All four Gospels, in their records of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, explain that Jesus did not return to heaven before giving His followers a mission. Until His return, He told them, the church is to go forth and preach the gospel to all nations, telling people about Him, calling them to repentance and faith, and discipling them in everything that He taught (Matt. 28:18–20; Mark 16:15–16; Luke 24:45–47; John 21:15–19). This task remains unfinished, and all Christians have a part to play in bringing the gospel to all creation. So that we can have a greater understanding of the call to disciple the nations and our individual roles in fulfilling it, we will devote the next few days of studies to the topic of missions. We will follow Dr. R.C. Sproul's teaching series Evangelism and Missions as our guide.
To understand what preaching the gospel means, we must first consider the meaning of the term gospel. This word is the English translation of the Greek word euangelion, and it means "good news." In the wider first-century culture, this "good news" could be a descriptor of any number of different messages. People with a euangelion might be announcing a battlefield victory, the birth of a royal heir, or an electoral victory for a preferred candidate. Some of these meanings also apply to the good news of Jesus, for the gospel includes the proclamation of Jesus' defeat of the devil, for example (Col. 2:15). But the Scriptures add a depth to the meaning of euangelion that simply is not there in the secular use of the word. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the biblical authors adopted the term and gave it a multifaceted significance that is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It became God's good news, for the gospel is the "gospel of God" (Rom. 1:1). It is a message that originates in Him and that He delivers through His prophets and Apostles. That makes it the most important news anyone will ever hear.
Of course, the most important background for what the New Testament means by "good news" or "gospel" is the Old Testament. In particular, the prophets Isaiah and Nahum stand out. Nahum 1:15 speaks of the "good news" of Assyria's judgment. So, the gospel speaks to God's defeat of the enemies of His people. Isaiah's use of "good news" refers to God's action to end the exile and bring His blessed kingdom to bear on His people once more (Isa. 40). Therefore, the gospel announces the coming of the kingdom of God.
In our next study, we will explore more aspects of the gospel that are developed in the New Testament. For now, let us note that the Old Testament background of the gospel means that the good news was not unknown under the old covenant. The gospel of God's kingdom means that all His promises will be kept to those who enter His kingdom by faith in Christ alone. So, all the good things promised to the old covenant people will be ours in Christ Jesus.