The Apostle Paul wished a curse — twice — on any who would dare to preach the wrong gospel message (Gal. 1:8-9). Yet who really understands what that message really is? Surprisingly, the ancient Prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Christ, described the New Testament gospel in vivid detail!
SURELY, no term is more misused in the world of professing Christianity than "gospel." We hear of gospel music, gospel tracts, gospel preachin', etc., etc. But Christ's true gospel message is seldom heard! The real gospel is a message. And it is a message with certain specific components. The term "gospel" itself tells us a great deal about the nature of that message from God.
What "Gospel" Means
The English term "gospel" is translated from the Greek euaggelion which means "good news." It can also be rendered "glad tidings." Thus, we see that the gospel message is positive in nature. It is a message of hope and of optimism — not primarily of gloom and doom. Yet it does definitely contain an element of warning, as we shall see. Of course, most Christians think of the gospel exclusively as a New Testament expression. We have the four "Gospels" — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We know that Christ and the apostles preached the gospel. In a very real sense, Jesus' gospel was a sensational, never-before proclaimed news announcement. Jesus was the newscaster who absolutely assured that the Kingdom of God would come to this earth. He qualified for the kingship of that Kingdom by conquering Satan the devil in a spiritual battle of the highest stakes (Matt. 4; Luke 4). After conquering Satan, Jesus did say: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand" (Mark 1:15). But few have realized that this very same gospel was preannounced in writing by a gifted group of God-called men designated as prophets — one of which was named Isaiah. It may surprise you to learn that the term "gospel" also appears in the Old Testament.
Which Bible Did the Apostles Use?
The New Testament apostles and writers used the Old Testament. They referred to it some 850 times — 280 of which are direct quotations. But which translation of the Old Testament did they most commonly use? Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C., his empire was divided between four of his generals. One of these generals, Ptolemy, commenced a dynasty of rulers in Egypt which continued for some time. Ptolemy I established a library in the city of Alexandria called the Great Museum — the first really extensive library of antiquity. It became the leading repository for literary wealth of the ancient world and the prototype of the modern university. Ptolemy also captured the city of Jerusalem (on a Sabbath day when the Jewish people were resting). Though he deported a substantial number of the Jews to Egypt, he treated his captives well. They soon rose to positions of prominence in government and business; the Jewish contingent became firmly woven into the fabric of that Greek-speaking society. According to tradition, it was under the rule of Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) — about 280 B.C. — that the first translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek became necessary. The Pentateuch was the first part of the Old Testament rendered into Greek. The rest of the Old Testament books were translated afterward over a period of time. Scholarship is generally agreed that this translation — called the Septuagint — was done by Greek-speaking Jews in Egypt. "By the first century A.D., the Septuagint had become the Bible of the Jews of the Dispersion and was widely circulated through the Roman world. It became also the Bible of the early Christians who preached from it and quoted it in their writings. A large proportion of the allusions to the Old Testament contained in the Gospels and in the Epistles are taken from the Septuagint" (New Testament Times, Merrill C. Tenney, page 30, emphasis mine). We understand that many of the New Testament writers' quotations of the Old Testament were from the Septuagint (LXX) translation rather than from the Hebrew. Over half of the direct quotations agree exactly or substantially with the major manuscripts of the LXX.
Why This Fact Is Significant
You might wonder what the point of this background really is — what does it have to do with the gospel? Simply this. If you were to study certain verses in the book of Isaiah — in the Septuagint version — you would find the same terminology used as in the New Testament in relation to the gospel! The Hebrew expression for "good news" or "glad tidings" is basar. But when translated into Greek, it is euaggelion or "gospel"! Now notice a case in point: "O Zion, that bringest good tidings [basar or euaggelion], get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!" (Isa. 40:9.) Here is a prophecy about the message of the gospel. Here we are introduced to the basic components of the New Testament message by the Old Testament. Also read the next verse to complete the thought: "Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him." The gospel message has to do with the fact that the dynamic, living Christ is to return to rule this earth with strength. In our present strife-torn world, what could be better news than that? Notice also that it has to do with revealing the true God — "... Behold your God!" That message also tells of the reward Christ will bring with Him for those who have faithfully done His work which is "before him." (See also Revelation 22:12.) Now notice another scripture in Isaiah which further reveals the makeup of the New Testament gospel message: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" (Isa. 52:7.) The Apostle Paul quoted this very scripture in application to the New Testament preachers of the gospel. Notice the way "good tidings" is translated: "... As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Romans 10:15.) Therefore, we can know these verses in Isaiah apply to the New Testament gospel message! Our picture of the gospel message is further expanding. We now see that that message has to do with the way to peace and world harmony. And it has to do with salvation and the rulership of God now in His Church and directly over the whole earth in the world tomorrow. We will see that all these prerequisites were fulfilled by Christ and the New Testament apostles. But first notice one more passage in the book of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified" (Isa. 61:1-3). Here is the capstone of Isaiah's description of the New Testament gospel. Jesus Himself quoted this passage — partially — in showing that He was fulfilling those very words as He preached the gospel some 1900 years ago: "And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias [Isaiah]. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:16-19). Then Jesus closed the book without completing the quotation! Why? Because His commission was divided into two distinct parts. His first coming was to fulfill that part of the passage which he, quoted from Isaiah. The second part of that commission — to bring about the day of God's vengeance — is yet to be fulfilled! That will be the time when God's ruling Kingdom will be set up on this earth and the law will go forth from Zion — from Jerusalem, In the meantime, it is the function of the Church of God to announce that great event in advance! The arrival of Jesus Christ with all of the saints and an army of righteous angels to set up the Kingdom of God on this earth is at the heart and core of the New Testament gospel message!
