The Gospel in the Gospels
There is a general tendency among believers to read the truths that belong to the present into the past, and in particular to read “present truth” (2 Pet. 1: 12) into the Gospels. For example, when the Lord said to Peter that “on this rock I will build my assembly” (Matt. 16: 18) there is no suggestion whatsoever of Jew and Gentile formed “into one new man” and reconciled “in one body to God by the cross” (Eph. 2: 15–16). All that the disciples would have understood from the Lord’s words is a company to be called out of Israel and nothing more. To think that their concept of the Assembly was identical to that taught later in Paul’s epistles is unfounded and misguided.
Now to many there only was, is and ever will be just one gospel. Hence wherever these read the word gospel (glad tidings or good news) in an English translation of the NT, they immediately identify it with the “glad tidings of the grace of God” (Acts 20: 24). They can conceive of no other gospel than that which deals with eternal blessings. Yet three times in the epistles we have the phrase “my glad tidings” (Rom. 2: 16, 16: 25; 2 Tim. 2: 8, my emphasis). Now unless words are to be stripped of all meaning, this expression of the Apostle Paul clearly indicates that not only are there other gospels, but that his is distinct from them. Certainly, Paul viewed anyone who announced as glad tidings “[anything] besides what we have announced as glad tidings to you” (Gal. 1: 8) as accursed, but that does not mean that the theme of every instance of the word gospel in the Scriptures is Paul’s gospel. His is the only gospel for the present day—but what marks the present day should not be read into either the past or the future.
Heaven and Hell
The gospel presented in the Gospel records can hardly be Paul’s for he was not then converted. Nor can the gospel in the Gospels be the testimony based on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus for these events did not occur until nearly the end of each of the Evangelists’ accounts. Indeed, Peter, despite being a preacher of repentance (see Mark 6: 12), was very much opposed to the suggestion that the Lord must suffer and die, and be raised the third day (see Matt. 16: 21, 22). Again, the gospel in the Gospels cannot have anything to do with the Lord’s present place in heaven, for He was not as yet glorified (see John 7: 39). The background to the gospel, then and now, is of course hell and judgment, and no one spoke more about hell than the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite this, search the four Gospels as you may, and you will never find Him contrasting hell with heaven! Compare this with the gospel preached today—we now contrast these two destinations, and rightly so, saying that a person will go to either one or the other (although, to be more accurate, Scripture presents the future of the believer as being with Christ—that is with a Person rather than in a place). So what did the Lord contrast hell with? One example from Matt. 25: 31–46 will suffice. When the Lord returns in glory (see v31), the nations are judged on their treatment of His earthly brethren (see v40). To those who ill–treated them, the word is “Go from me, cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (v41). To those who cared for them, the word is “Come blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from [the] world’s foundation” (v34). Thus whenever hell is contrasted in the Gospels, the contrast is always with blessing in the kingdom on earth (see also Matt. 8: 11, 12; 13: 41–43; Mark 9: 47; Luke 13: 28)—never with heaven.
Life, Eternal Life and Salvation
There are also certain words used in Matthew, Mark and Luke such as saved, life and eternal life that are given an unwarranted eternal setting by many Bible teachers and preachers. Let us consider the word life as presented in the synoptic Gospels (we will look at John’s Gospel later). To see this, read Mark 9: 42–48 where the Lord speaks of three snares: the hand, the foot and the eye. All three can land a man in hell—but the contrast with hell is not heaven. In connection with the hand and the foot, the blessing is “life” (vs 43, 45), while in connection with the eye the blessing is “the kingdom of God” (v47). Clearly, life in these Scriptures is identified with the kingdom.
Our next consideration in the synoptic Gospels is with eternal life (or life eternal). Returning first to Matthew 25, the Lord says to those blessed of His Father “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from [the] world’s foundation” (v34) but goes on to say of the same company in v46, that they shall go “into life eternal”. As with life, eternal life is here identified with the kingdom. Again, in the incident involving the man who asked how he could inherit eternal life (see Mark 10: 17), the Lord said “There is no one who has left house … for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, that shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time … and in the coming age life eternal” (Mark 10: 29–30; see also Luke 18: 29, 30). In Matthew’s description of the same occasion, we read of this time as “the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit down upon his throne of glory” (Matt. 19: 28). Hence the setting for eternal life in the synoptic Gospels is the kingdom of God in the age to come when Christ will reign here on earth—what we call the millennium. There is no link made in those books between eternal life and heaven, or eternal life and eternity.
