In gospel presentations today, Christ is often reduced to a mere name, personal identifier, or alternative way of referring to Jesus. “In Christ alone,” and the like, is the language we find in our songs and theology textbooks. To most Christians, Christ is equivalent to Jesus.
Christ is a title. But to treat Jesus and Christ as equivalent terms is a huge mistake.
On the one hand, it is true to say, “Jesus saves” and “Christ saves.” Likewise, one could truly say, “Matt teaches” and “the professor teaches” because that accurately reflects my job title. But Matt does not mean the same thing as professor. Christ is comparable to His Majesty if we’re describing an English king. It is a special title designed to bring renown. Christ is the title for the universally significant Davidic king.
Failure to treat the Christ as a title is one of the reasons why kingship has been missing from the gospel.
Forgiveness without kingship? Our haste to get what we so badly need causes us to misunderstand how forgiveness is available. What is foremost in our minds when we consider the gospel is a transaction at the cross: Jesus is Savior, Redeemer, atoning sacrifice, and Lamb of God. Perhaps he has some vague authority too as Lord.
We fail to see that forgiveness flows not just through a person, but through a person in his official capacity as king—crucified, raised, and reigning. While serving as king at God’s right hand, he is also the high priest and the sacrificial offering that covers our sins. As will become clear, Jesus’ forgiving power cannot be separated from his royal authority as head of a new creation.
Although the foundational summary of the gospel in Scripture is “Jesus is the Christ,” the most famous is 1 Corinthians 15:3–5. “The gospel” (vv. 1–2) Paul received and passed along faithfully to the Corinthians is:
That the Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he has been raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the Twelve. (vv. 3–5, author’s translation)
Notice that forgiveness flows through kingship. Paul says nothing here about “Jesus.” Instead, he speaks about the Christ’s death for our sins. By mentioning the Christ rather than Jesus, Paul stresses that kingship is the vessel through which forgiveness flows.
Second, the King helps a whole bunch of people. Just as we short-circuit kingship in our haste to find personal forgiveness, we can easily miss how the King’s actions are group-oriented.
Paul says nothing about how you, I, or any other individual becomes right with God in this gospel summary. Rather, the king died for “our” sins. It’s about what the Messiah has done for his entire people. Don’t misunderstand. Benefits, like forgiveness of sins, that attend Jesus’ kingship can be yours personally. But they are group-first benefits. Forgiveness belongs to individuals—you and me—only when we become part of the King’s people.
Third, resurrection is gospel too. The Christ was raised on the third day. The validity of the King’s death and resurrection was made doubly certain by God. For his death and resurrection were attested not only by Scripture (anticipated in the Old Testament) but also by historical occurrences.
As part of the gospel, the Christ’s death was confirmed by his burial and his resurrection by post-resurrection appearances to witnesses. The gospel includes the king’s death for our sins, burial, resurrection on the third day, and appearances as historical events.
In the two following passages, Paul offers gospel summaries. What are some emphases?
The gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. This gospel concerns his Son, who came into being by means of the seed of David as it pertains to the flesh, who was appointed Son-of-God-in-Power as it pertains to the Spirit of Holiness by means of the resurrection from among the dead ones, Jesus the Christ our Lord. (Rom. 1:2–4, AT)
Remember Jesus the Christ, raised from among the dead ones, of the seed of David, according to my gospel. (2 Tim. 2:8, AT)
Both gospel summaries focus on Jesus as the royal Christ (or Messiah), his Davidic lineage, and his resurrection.
Concerning resurrection, there is something curious in both passages. They emphasize the king’s resurrection not from his personal state of death (although he was personally dead), but from among those who were also dead. In the original Greek, the phrase ek nekrōn (“from among the dead ones”) indicates that the dead King was with other dead people.
Here’s the point: If God raised him, he will raise others who are like him, too. The King’s resurrection from the dead is the first fruit, but a full harvest of additional resurrections will happen for all the King’s people (1 Cor. 15:20–22). King Jesus’ resurrection is good news because it anticipates the resurrection of all those united to him through his death.
Let me offer a few more words about Romans 1:2–4 as a gospel summary. Paul takes a cosmic perspective. The Son took on human flesh, fulfilling God’s promises to David. But God had a grander scheme.
After the Son’s death, his resurrection triggered his elevation to a new ruling office. The Son became the Son-of-God-in-Power. He has always been the divine King. But the Son has not always been a human king. Now he is the divine and human King, ruling creation powerfully.
Since Jesus’ reign in power pertains to the Spirit of holiness, his kingship is especially operative wherever the Holy Spirit is present. The Son’s incarnation and enthronement are gospel.
Matthew Bates is associate professor of theology at Quincy University. This essay was excerpted from his latest book, The Gospel Precisely. Published with permission from Renew.
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