Did Jesus Preach the Gospel? An Excerpt by Scot McKnight
In today's excerpt from The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, Scot McKnight reframes the discussion about what Jesus preached. Was it the plan of salvation? Justification by faith? Or something else?
Jesus and the Gospel
It bears repetition because it is so hard for us to grasp. So many of us equate gospel with the Plan of Salvation that we have to train our minds to think through this over and over. The question we are asking is this: Did Jesus preach the gospel? But that does not mean, Did Jesus preach personal salvation or preach justification by faith (no matter how true and important those concepts are)? Instead, we have to move to a different plane. If the gospel is the saving Story of Jesus that completes the Story of Israel, the question is actually more refined: Did Jesus preach that he was the completion of Israel’s Story?
If he did, Jesus preached the apostolic gospel, whether he preached the Plan of Salvation or not. So the gospel question is not, “Did Jesus preach the Plan of Salvation or justification by faith or personal salvation?” but, “Did Jesus preach himself as the completion of Israel’s Story in such a way that he was the saving story himself ?” This question will shape this chapter, and it will be like a one-note song that just goes on and on. We want to emphasize by repetition the centrality that Jesus gave to himself in his ministry and preaching. This new question shifts the entire focus from the benefits of salvation that we experience to the Person who himself is the good news.
Not long ago John Piper wrote a book with a rather quirky title that I think gets to the heart of what we are arguing in this book. His book was called God Is the Gospel. Here’s what he meant: “The highest, best, final, decisive good of the gospel, without which no other gifts would be good, is the glory of God in the face of Christ revealed for our everlasting enjoyment.” What Piper calls “the glory of God in the face of Christ” is what I mean by “the Story of Jesus.” The closer you get to the center of the Gospel, the clearer becomes the very face of Jesus. So, if I may retitle his book for this study, Jesus Is the Gospel. In spite of some important differences between what I’m arguing here and Piper’s gospel book, we agree on this: the gospel is to declare something about a Person, about God in his revelation in Jesus Christ and about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. The question that 1 Corinthians 15 generates for us is this question: Did Jesus preach a gospel that concerned that same Person? To answer that we first explore Jesus’ favorite term: kingdom.
We begin with “kingdom” because Jesus overtly connects his mission, his vision, and his preaching with kingdom. Before we get to Jesus, though, we have to set the immediate stage. Three preliminary passages reveal that those closest to Jesus thought Israel’s Story was coming to the big moment: Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46 – 55, Zechariah’s Benedictus in 1:67 – 79, and John the Baptist’s preaching of messianic repentance in 3:1 – 18. Each of these passages emerges breathtakingly from the messianic and kingdom expectations of Israel’s Story, each of these concentrates on the completion of those themes in the births of John and Jesus, and each of these announces a completely new state of affairs for Israel. In particular, they announce a community marked by justice, holiness, peace, and love — but this community is clearly the community that sits at the feet of Jesus.
Each of these passages is all about Jesus in one way or another. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, sees the entire sweep of God’s covenant with Israel coming to completion in her baby boy, whom she will call Jesus and whom she hears is the Son of God and the King of Israel who will sit on David’s throne. Zechariah’s prophecy focuses on his prophet-son, but within his own words there is the prediction that the “horn of salvation” will rise in the “house of David,” who will rescue Israel “from the hand of our enemies” and give us an endless reign of holiness and righteousness. That person is Jesus.
John, too, nearly three decades later, continues with the identical theme: he is the “voice” who speaks up for the one “who is more powerful than I,” and that person will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Kingdom for Mary, Zechariah, and John is a community ruled by a King, the Messiah. Kingdom isn’t just a state of affairs, like justice and peace and love and holiness.
Kingdom is a community made up of four features that shape the entire Story of Israel: God, king, citizens, and land. The king is Jesus, the citizens are those who follow Jesus, and the land is the place where they will embody the kingdom of God. We are so accustomed to these passages we can easily miss the astounding claims being made: that Israel’s Story has now found the amazing liberty of its final chapter. If you’d like to know what Jews thought the kingdom would be like, read Psalm 72, and I quote the whole of it because it brings into words the hopes of Israel for a king and his kingdom.
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