What of salvation? In Matt. 24: 13 we read “but he that has endured to the end, he shall be saved” (see also Matt. 10: 22; Mark 13: 13; Luke 21: 19). Is this salvation the eternal salvation of the soul based on faith (see 1 Pet. 1: 9)? If it is, then my eternal destiny is dependent on my ability to endure. Such is the mischief caused by reading the present into the past. A little further on we read “and if those days had not been cut short, no flesh had been saved, but on account of the elect those days shall be cut short” (Matt. 24: 22). The word flesh tells us that it is the salvation of the natural life that is in question. In particular it is the preservation of the suffering remnant of Israel during the great tribulation so as to be able to enter the kingdom on earth when the Lord returns.
Thus the words hell, life, eternal life and saved are all used in the synoptic Gospels in relation to the time when the kingdom of God will be established in power on the earth. To read what we know now about hell, life, eternal life and salvation into the synoptic Gospel records does not make for sound doctrine. What then is the gospel in the Gospels?
The Gospel and its Signs
Mark begins his Gospel with the words “Beginning of the glad tidings of Jesus Christ, Son of God” (Mark 1: 1). All good news of any real value must centre in that blessed Person. Of the 23 other occasions in the Gospels where we have the words gospel or glad tidings, we find that there are only two other qualifying phrases used. It is given either as “the glad tidings of the kingdom” (Matt. 4: 23; 9: 35; 24: 14) or “the glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1: 14; Luke 4: 43; 8: 1; 16: 16). Thus the only gospel in the Gospels is the gospel of the kingdom. No other gospel is preached or proclaimed there.
The gospel of the kingdom was what John the Baptist preached to Israel, it being his mission “to make ready for [the] Lord a prepared people” (Luke 1: 17). Following John’s birth, his father Zacharias prophesied saying “Blessed be [the] Lord the God of Israel, because he has visited and wrought redemption for his people, and raised up a horn of deliverance for us in the house of David his servant … deliverance from our enemies and out of the hand of all who hate us; … to give us, that, saved out of the hand of our enemies, we should serve him without fear in piety and righteousness before him all our days … to give knowledge of deliverance to his people by [the] remission of their sins” (vs 68–77). The words “his people” exclude all Gentiles for it was prophesied of John that “many of the sons of Israel shall he turn to [the] Lord their God” (Luke 1: 16)—he was to testify to Israel and no one else. Of the One who was the subject of John’s preaching, the angel Gabriel said “He shall be great, and shall be called Son of [the] Highest; and [the] Lord God shall give him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for the ages, and of his kingdom there shall not be an end” (Luke 1: 32, 33). These words must not be spiritualised away. David’s throne was on earth and this kingdom will be on earth not in heaven. It says of the Baptist “Exhorting then many other things also he announced [his] glad tidings to the people” (Luke 3: 18). What did John announce—what was his gospel? He preached “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh” (Matt. 3: 2). This testimony was repeated later by the Lord (see Matt. 4: 17), as well as the twelve—who were also strictly enjoined to limit their service to Israel alone (see Matt. 10: 5–7), for “the sons of the kingdom” (Matt. 8: 12) were exclusively of that nation. Two demands were made on those who heard John preach: baptism and repentance. Thus “he came into all the district round the Jordan, preaching [the] baptism of repentance for [the] remission of sins” (Luke 3: 3; see also Mark 1: 4). Note the wording: ‘baptism of repentance for the remission of sins’. To make this the gospel for today is misguided, for then baptism is likewise made essential for the remission of my sins!
Scripture clearly testifies “John did no sign” (John 10: 41) for his was but a heraldic voice (see Matt. 3: 3; Mark 1: 3; Luke 3: 4; John 1: 23). However, both the Lord’s preaching and that of the Twelve were confirmed by miracles and signs thus fulfilling the prophecy of Is. 35: 5, 6. Such wonders do not belong to the present time but to the age to come—as the words “[the] works of power of [the] age to come …” (Heb. 6: 5) so forcefully remind us. These works of power were the proof that the kingdom was imminent when the Lord was here (see Matt. 12: 28). Interestingly, and in keeping with this, Matthew records this phrase “works of power” exactly seven times in his gospel (Matt. 7: 22; 11: 20, 21, 23; 13: 54, 58; 14: 2), his being the dispensational Gospel. Likewise he gives us the so–called Sermon on the Mount, the seven parables of the kingdom and the Olivet discourse, (see Matt. 5–8; 13; 24). Miracles belong to the kingdom and its gospel—not to the Church and Paul’s gospel.
