The core of the Gospel is the announcement of who Jesus is. The essence of what it means to be “saved” is to understand by revelation, believe, confess, and live in accordance with that revelation.
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40 (ESV)
The gospel is not merely justification by faith. That is a benefit of believing the gospel. The gospel is not the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, reconciliation to the Father, redemption, or sonship. All these wonderful benefits come from believing the Gospel but are not the Gospel itself. The Gospel is the message of Jesus, who he is. That is why the first four books of the New Covenant are called gospels. They give us the context and story of Jesus beginning with creation (John’s Gospel) and ending with his ascension into heaven. The four gospels leave us with a Great Commission to go and proclaim the Gospel to others and to develop future believers into Great Commissioners (disciples). The Gospel leaves us with the certain hope that Jesus will return again to judge the living and the dead and to rule and reign over his eternal kingdom. From beginning to end, the Bible is the story of Jesus, which is the eternal Gospel.
When Jesus walked the streets of Israel during his brief earthly ministry, he demonstrated who he was and is. Those for whom God opened their spiritual eyes to understand his identity, saw and believed that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. Those whose hearts were closed refused to believe even though the evidence (signs and wonders) was right in front of their eyes. Consider the following passage.
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:38-42 (ESV)
Here Jesus reveals that he is greater than Jonah (prophet), greater than Solomon (king); and in Matthew 12:6, he revealed that he is greater than the Temple and the priesthood. So who is greater than prophet, priest, and king? The answer is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Jesus wanted his listeners to see and believe who he is, but for the most part, they could not or would not. Jesus looked for those whose eyes and hearts God the Father had opened. When he asked his core disciples to say who he is, he was delighted when Peter answered:
…“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 16:16-17 (ESV)
Believing in Jesus means understanding who he is and committing ourselves to him without reservation. There is nothing in Peter’s testimony that smacks of consumerism – the “what’s in it for me” mentality. Peter and the other disciples committed to following Christ without really knowing what was in it for them. They found out later. When Jesus is revealed to us by God’s Spirit, our first response should be to worship him and follow him just because of who he is. It is only afterward that we learn of all that he has done for us. The first proclamations of the gospel were more about who Jesus is than about what he provides. When we major on what he provides, we feed the consumerist itch for benefits without responsibility, which accounts in part for our churches being filled with people who came to Jesus for what he provides without understanding and obeying what he requires from us as his disciples.
The last book of the Bible summarizes the Gospel with these words:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:11-16 (ESV)
From beginning to end, the Bible is the revelation of Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is someone great. He is the one we proclaim with the Gospel. He is worth following.