6:9, Christ gave us
the Lord's Prayer, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on
earth..." It is clear that the central theme of this Gospel is
announcing the good news of Christ's divine kingdom on earth. Note that
there is no thought of our spending eternity floating aimlessly, either
in heaven or in outer space, as is so often erroneously taught today!
The Gospel's message concerning the "eternal state" is summed
up by the Apostle John in Revelation 5:10: "WE SHALL REIGN ON THE
MARK: Symbol=OX, "Suffering for our
As the ox is a beast of burden, so the focus of Mark is upon Christ as
the Suffering Servant Who died for us. For example, of the eight times
the evangelist refers to Old Testament prophecy, six of them concern
Jesus' suffering and death. (Matthew, in contrast, never once quotes the
Old Testament in reference to Christ's death.) One writer commented,
"The point of the sufferings of the Servant of the Lord is that He
bore them for our sakes. There is nothing comparable."(7) Thus the
theme of Mark's Gospel is JUSTIFICATION; that Jesus' perfect
righteousness was reckoned, or imputed, to us, and our sins are forgiven
through faith in Him. This is the essence of GRACE: that our salvation,
or right standing before God, cannot be earned by our own imperfect
works, but only by Jesus' perfect blood shed on our behalf.
LUKE: Symbol = MAN, "the Son of Man"
The title, "Son of Man," is a frequent theme in Luke's gospel,
and was used a total of 79 times by Jesus in reference to Himself. Luke
is also the most complex Gospel, with many parallel themes. However, his
main focus was directed toward those outside the Jewish religion, and
especially their concerns about God's law. Thirteen parables with an
ethical and moral emphasis are unique to Luke, and an additional six are
shared with Matthew. In them, as well as throughout Luke, "the
ethical thrust of Luke's Gospel emerges...and the amount of attention
devoted to ethical exhortation...a call to an ethical way of
life."(8) The Messianic titles found in Luke of "Son of
Man" and "Son of David" emphasize that Christ was 100%
human, as we are. But He was also "Son of The Highest" (a
title unique to Luke), living a perfect, sinless life in obedience to
God's laws, and setting an ethical example for us. This speaks to us of
SANCTIFICATION, or holiness and right living according to the moral and
ethical laws of God. Whereas, most modern Christians believe that the
Old Testament laws of God are abolished, Christ Himself told us in Luke
16:17, "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one
tittle of the law to fail." (cp., Luke 10:26-28; Matt. 5:17-19;
Rom. 3:31) Our obligation to live lives of obedience and morality in
imitation of Christ is not abolished, for faith and holiness are both
commanded to us by a Holy God. We are not saved by the law, but we obey
the moral precepts of God because, as His People, we seek to emulate His
Life and Teachings.
JOHN: Symbol = EAGLE, "the Son of God"
The emphasis of John the evangelist is upon Jesus' heavenly origin and
deity, with more on the heavenly meaning of Christ's Words and Works,
and more references to Jesus as "Son of God." And 52 times
(more than all other gospels combined) John quotes Jesus as
appropriating God's Old Testament description of Himself as the Great
"I Am." Jesus was indeed "God with us" (Matt. 1:23),
for we are told in the Old Testament that God would come Himself and
save His People. (Isa. 43:11, 25) This is why Jesus could do healing,
and all manner of miracles, including raising the dead: As God Revealed
in the Flesh, He had the power to save! The Nicene Creed is correct:
Jesus is "Very God of Very God... being of One Substance with the
Father..." The pre-existence, incarnation, and resurrection of
Jesus Christ shine through forcefully in John's Gospel.
IMPORTANCE OF THE GOSPEL
Sadly, the main themes of the Gospel are much neglected in our churches
today. Often, there is some emphasis on justification, but little or
none on Christ's earthly kingdom or God's moral law. In short, we see at
best a truncated and watered-down Gospel, robbed of its depth and
relevance to our lives. Still others limit themselves only to the
"post-Gospel message" of Pentecostal tongues, which began on
the day of Pentecost after Christ's ascension. Unfortunately, while
tongues may have some value, it is not the Gospel. Often when this
dominates, the Gospel itself may not be taught at all. Let us all be
careful in our teaching that we do not neglect the Gospel!
The famed Reformation leader, Martin Luther stated, "Wherever
you see there is no Gospel...neither is there a Church; and you must not
doubt it, even if they baptize and partake of the Holy Communion."(9)
Luther said it: 'No Gospel = No Church,' even if they go through the
motions of church worship! The Gospel is our central, distinctive
message as Christians; shall we be about our Father's business?? "And
this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a
witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
(Matthew 24:14) Christ said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of
God..." (Matthew 6:33) Christian reader, are you doing that
in your own life and witness?
We have found that the real Gospel of Christ, as
presented to us in both theme and symbolism throughout the Scriptures,
1. THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST'S KINGDOM - AND OUR REIGN -
ON EARTH AS HIS PEOPLE,
2. THE SALVATION DOCTRINES OF GRACE, RECONCILIATION, AND JUSTIFICATION
3. SANCTIFICATION OR HOLINESS THROUGH GOD'S MORAL AND ETHICAL TEACHINGS,
4. RECOGNITION OF CHRIST AS VERY GOD AND SAVIOR.
The proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the
center-piece of our life and worship as a Christians!
1 Zondervan, Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol.
II, p. 782
2 Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. II, p. 731
3 Ralph Earle, Word Meanings in the New Testament, p. 268
4 R.H. Mounce, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 474
5 Popular & Critical Bible Encyclopedia, vol. II, p. 728
6 Alfred Edersheim, Bible History- Old Testament, p. 233
7 E. Lohmeyer, Gospel of Mark, page 5
8 Green, Dictionary of Jesus & the Gospels, pp. 504-507
9 Martin Luther, Ad librum...Ambrosis Catharini, W.A. 7, 721, 4.