When the Lord rose from the dead though, surely everything changed? Much did change, but not everything. The resurrection did not set aside the gospel of the kingdom. During the forty days following His resurrection, the Lord’s instructions were still “of the things which concern the kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3). Certainly the testimony would ultimately become universal rather than to just the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but only in a particular order: “and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1: 8). What was now to be preached? “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24: 47). Now repentance and remission of sins were the two features that marked the gospel of the kingdom preached by John the Baptist (see Mark 1: 4). Accordingly, on the day of Pentecost Peter addressed the nation of Israel, as the Baptist had done previously, with these same two demands of baptism and repentance (see Acts 2: 38). The One that John had heralded, the nation had crucified, but God had made “both Lord and Christ” (v36). Peter’s preaching took account of this, but compared with John the Baptist’s preaching, the only difference in what was demanded was that believing Jews were now to separate from the perverse generation that had crucified Christ (see v40), so forming a distinct assembly in Israel.
While the “glad tidings” in Mark 16: 15 clearly must now include the Lord’s death and resurrection, the preaching of the eleven disciples still required baptism for salvation (see v16). But what would the disciples have understood by baptism and salvation? Baptism for them was the means of entering the kingdom—there is no indication at this point that the concept of being buried with Christ had been revealed to them. Similarly, salvation for the Jew was predominantly a question of being in the kingdom, in association with the King—the great deliverer. This is not to say that there was no thought of “[the] salvation of [your] souls” (1 Pet. 1: 9)—only that salvation at this point was inseparable from the concept of the earthly kingdom.
The preaching of Mark 16 was also to be accompanied by the signs detailed in verses 17 and 18. These were the selfsame signs identified with the kingdom previously (see Luke 10: 9, 17, 19) but with an important addition—tongues. This was the one sign that was given on the day of Pentecost to Israel, and in the period immediately following. It was the sign of impending national judgment (see Paul’s quote of Is. 28: 11, 12 in 1 Cor. 14: 21, 22), prophesied originally in Deut. 28: 49: “Jehovah will bring a nation against thee from afar, from the end of the earth, like as the eagle flieth, a nation whose tongue thou understandest not”. The sign of tongues was duly followed by the judgment meted out by the Romans under Titus in AD70.
Thus the “glad tidings” of Mark 16:15 and throughout the synoptic Gospels was essentially the Baptist’s gospel, the gospel of the kingdom of God. The Lord, by His resurrection and ascension, had gone “to a distant country to receive for himself a kingdom and return” (Luke 19: 12). The embassy that was dispatched after Him saying “We will not that this [man] should reign over us” (v14) was sent in the book of Acts (see Acts 7: 51–60; 17: 7; 28: 23–31). Hence the glad tidings of the kingdom proclaiming the Lord as the coming king continued after His death as much as before. So much for the synoptic gospels, what of the final Gospel account, the Gospel of John? What glad tidings are set out there?
The Gospel in John and the Present Time
Compared to the other Gospels, John’s Gospel is radically different. While opinion is not unanimous, the general view is that it was written late, probably towards the end of the first century. This would be after the history given in the Acts had closed, subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans and after Israel was no longer a nation. Now it has been said that the key to the understanding of any book in the Bible lies at the door. This is certainly the case with John’s Gospel, for almost immediately we read of the Lord that “He came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1: 11). While the synoptic Gospels trace the history of the Lord’s rejection by Israel, John begins with it. Again, almost straightaway, he says: “For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth subsists through Jesus Christ” (John 1: 17). By contrast, the glad tidings of the kingdom assumed that those who believed it and entered the kingdom would remain under law. This is not the case for those who now believe Paul’s gospel, “the glad tidings of the glory of the blessed God” (compare 1 Tim. 1: 8–11 with Matt. 5: 17–20). Such are “not under law” (Rom. 6: 14), and “have died to law” (Gal. 2: 19).
