By Timothy Keller
What is this “gospel” for which Paul is willing to glory in being a slave? What gospel would make Paul happy to lose everything in order to share it?
First, it is worth reflecting on the word itself. “Gospel”—euangeloi—is literally “good herald.” In the first century, if on a far-flung battlefield an emperor won a great victory which secured his peace and established his authority, he would send heralds—angeloi—to declare his victory, peace and authority. Put most simply, the gospel is an announcement—a declaration. The gospel is not advice to be followed; it is news, good news about what has been done.
The gospel isn’t ours
The apostle Paul is the herald of this announcement. It is a good reminder that the gospel is not Paul’s; it did not originate with him and he did not claim the authority to craft it. Rather, it is “of God” (v 1). We, like Paul, are not at liberty to reshape it to sound more appealing in our day, nor to domesticate it to be more comfortable for our lives.
The gospel isn’t new
Neither is the gospel new; rather, God “promised it beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures” (v 2). The Old Testament is all about it. All the “Scriptures” point forward to this announcement. They are the scaffold on which Paul stands as God’s herald. Every page that God wrote before outlines what he has now declared in full color.
The gospel is a who
The gospel’s content is “his Son” (v 3). The gospel centers on Jesus. It is about a person, not a concept; it is about him, not us. We never grasp the gospel until we understand that it is not fundamentally a message about our lives, dreams, or hopes. The gospel speaks about, and transforms, all of those things, but only because it isn’t about us. It is a declaration about God’s Son, the man Jesus.
This Son was:
- Fully human: “as to his human nature” (v 3).
- The one who fulfilled the promises of Scripture: he was “a descendant of David” (v 3), the king of Israel a millennium before. God had promised David that from his family God would produce the ultimate, final, universal King—the Christ (see 2 Samuel 7:11b–16). And David’s own life—his rule, suffering and glory—in many ways foreshadowed that of his greater descendant (see Psalms 2; 22; 110).
- Divine: the Son was “declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). Paul is not saying that Jesus only became God’s Son when he was raised from the grave. Rather, he is outlining two great truths about the resurrection. First, the empty tomb is the great declaration of who Jesus is. His resurrection removes all doubt that he is the Son of God. Second, his resurrection and ascension were his path to his rightful place; to his rule at God’s right hand (Ephesians 1:19b–22), sitting at “the highest place,” given “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10). God’s Son had humbly become a man, tasted poverty, endured rejection and suffered a powerless death. The resurrection is where we see not only that he is the Son of God, but that he is now the Son of God “in power.”
Not until the end of Romans 1:4 does Paul actually name God’s Son: “Jesus Christ our Lord.” God’s Son is Jesus, the Greek version of the Hebrew name Yeshua/Joshua—“God will save,” the fulfiller of all God “promised beforehand” (v. 2). He is Christ, the anointed man whom God has appointed to rule his people. And he is our Lord, God himself. The gospel is both a declaration of Jesus’ perfect rule and an invitation to come under that perfect rule, to make him “our Lord.”