The Gospel of Jesus and the Gospel of Paul
|4th century fresco of Saint Paul|
Have you ever noticed that the message of Paul in the letters to the churches is somewhat different from the message of Jesus as recorded in the four gospels? Paul focuses on the theme of justification – how a person is declared righteous before God. Jesus on the other hand never mentions justification in his teaching. Paul also focuses on the contrast between law and grace. Jesus really doesn’t deal with that in his teachings. Jesus’ message centers on the coming of the Kingdom of God and the attributes and qualities of life in that Kingdom.
I believe that God in his wisdom gave Jesus and Paul two different messages to proclaim. Jesus was sent to announce the coming Kingdom of God and to offer his life as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Paul was given a different message. God revealed to him the full significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus and he was given the task of proclaiming that message to the Gentiles and planting churches among them.
Paul’s message was that through the death and resurrection of Jesus God had made a way for people to be justified by faith and that they could enjoy the benefits of forgiveness and life in the Spirit through that faith. The message of Jesus was foundational – God’s authority had come to earth in the Person of Jesus and God’s Kingdom was invading every area of human life. Paul’s message was something that added on to that – sort of the house being built on top of the foundation.
Jesus began his ministry in the Galilee region of Israel around 27 AD, proclaiming the good news (gospel) that the Kingdom of God had arrived (Mark 1:15). Jesus was bringing in a new dimension of God’s Presence and power among the people. His ministry was empowered by the Holy Spirit and accompanied by healing the sick and setting people free from demons. (Luke 4:18). He taught in parables and described what the Kingdom of God was like (Matthew 13).
Paul, became a follower of Jesus after Jesus had already ascended to heaven. This was probably around 32 AD. He never met Jesus in the flesh but he had visions of Jesus through the Holy Spirit (Acts 9). Paul traveled to Gentile cities proclaiming that the God of Israel had invited the Gentiles into covenant relationship with Him through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Paul established communities of believers which were called churches. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he lays out the “gospel” or good news that he preached. This good news does not center around the Kingdom, but rather around the theme of justification by faith.
God knew that the Jewish people needed to hear the foundational message about the Kingdom and later the Gentiles and Jews needed to understand why Jesus had to die and what his death and resurrection accomplished for them. I believe that this is why He gave different messages to Jesus and Paul. Of course there is a great deal of overlap between what Jesus taught and what Paul taught. They both emphasized a life of holiness and relationship with God through the Holy Spirit. The main emphasis of their messages was different though - Jesus emphasized the kingdom while Paul emphasized justification.
Today it seems that the Holy Spirit is again emphasizing the message of the Kingdom and what it means to live under the Lordship of Christ. As 21st century followers of Jesus, we need to explore how every human endeavor (e.g. family life, education, media, sports, government, etc) can be brought under the leadership of Jesus and can operate according to his principles.