Following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and commanded them to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Most of us are aware that “gospel” (euangelion in Greek) means “good news.” But what exactly is the good news that the apostles preached? What should be our message to the world around us, to our “unchurched” and unbelieving neighbors? The apostle Paul addresses these questions in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.
For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. ….
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, 20-26).
According to Paul, the good news of the gospel is, firstly, that “Christ died for our sins.” The good news begins with atonement, with the sacrifice of Jesus on a cross of crucifixion, to save us from the judgment our sins deserve. Because of that sacrifice, we are accorded great blessings from the Father, namely: forgiveness (Eph. 1:7); righteousness (or justification) by faith (Rom. 3:21-24); and reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:1-2).
Yet the good news is not simply that Jesus died, but “that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” His resurrection, well attested by the facts of history, provides an objective basis for hope. Paul in verses 20-23 argues essentially that because Christ rose from the dead, believers in Christ will also rise from the dead: “…even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” Elsewhere Paul says, “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 amounts to a historical-theological defense of resurrection – not merely the resuscitation of a body, but the raising up of an altogether new and incorruptible body that will live forever in the presence of God.
Finally, the gospel is that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:14) is good news because humanity now has access to peace and righteousness (justice) under the rule of a completely good and powerful King. Jesus has come in the authority of the Father to establish his kingdom. Having defeated “the last enemy,” death (v. 24-26), Jesus will one day “deliver” that kingdom to the Father. Until that time Jesus is slowly but surely taking dominion over all things that oppose Him. “For He must reign till he has put all enemies under his feet” (v. 27). Here again is cause for great hope: “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 15:20).