“Gospel” is a violent term.  It is a term of salvation, yes… but also of destruction.  The Gospel announces the arrival of Jesus as Lord.  This arrival comes with the dual role of saving and destroying, for although “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Lk 19.10), He also came “to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8).

I am preaching on “The Kingdom of God: Signs, Wonders, & ‘Spiritual Warfare'” at UCF.  My approach is to address a host of sticky, controversial issues (usually confined to more charismatic/Pentecostal circles) and situate them in their proper biblical context of the coming of God’s Kingdom.  Unfortunately, much discourse in “pop-Christianity” on the dramatic, supernatural elements of the New Testament is premised on personal mystical experiences and a sleuth of Scriptural prooftexts.  It is also unfortunate that when non-charismatic Christians discern glimmers of biblical irresponsibility in these approaches, they often dismiss the supernatural and the numinous altogether.  I think a careful study of the coming of God’s Kingdom (or, dominion, or reign) would help clear the murky waters a bit.

While preaching on “cosmic conflict” (I prefer that phrase in order to avoid certain associations that come along with “spiritual warfare”), I emphasized the violence of the Gospel.  In the Synoptics, the “Gospel” is the royal pronouncement of God’s divine reign, with the accompanying connotations of what that means from Israel’s prophets.  Isaiah 40-66 is especially important for understanding “Gospel” and the in-breaking divine reign of YHWH, a reign associated with a Day—the Day, the Day of YHWH.

In the LXX (Septuagint) 52.7, the announcement of God’s reign is figuratively portrayed by way of a military image, an image with which Israel would have been familiar (see esp. the battle scenes throughout 2 Samuel).  This is the image of the runner sent from the field of battle to make the announcement to his people (surely through heaving breath and with a pounding heart) that their king had won and that their enemy had been defeated.  The Greek verb used in Isaiah 52.7 (cf. Isa 40.9) is a participial form of euangelizo, the verb from which we get the noun “evangel” and the adjective “evangelical.”  The Greek derivative noun is euangelion, the word we translate into English as “Gospel.”  All four Gospels ground their presentation of Jesus’ ministry in Isaiah 40-66 (“…prepare the way of the Lord…”—Isa 40.3).  So the Gospel, the royal pronouncement of God’s in-breaking reign through Jesus, is a violent term.

Our salvation is from more than just personal sins.  In Scripture, “sin” can refer to an act of disobedience (I like to use the word “treason” or “mutiny” to emphasize that sin is an offensive attack on God’s Kingship). But “Sin” can also refer to a sinister power or force.  Its colleagues in destruction throughout the Bible can be Death, Chaos, Disease, and the Devil.  So our salvation is from our personal sinfulness, but also from these draconian forces arrayed against God and the beauty and goodness of His Creation.  The Gospel is violent because it announces the coming of God’s reign, and the coming of God’s reign is an assault on other reigns.

I must be clear, however, that the Gospel does not promote physical violence!  Gospel-violence is directed toward cosmic forces of evil.  As we find in Ephesians 6:12, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  Jesus never takes up the sword.  He never hits anyone.  Instead, He engages in fierce combat with the supernatural forces that have promoted violence as a way of life among humankind. In his masterful commentary on Mark, Joel Marcus uses the phrase “holy war” to describe Jesus’ programmatic enactment of God’s dominion [1].

So the Gospel is the “power of God for salvation” (Rom 1.16).  But this salvation is both a salvation to, and a salvation from—we are saved to new creation life, but saved from old age powers.  And our final deliverance will come when death, the last enemy to be defeated, is crushed by the exalted Christ (1 Cor 15.26), the One who will also oversee from the divine throne the binding and eternal imprisonment of the evil one (Rev).  Praise God for the eschatological violence of the Gospel.

[1] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (The Anchor Bible, 27; Doubleday: New York, 2000), 72.

2 thoughts on “The Gospel is Violent (but let me explain…)

  1. Hi Andy,

    The Gospel is the proclamation of God’s reign, and with Jesus’ death and resurrection the battle against evil was won. What’s going on right now in the “cosmic conflict”? I remember at UCF you talked a lot about how we are living in the “overarching of the times.” (Hopefully I got that right.) What did you mean by that again? I know we’ve covered this in UCF before, but I left my notes in Birmingham!

    I hope everything is well with you and Miranda and your cute children! I miss you guys at UCF. 🙂

    -Steph

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