In John there are no kingdom parables—indeed the Greek word used for parable in the synoptic Gospels is not found in John. Nor is there a single verse repeated from the so–called Sermon on the Mount in which the principles of the kingdom are set out. The Olivet prophecies of Matthew, Mark and Luke are also absent. In fact, the subject of the kingdom arises on but two occasions. The first is when Nicodemus is told that the nation that he represents must be born anew (see John 3: 7, noting the plural pronoun ye). This is an event that will yet take place (see Ez. 36: 26) when “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11: 26). The second occasion when the kingdom is mentioned is when Pilate is told that the Lord’s kingdom “is not of this world” (John 18: 36) in contrast to previous kingdoms. Most strikingly, the Greek word euaggelion (gospel, glad tidings, good news) does not occur once in John’s Gospel! The words preach and proclaim in their various verb forms are correspondingly also missing. John the Baptist is mentioned but his testimony demanding repentance from the nation of Israel is omitted. Instead we have his testimony of the Lord as the Lamb of God who “takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29)—a much more expansive thought. The service of Mary in regard of the Lord’s burial is recorded (see John 12: 3–8) but not a word is said about this being mentioned everywhere the glad tidings are preached as do Matt. 26: 6–13 and Mark 14: 3–9. What glad tidings are Matthew and Mark referring to? The glad tidings of the kingdom—and those glad tidings have now ceased. When? Scripture does not exactly tell us, but Acts clearly describes a transition period—a period long closed by the time John put pen to paper. Again, twice in John’s Gospel we read the phrase the “hour is coming and now is” (John 4: 23; 5: 25) indicating conditions that were then still historically future but morally already present. In a word, John’s Gospel records that which anticipates the present time when the only gospel is Paul’s. The subjects of life and eternal life dominate John’s Gospel, and neither is restricted there to any period of time. That those who are the Lord’s own form “one flock” (John 10: 16) is a teaching peculiar to John, as is the detail of the present service of the Holy Spirit—detail totally absent from the synoptic Gospels. Thus the truths documented by John belong to the present time, just as those omitted by him belonged to the period when the Kingdom was offered to Israel. Thus John’s gospel corroborates the truth already stated, that the gospel in the Gospels is the gospel of the kingdom and no other.
One of the most important principles in biblical interpretation is set out by the Apostle Paul when he speaks of “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2: 15, AV). If we read “the glad tidings of the grace of God” (Acts 20: 24) into that presented in the synoptic Gospels, then we will fail to heed that injunction. We will muddle up what belongs to law with what belongs to grace, and introduce unwarranted uncertainties regarding our eternal security. The day will one day dawn when the glad tidings of the kingdom will once again be proclaimed but it is not the gospel for the present time—Paul’s gospel is the gospel for today. In another article we shall examine what exactly Paul’s Gospel is.
The words “my gospel” are recorded three times in the NT and each time by the same author. Yet the one who wrote them, unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, never wrote a Gospel. No other makes such a claim, not even the Lord Himself. Paul alone writes these words “my gospel” (Rom. 2: 16, 16: 25, 2 Tim. 2: 8, AV). The words themselves (“my glad tidings” in the Darby translation) clearly indicate that not only are there other gospels but that Paul’s is distinct from them. This distinctiveness is seen again when he writes of the glad tidings “to which I have been appointed a herald and apostle and teacher of [the] nations” (2 Tim. 1: 11), using the emphatic I. This assertion of uniqueness by Paul is not limited to the glad tidings, for we read not only of the “glad tidings … of which I Paul became minister” but also of Christ’s “body, which is the assembly; of which I became minister” (Col. 1: 23–25). Thus what is unique to what we call Christianity, but the Bible calls “the present truth” (2 Pet. 1: 12, my emphasis), is found in the written ministry of the Apostle Paul and nowhere else.
