The other day someone said, “The gospel is prosperity.” By that they meant that the good news is wealth for believers. In other words, as believers we should have things and lack nothing. He can be called an advocate of what has been dubbed prosperity preaching or the prosperity gospel. The type of teaching you find in abundance on popular Christian television networks.
Now a couple of weeks back I gave a definition of the gospel that I think sums up what Scripture says about it, namely that the King is coming into his kingdom through the sinless life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection of the Messiah. But lets dig a little deeper into the idea that the good news is prosperity. In a sense, I can agree with that, but it depends on a very simple yet specific definition of what prosperity is.
Way back when, Latin speakers used the word prosperus to mean “doing well.” I can agree with that. The good news is about “doing well.” In fact, after Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness his Father spoke from heaven as the Spirit descended upon him and he said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Jesus was “doing well” and yet this had everything to do with his obedience and nothing to do with his possessions.
Repeatedly throughout the Gospels we read that Jesus came not to do his own will but the will of his Father who sent him; his food (read: that which sustains him) was to do the will of the Father; he identified his brothers and sisters as those who do the will of his Father; to his Father he said, “let not my will be done, but yours;” so on and so forth. Jesus did well by doing his Dad’s will.
We also read that birds of the air have nests and foxes have holes but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. We read that Jesus’ ministry was supported by certain female benefactors. We read that Jesus’ crew didn’t have the funds to feed large crowds who gathered to hear him speak. In short, Jesus’ prosperity wasn’t affluence, wealth, opulence, and luxury, which are the things that most readily come to mind when we hear the word.
But to this point notice that I’ve been defining prosperity not only as doing well, but as Jesus doing well. The point being that the good news for us is good news about him! Modern prosperity preaching has us as the subject of the good news and if that’s the case then we’re of all men most miserable! Mark begins his Gospel by saying, “Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ.”
Pardon the foreign tongue but that τοῦ εὐαγγελίου (the gospel/good news) is quite significant. It can be translated in a few different ways. We have here a string of genitives in the Greek text but the genitive case in Greek is quite diverse. This could be an objective genitive whereby Mark means to tell us that this good news is “about” Jesus (see the 2011 NIV translation) or it could be a subjective genitive in which case it would refer to the good news that Jesus himself proclaimed.
The ambiguity is actually very meaningful since Jesus proclaimed the good news about the kingdom, that news being that it’s King was coming. Jesus is that King! In other words, the good news about the kingdom is good news about Jesus himself! In turn that is good news for us! But we are never the focus. We are simply recipients of God’s gift; a gift that transcends any material comfort; a gift that outshines any social status. We are the beneficiaries of the Son’s obedience to the Father’s will. That’s prosperity.