How the Gospel Developed
We have seen that Isaiah, in three passages of Scripture, described in detail the components of the gospel as it would be preached in the New Testament. But what we have not yet examined is just how that gospel message was preached, and how it developed to the point of the present Work. Let's notice another Old Testament scripture before we get to the New: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me:. and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 3:1). Christ came as a messenger of the covenant. That is the new covenant or agreement. Jesus, as part of His gospel, introduced a whole new arrangement. It was not the same as the old agreement or covenant — but distinctly a new one. The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah described that new covenant which Jesus later introduced: "Behold; the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah... I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people .... they shall all know me... for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more" (Jer. 31:31-34). All Christians are spiritual "Israelites" (Gal. 3:28-29). We prefigure, in the Church, the conditions of that covenant which will be made with the physical nation of Israel (all twelve tribes). The Church now lives under the conditions of that covenant which will be in universal force when the world-ruling Kingdom of God is set up on the earth! Christ preached the same law — the great Ten Commandment law but He preached it in its spiritual application. He showed that lust — inordinate or illegal desire — violated the commandment about adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). Jesus preached forgiveness of sins and offered the Holy Spirit as an aid, a Comforter and a power to overcome sin, the devil and this world. Jesus Christ also announced the coming rule of God's Kingdom and repentance (Mark 1:14-15). He healed the sick, cast out demons and taught the way of righteousness. He said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." He showed the way to world peace through divine law. He spoke of salvation and entry into His Father's Kingdom (John 14:1-3). That Kingdom was likened to a pearl of great price, or to a great treasure (Matt. 13:45, 46). Jesus showed that people ought to be willing to forsake anything and everything in order to have a part in that Kingdom. Christ, in His gospel, also spoke of the idyllic conditions of the world tomorrow. He showed, in advance, men like Elijah, Job, Daniel, Moses and others in that future Kingdom. He spoke of judgment, mercy and especially love. Some 50 or 60 years after the resurrection of Christ, the aged Apostle John summed up the real meaning of the gospel message: "For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (I John 3:11). Of course, that's not all there was to the message — but that is the underlying motivation and philosophy of it. Christ said all of the commandments could be summarized in two simple principles: love toward God and love toward neighbor. And those laws — based on love — are at the very heart of the gospel!
Personification of the Gospel
And who personified love toward God and love toward fellowman? Who is the greatest "lover" in all history? Is it not Jesus Christ Himself, who said: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Jesus practiced what He preached! Christ is at the heart and core of the gospel. He is the King of the coming Kingdom. He is the way into that Kingdom. He is the personification and fulfillment of all of its laws. It is He who will set up that Kingdom on this earth. And Jesus Himself will administer its laws. He was the main messenger who came to announce the good news of that Kingdom — and to begin His Church (His Body!) which would continue the Work He Himself had begun! Jesus Himself fulfilled all the prophecies of the elements of the gospel as prophesied by Isaiah. And so does this Work of Christ!
Worldwide Fulfillment Today
Today, the Worldwide Church of God is also fulfilling all of the descriptions Isaiah gave of the future preaching and publishing of the gospel of the Kingdom. We have been announcing the way of peace directly to world leaders in many nations around the world. We have been preaching Christ — and the meaning of His crucifixion and sacrifice. We proclaim Christ's lordship and rule — both now and in the world tomorrow. We have shown the healing power of the living God. We have anointed the sick and preached liberty and freedom to those held captive by sin. This worldwide Work has given its audience a glimpse into the glittering future in which God Himself will rule on this earth from Jerusalem. Jesus Christ, His original apostles and Christ's own Work today have fulfilled those prophecies made by the ancient Prophet Isaiah so many centuries before Christ! We have preached — and will continue to preach — the gospel according to Isaiah.