In order to see the features that make Paul’s gospel unique, we must examine the background of other gospels in the Scriptures to see why he makes such a claim. A previous article has shown that the only gospel proclaimed when the Lord was on earth (as recorded in the four Gospels) was that of the kingdom of God. What many fail to realise is that the glad tidings of the kingdom did not cease with the Lord’s death but continued to be proclaimed throughout the period covered by the Acts. Accordingly, during the forty days of resurrection the Lord spoke to the eleven of “the things which concern the kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3) and the disciples’ subsequent question in v6 shows that it was still the same kingdom as was proclaimed in the Gospels—the universal reign of Christ in power here on earth. Hence Peter’s demand to Israel at Pentecost for repentance and baptism echoed that of the John the Baptist (compare Acts 2: 38 with Mark 1: 4). Later we find Philip in Samaria “announcing the glad tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts. 8: 12). Much later still we read of Paul himself speaking of “[the things] concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 19: 8—identical word for word in the original Greek to the clause in Acts 1: 3). Luke closes his treatise, with Paul in Rome still “preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 28: 31), for the dominant theme throughout the book of Acts is the Kingdom, not the Church (see Acts 14: 22; 17: 7; 19: 8; 20: 25; 28: 23). Acts is the last historical book in the Bible. Yes, it records the beginnings of the Church but its real object is to show the termination of God’s present dealings with Israel because of their continued rejection of the Christ and His kingdom, even though He is now risen from the dead. It is a transitional book. Hence throughout Acts, although together in assembly, Jew and Gentile are always viewed as distinct companies, the temple is still standing, the sacrifices are still offered and the law is still applied to believing Jews. The foremost truth proclaimed in Acts is the resurrection as the proof to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ (see Acts 2: 32-36). When the disciples prayed in Acts 4: 23–31, it was not for the salvation of men’s souls but to “give to thy bondmen with all boldness to speak thy word, in that thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and that signs and wonders take place through the name of thy holy servant Jesus” (vs 29, 30)—signs and wonders that belong to the testimony of the Kingdom (see Is. 35: 5, 6; Heb. 6: 5). Again, when Peter says “Repent therefore and be converted, for the blotting out of your sins” in Acts 3: 19, it is not “so that you will saved for all eternity”, (though perfectly true) but “so that times of refreshing may come from [the] presence of [the] Lord, and he may send Jesus Christ …” (v20). When Peter addresses the rulers of Israel in Acts 4 he uses the pronouns ye and you until he speaks of Christ saying “salvation is in none other, for neither is there another name under heaven which is given among men by which we must be saved” (v12, my emphasis). The use of “we” rather than “ye” suggests that the salvation Peter has in mind is not personal, as he is included, but that of the nation. Now all this is not to say that the eternal salvation of men’s souls was ignored by those who ministered in the Acts, for we read of Paul saying “Be it known unto you, therefore, brethren, that through this man remission of sins is preached to you, and from all things from which ye could not be justified in the law of Moses, in him every one that believes is justified” (Acts 13: 38, 39). Even so remission of sins in itself does not take us beyond the Baptist’s gospel of the kingdom. Eternal matters are taken up, largely by Paul, such as at his meeting with Felix in Acts 24: 24–27, but the general history recorded is the continuing rejection of the Kingdom by Israel. There is nothing distinctive recorded in Acts that would justify Paul’s claim of “my gospel”. But what of the epistles?
The Apostolic Epistles
There are three definite apostolic writers of epistles: Peter, John and Paul. All three speak of the eternal efficacy of the Lord’s work in respect of sins. However, the particular service of each is characterised by the way in which they were apprehended by the Lord. Peter was taken up when fishing and told that from then on he would be a fisher of men. Accordingly, his ministry is initial and evangelical as can be seen in the Acts. John was taken up when mending nets. Hence his ministry comes in at the end and is on the line of recovery when outwardly things have broken down. Both knew the Lord on earth. By contrast, Paul did not. He was apprehended by the Lord in heaven, by the Man in the glory. In keeping with this, he says “So that we henceforth know no one according to flesh; but if even we have known Christ according to flesh, yet now we know [him thus] no longer. So if any one [be] in Christ, [there is] a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold all things have become new …” (2 Cor. 5: 16, 17). Accordingly, his gospel is “the glad tidings of the glory of the Christ” (2 Cor. 4: 4; see also 1 Tim. 1: 11). What then are its distinctive features—features that are not to be found in other NT writings?
