We know that, “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23). What was the content of that gospel? It wasn’t exactly what we share with others when explaining God’s gift of salvation.
We tend to think of the gospel primarily based on the content of the letters of the New Testament, not the four gospels.
Yet we must be careful about reading the rest of the NT back into the four gospels. The shadow of the cross certainly rests on and over the entire movement of the gospel narratives but (in reading the gospels) we should allow the accounts lead us to the cross.
The gospels unfold in connection with the old covenant and the distortions of Scriptures within contemporary Judaism. Much of what Jesus taught was intended to counter these distortions of the Old Testament Scriptures.
It seems better to approach the question of Jesus preaching the gospels by moving from the OT to the Christ event and forward. Moving in this direction, (at the risk of oversimplification), wouldn’t it be better to say, “Jesus is the gospel”?
The message permeating the pages of the gospel accounts and the preaching and teaching of Jesus is focused on Jesus himself as the summation of all that has gone before. Jesus is the new center of authority for God’s people. He “wrapped up” that era of biblical history where the law regulated the covenant relationship of the people of God (see: Luke 9:28–36).
Certainly the gospels take us to the cross but, on the way to it, another shadow is exposed. We learn that, “The law was only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very image…” (Heb. 10:1). The earthly priesthood, temple and sacrifices were “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.” (Heb. 8). Food laws, festivities and special days were “a shadow of what is to come but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17).
All these things come to their full and final meaning in Christ. “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes…” (2 Cor. 1:20). “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms’” (Luke 24:44).
In moving along this path, Jesus’ view of Scripture became a major concern for his audience — partly because of the authoritative nature of his teaching. His use of introductory formulas like “I tell you” (Matthew 5:21-48; 7:21-29; 28:18-20) And statements about “my commands” John 14:15; 15:10), broke from the pattern of teachers in Israel who invoked, “Moses, Scripture, the Law, and the Prophets.
Thus Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus presented Himself as the one who fulfills the Old Testament. The Christ event in totality — incarnation, life, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, second coming and glorious reign are the anticipation and fulfillment Scripture – might we even say, “the good news of the kingdom”?
Prior to His ascension Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” and in his commission, new disciples were to be taught, “to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20; cf. Mark 13:31).
The entire content and tone of his teaching and ministry indicates that Jesus was, “the end (telos) of the law…” (Ro 10:4). After quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus “rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:20-21). This included anointing to “proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).
Jesus opened his public ministry saying, “the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Descriptions attached to the first coming of Christ indicate a significant change (e. g. ”the fullness of time,” Galatians 4:4, or “the consummation of the ages” Hebrews 9:26). In these last days, God has spoken to us by his Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). All the Old Testament prophecies, promises and laws came to their full and final meaning in Jesus.
Along these lines, it seems equally important to ask how the original audience (to whom Jesus spoke) understood him. For example, when Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20), did anyone think immediately of the imputed righteous taught by the apostle Paul? Did Jesus even want them to think this?
Certainly Jesus wasn’t saying, “You need my righteousness that can be received by faith after I die for the sins of the world”? The audience simply would not have heard him this way. Directly following, Jesus said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1).
This is understood through the lens of the distortions Jesus confronted. Yet it could be argued that these distortions were obstacles to a gospel of grace for the poor in spirit.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus introduced the first of a number of what are called “entrance sayings.” An “entrance saying” is a direct statement from Jesus indicating either “who will enter heaven” or “how one must set about to enter heaven.”
Entrance sayings in Matthew
• 5:20 – surpassing righteousness is required
• 7:21 – doing the will of the father is required
• 18:3-4 – childlike humility gains entrance (cf. 19:13-14; Lk.18:9-14)
• 18:8-9 – radical amputation of sinful offenses
• 19:16-24 – the love of riches as an obstacle to entrance
• 25:21,23 – the faithful servant entering the joy of their Master
How should these sayings influence our approach to evangelism?
How should our understanding of the message of salvation under the old covenant relate to Jesus message? “Nowhere is the demand of faith treated as a novelty of the new covenant, or is there a distinction drawn between the faith of the two covenants; everywhere the sense of continuity is prominent (Jn. 10:24, 12:38,39, 44; I Pet. 2:6), and the proclamation of faith (Gal. 3:2,5; Rom. 10:16) is conceived as essentially one in both dispensations, (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38) (pp. 404-405, Biblical and Theological Studies).