In the previous post I argued that in the New Testament the propositional content of the “gospel” is not that Jesus died for anyone’s sins but that Jesus, having been wrongfully executed, has been raised from the dead in vindication and seated at the right hand of God to exercise the delegated rule of God. In other words, it is a kingdom or “political” gospel rather than a salvation gospel. This is the message which the apostles proclaim first to Israel, then to the nations of the Geek-Roman oikoumenē. That Jesus’ suffering and death made salvation possible—first for the Jew, then, in a rather different way, for the Greek—is part of the process, part of the story that is being told. But it is not the thing that is proclaimed as “good news”. In a comment, however, Mickey asked about this passage from 2 Corinthians:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:14-20)
Surely this means that the gospel includes the claim that Jesus died so that people might be reconciled to God? I don’t think so.
The first point to stress is that the argument about reconciliation in this passage is directed not at non-believers but at the church in Corinth, which has become in some measure alienated from Paul. He appeals to believers to be reconciled with God (5:20). It is in this sense that he and Timothy are “ambassadors for Christ”. Their task is to “negotiate” (presbeuomen) with the Corinthians in the hope of bringing them back into a right relationship with God for the sake of Christ.
The basis for the appeal is that God was in Christ “reconciling a world to himself”. Oddly, there is no definite article with kosmon, and I am inclined to think that Paul means that a “new creation” people has been reconciled to the Creator through Christ—the old things have gone, the sins of God’s people are no longer counted against them, new things have come into being, they are a new “world” reconciled to God.
The other statement about Christ is that because one has died, all have died (5:14-15). This has nothing to do with salvation. It has to do with the nature of the apostles’ ministry. It explains why Paul and Timothy appear much less impressive in “outward appearance” than the boastful “super-apostles” (5:12; 11:5): they are convinced that the only way to serve Christ is to die with him to the world, to carry in the body in quite literal ways the “dying of Jesus” (4:7-12). The outcome is that they no longer need to live for themselves “but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (5:15).
So I would argue that the theme of Christ dying so that a people might be reconciled to God is not the “gospel”. The gospel isn’t really at issue here—the word is not mentioned. But it is hinted at, I think, in 5:15 in the reference to Jesus’ resurrection. What Paul is saying is: be reconciled to God through the ministry of the suffering apostles for the sake of the gospel—that is, for the sake of your witness to the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for Jew and Greek.
This argument seems to me to be confirmed by the one passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul does give some indication of what he means by “gospel”:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor. 4:3–5)
The content of the gospel is not the death of Jesus but the “glory of Christ”. It is that Christ has been glorified by his resurrection from the dead and exaltation to the right hand of God, where he has received authority to judge and rule. The apostles are “servants”, jars of clay; Christ has died for them so that they can die to the world and live for his sake; and on that basis they proclaim the gospel to Jews and to the Greeks, which is “Jesus Christ as Lord”.
So this passage is not about the content of the gospel. It is about how the gospel is proclaimed, how it is represented and lived out by the communities which have come to believe it, and how the apostles must hold these communities accountable.
My purpose in pushing this line of thought is not to diminish the importance of the death of Jesus for the salvation of God’s new creation people. It is to recover the priority of the New Testament argument about kingdom—and then to ask whether today we have not become so obsessed with personal salvation—in some quarters at least—that we have completely lost sight of the political significance the central claim of the New Testament that God has given his Son the authority to rule at his right hand.