“According to my glad tidings”
If you examine the Scriptures in which the expression “my glad tidings” occurs, you will see that there is nothing in them that you cannot find elsewhere in the NT. Rom. 2: 16 speaks of a coming day of judgment “when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my glad tidings, by Jesus Christ”. This truth is not unique to Paul. 2 Tim. 2: 8 speaks of remembering the Lord with respect to two particular features, neither of which was peculiar to the apostle: “Remember Jesus Christ raised from among [the] dead, of [the] seed of David, according to my glad tidings …”. The Lord’s resurrection was the dominant theme of the preaching in the Acts and onwards, while the royal line in Israel, given in Matt. 1: 1–17, was essential to the glad tidings of the kingdom preached in the Gospels. Neither truth was unique to Paul. What then is the bearing of the words “according to my glad tidings”? Both the two features just mentioned and the name “Jesus Christ” have to do with the Lord on earth. Paul’s gospel has to do with the Lord in heaven. His gospel does not ignore or diminish these features, but goes beyond them. Thus I take it that Paul is not merely urging Timothy to remember the Lord’s history here, but to see that history in the light of what he calls ‘my gospel’. The third Scripture reads: “Now to him that is able to establish you, according to my glad tidings and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to [the] revelation of [the] mystery …” Rom. 16: 25). Here we learn the importance of Paul’s unique ministry and his gospel in particular, for it is described as essential for the establishment of our souls. Now the Greek word for establish is the same word that Peter uses when he says to those to whom he wrote that they were “established in the present truth” (2 Pet. 1: 12)—the word present distinguishing it from truth that had gone before. If we leave aside the truth of the mystery, (that is Gentile and Jew in one body on earth united to Christ as Head in heaven), we see that Rom. 16: 25 has two other elements: the leading one being my glad tidings (that is, Paul’s gospel) and the subsidiary one the preaching of Jesus Christ. The preaching of Jesus Christ is simply that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of God. Now we must get beyond the preaching of Jesus Christ (which was the testimony in the synoptic Gospels and the Acts) otherwise we will not really be established in the present truth. Yes there are things “hard to be understood” (2 Pet. 3: 16), but we must be alive to the danger of remaining “babes” and being “tossed and carried about” (Eph. 4: 14) by every defective teaching that comes our way. However, though we have seen its importance, we are still as yet really no wiser as to what Paul’s gospel is!
The Ascension and Pauline Terms
Peter and the rest of the Twelve acknowledged the ascension but built their ministry on the resurrection; Paul built his ministry on both the resurrection and the ascension. Resurrection does not take you off the earth; ascension takes you to heaven. Paul’s ministry is identified with the Man in heaven. Peter and John knew the Lord where He was; Paul only knew Him where He now is. This is reflected in the terminology. All writers speak of the Lord as Jesus Christ. Paul alone, with one instructive exception (see 1 Pet. 5: 10), speaks of the Lord as Christ Jesus and he does so over 80 times. What is the force of these terms?
Christ is a title, meaning anointed; Jesus is a name. Names belong to persons; titles to offices. In “Jesus Christ” the name is prominent; in “Christ Jesus” it is the title that is to the fore. Jesus Christ is the Person subsequently shown to be the Anointed; Christ Jesus is the office of the Anointed now filled by that Person in heaven. With one distinctive exception (see Eph. 4: 21) nothing is said to be in Jesus or in Jesus Christ (Jude 1: 1 can read “by Jesus Christ”). Everything is thus said to be “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus”. As already mentioned, “in Christ Jesus” is distinctively Pauline.
While all NT writers knew the blessed results of the Lord’s sacrificial work such as redemption, eternal life and salvation, Paul alone identifies such blessings with the Lord where He now is. Each blessing is said to be “in Christ Jesus” (see Rom. 3: 24; 6: 23; 2 Tim. 2: 10). Not only are the believer’s blessings identified with the Lord where He is, but the believer himself is identified with the Man in the glory, “in Christ Jesus” (see Rom. 8: 1; 1 Cor. 1: 30; Phil. 4: 21).
The Two Men
To Paul, the history of the world is essentially the history of just two men—Adam and Christ. In 1 Cor. 15: 45–49 Paul speaks of Christ as both the “last Adam” and the “second man”. As the last Adam, He stands alone, there is none to succeed Him—it is finality. As the second man (second allows for a third etc.), He is associated with others, being their pattern, the Head of a different order of man: “the first man out of [the] earth, made of dust; the second man, out of heaven. Such as he made of dust, such also those made of dust; and such as the heavenly [one], such also the heavenly [ones]” (vs 47, 48). In divine purpose, God ever had Christ before Him, but in His ways in time Adam came first. God has now changed His man. This I think is the kernel of Paul’s gospel.
