In short, the Kerygma is the gospel.
The Greek word kerygma describes what was a well-known practice in the ancient world. When a king wanted to publicize his decrees throughout his realm, he would send a kerux, what we know in English as a town crier or herald. Often a trusted advisor or confidant of the king, the kerux or herald would travel throughout the empire announcing the kerygma–the news the king wanted delivered. This was especially important in the context of war. When the king’s army won a great battle thereby conquering new territory, the herald would travel within the newly acquire regions announcing the victory and proclaiming the order of the newly expanded kingdom.
In Mark 1, as he is launching his earthly ministry, Jesus himself takes on this role. Verses 14-15: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” He announced the coming of a new kingdom and explained what it took to live in it: repentance and faith.
The New Testament apostles quickly adopted this imagery and language to describe their roles as heralds traveling through the earthly realm announcing the arrival and victory of King Jesus and explaining the order of his kingdom. They were declaring a kerygma–a proclamation they were called to deliver to the world. The essence of this proclamation is the good news (euangelion). It is the announcement that the time all of history was waiting for had come; the king had arrived; and through his death, resurrection and exaltation, he had won the victory and was enforcing his kingdom. This message animated the early church. It drove Paul and the other apostles to risk–and ultimately give up–their lives for just another opportunity to make the announcement.
Over the years, the Kerygma became the designation for the essential, irreducible elements of the apostolic gospel of the New Testament church. In it’s most basic form it contains five elements. The Kerygma is the declaration that:
- The coming of Jesus Christ fulfills all the promises of history and inaugurates the kingdom of God on earth;
- Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection accomplishes the forgiveness of sin;
- From his exalted position as ascended Messiah, Jesus rules all things;
- The presence of the Holy Spirit signifies his present reign and empowers believers to fulfill their destiny as image-bearers; and
- This declaration demands a response of repentance and complete trust.
When the apostles preached the kerygma they were not just telling about Jesus, his teachings, and his miracles. He was present in their preaching, and thus those who heard them would either embrace him or reject him. To some it would be scandalous. To others it would be foolish. But to those who could hear, it was supernatural power and divine wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:21-25). Paul refused to let traditional oratory or human persuasion get in the way of the message. He wanted the fruit of the proclamation to be personal faith rather than understanding or applause.
We are under mandate to announce what God has done in Christ with all its ramifications. We are also under constraint to accurately proclaim and practice nothing beyond and nothing short of his gospel. If we just preach about him or his teachings, we fail. We must present him. In the power of the Spirit, we expect his word to accomplish what it always does when it goes forth. The miracles that accompany his word will affirm that he is still proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God.