What is Gospel?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should talk about what the word “Gospel” actually means. The word itself comes from a Greek word euangelion, which literally means “good news.” In the New Testament, it refers to the announcement that Jesus has brought the reign of God to our world through his life, death, and resurrection from the dead.
“'The time has come,'” Jesus said. 'The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'” – Mark 1:14-15
"The good news… Regarding God’s Son, who descended from David in his physical lineage, and who was appointed by the Holy Spirit to be the Son of God in power through his resurrection from the dead: Jesus, the Messiah, our Lord." – Romans 1:2-4
Interestingly, both Jesus and Paul derived this important word from the prophetic poetry of Isaiah where the future arrival of God’s kingdom through the Messiah is called “good news” (see Isa 52:7-10). The Gospels are not merely historical chronicles but are also narrative announcements that make the significant claim that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the true Lord of the world. The Gospel stories claim to both recount history and aim to persuade the reader to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and become his disciple.
Four Features of the Gospels
The Gospels share four features that make them unique amongst other biblical stories or contemporary biographical narratives. First, they expertly weave in Old Testament stories into the story of Jesus. Second, the stories are designed to make claims about the identity of Jesus. Third, they all present the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the climax of the entire biblical narrative. Last, the chronology of events has been rearranged to better reveal unique aspects of Jesus’ character.
Feature 1 – Old Testament References
The Gospels show how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament story through constant reference to the Scriptures. The authors assume a high degree of familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures by the way they refer to them. The Gospel authors do this in multiple ways:
Direct Quotations: For example, Matthew presents Jesus’ healing ministry (Matt 8:14-16) as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant (Isa 53:4).
Subtle Allusions: In Mark 1:9-11, Jesus is baptized, and God announces from heaven, “You are my beloved Son (Gen 22:2), in you I am well-pleased (Isa 42:1 & Ps 2:7).” This sentence blends phrases from three biblical texts to show that Jesus is the messianic servant King who is the seed of Abraham.
Narrative Parallels: Matthew presents Jesus as a greater-than-Moses figure by designing his story to match the basic outline of Moses’ career. Moses and Jesus both come up out of Egypt, pass through the waters, spend forty days in the wilderness, and ascend a mountain to teach the Torah.
Feature 2 – Identity Claims
Gospel authors sometimes make explicit claims about Jesus’ identity, such as in Mark 1:1, “The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.” However, more often they shape the reader’s perception of Jesus through indirect means. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Miracle stories that show Jesus’ power over creation
- Words: Teachings, parables, dialogues
- Testimonies: People whose lives were touched by Jesus
- God: “This is my Son” (Matt 3:17)
- The disciples: “What kind of man is this?” (Matt 8:27)
- Demons: “What do you want with us Son of God?” (Matt 8:29)
- People of Nazareth: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” (Matt 13:55)
- Canaanite Woman: “Lord, Son of David!” (Matt 15:22)
- Peter: “You’re the messiah, Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16)
- High Priest: “Are you the Messiah, the son of God?” (Matt 26:63)
- Pilate: “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matt 27:11)
- Roman Soldier: “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Matt 27:54)
Feature 3 – Climax of the Biblical Story
Each of the four Gospel accounts present the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the climax of the story of the Bible.
Mark allots ten chapters to roughly three years of Jesus’ kingdom announcement, and six chapters to the seven days Jesus spent in Jerusalem leading up to his death.
Jesus’ death at the hand of Israel’s leaders is introduced early on in Matthew (Matt 12:14), and anticipated four times by Jesus himself (Matt 16:21, 16:27, 17:22-23, 20:18-19) as the moment where he will become king (Matt 27:37).
Feature 4 – Rearrangement of Events
While the four Gospels do claim to recount real historical events, each author has taken the core stories of Jesus and edited, arranged, and designed them in a careful way to emphasize unique facets of Jesus’ character. We will have more blogs that focus on the different aspects of each Gospel, but in brief:
Matthew portrays Jesus as a greater-than-Moses figure who fulfills the promises of the ancient Scriptures and whose resurrection has enthroned him as the King of heaven and earth.
Mark emphasizes the mystery and misunderstanding caused by Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of God. He shows Jesus as the unexpected Messiah and highlights the paradox of how the exalted Messiah can only be recognized in the humiliated, crucified Jesus.
Luke highlights how Jesus brings the Gospel to the nations. He shows him empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring to fulfillment the Old Testament promise that God’s salvation would reach beyond Israel to include all nations.
John introduces Jesus as God-become-human, presenting signs that demonstrate the truth of his messianic claim and his offer of eternal life for any that will trust in him.