In Rom. 5: 12–21 Paul, like no other NT writer, traces everything back to one of two men. Sin, condemnation, death and judgment are identified with Adam; grace, justification, and righteousness, are identified with Christ. Adam’s one sin “constituted” men “sinners” (Rom. 5: 19), and the inherent propensity of sinners is to sin. Now “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3: 4), the exercise of my own will. Sin is the source from which sins emanate. Sins are the acts that come from a nature of lawlessness. Sins can be forgiven; sin is never forgiven but condemned. All NT writers speak of sins and how they are dealt with in the death of Christ; Paul alone shows how sin itself is dealt with in that death. In so doing, he uses the term old man (see Rom 6: 6; Eph. 4: 22; Col: 3: 9) and the contrasting term new man (see Eph. 2: 15; 4: 24; Col. 3: 10). Paul’s gospel tells me not only how God has dealt with sins, but with sin itself. Many are clear as to the truth of the blood of Christ (see 1 John 1: 7) as meeting sins; few are clear as to the truth of “the body of the Christ” (Rom. 7: 4) as meeting sin (as well as what goes with it, namely law). Christ not only died for my sins (see 1 Cor. 15: 3) but was also made sin for me (see 2 Cor. 5: 21).
Sin and the Law
Sin and law are both dealt with in detail by Paul in Romans 6 and 7—for the two go hand in hand. God identified me with Christ in His death. He died to sin, having no more to say to it; hence I am to reckon myself “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6: 11). I also read “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law but under grace” (v14). This verse clearly but indirectly states that under law sin had dominion and this is where the difficulty with many arises.
The law expressed what God required in man but only brought out what man was. Law gives the knowledge of sin creating the passion to sin (see Rom. 3: 20; 7: 5, 7). It came in so that man’s nature of lawlessness might be seen for what it really is (see Rom. 5: 20; 7: 13). In itself, the law was good (see Rom. 7: 12) but it is the window through which I discover that I am really a slave to sin—that sin is my master. The man engaged in the personal exercises of Rom. 7 is a disappointed man. But disappointment only comes as a result of previous expectation. I need to know and believe that God now expects nothing of that order of man as He has found all He required in another man—the Man in His presence, the “man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2: 5). If I am expecting something of myself, when God expects nothing, I am not in the gain of Paul’s gospel. Paul tells me that I “have been made dead to the law by the body of the Christ” (Rom. 7: 4). I did not make myself dead to law. It was done for me, whether I realise it or not. This is a distinctive aspect of Paul’s gospel. The wondrous conclusive truth realised in Rom. 8: 1 is “[There is] then now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus”. In “Christ Jesus” is where God views the believer. Sadly, many do not put themselves where God has put them. Hence Paul uses an abstract statement with the impersonal pronoun those rather than us. The man going through the soul exercise of the previous chapter condemns himself because he is looking for the good in himself that he will never find. All is found in Christ.
Justification and Righteousness
The gain to Christianity from the recovery of the Reformation was immense: man justified before God by faith alone. But other truths expressed in Paul’s ministry were not recovered. Among many believers today Paul’s gospel is unknown. They are clear as to justification but not righteousness, for while they know that they are justified by faith they still hold on to the law as a ‘rule of life’ for righteousness—they have not got the gain of Paul’s gospel. They are clear that justification is not on the principle of law but fail to see that righteousness is not on that principle either. Scripture says “For Christ is [the] end of law for righteousness to every one that believes” (Rom. 10: 4). They are effectively where the Galatians are said to be in Gal. 2: 18. They have thrown down the principle of law as a means of justification but take it up again for righteousness. If you live to law, you cannot live to God or bear fruit to Him (see Gal 2: 19 and Rom. 7: 4). Like the Galatians, they begin well (see Gal. 3: 3) but they “turn again to the weak and beggarly principles to which ye desire to be again anew in bondage” (Gal. 4: 9). Oh that Paul’s inspired word might sink in deeply and effectively: “if righteousness [is] by law, then Christ has died for nothing” (Gal. 2: 21)!
ConclusionsThe truth that lies at the heart of Paul’s gospel is that God has changed His man. God will have no other man now. The law applied to the first man not the second. Paul’s doctrine rests not only on the death and resurrection of the Lord but on His ascension as well. It does not set aside the truths associated with where He was but identifies our blessings with where He now is. It is the gospel of the Man in the glory. This is Paul’s gospel—is it yours?