Mark 1:14-15; Matthew 4:12-17
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This was the message proclaimed by John the Baptist as he went about the Judean countryside baptizing people and making disciples. After John was put in prison, Jesus himself began proclaiming the exact same message. (Matthew 3:1-2, Matthew 4:17)
“Repent” – The Greek word used here (“metanoeó”) literally means, “to change one’s mind or purpose.” Repentance is not a matter of simply changing one’s behavior – the real change must first start within, inside the heart and the mind, and then the outward change will inevitably follow. Genuine repentance always brings about some sort of behavioral change, which is why John the Baptist warned his listeners that they must “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” saying, “every tree which does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Alarmed by his warning, the people sought him for practical examples of this “fruit:”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)
The advice given to each of these groups was not merely to do good deeds, but to change their mindset. They must surrender worldly ambitions of material gain and be content with what they had; they must be generous and compassionate toward others. Repentance requires that we turn away from ourselves, from our pride and selfish desires, and that we turn toward God and seek the things that God desires; serving him rather than serving ourselves.
“The Kingdom of Heaven” – Called “Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthew and “Kingdom of God” in the other gospels, it is the same kingdom which was foretold in the book of Daniel:
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. (Daniel 2:44)
“Has come near” – The word used for “near” is in verb form – this kingdom of God which was first spoken of so many centuries ago was now very close and advancing still closer as Jesus drew nearer to the cross. But this was not to be a geographical kingdom; it was, and still is, a heavenly kingdom, and the entrance to that kingdom is not through an earthly gate, but through a spiritual one – Jesus Christ himself is the Door to this kingdom.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” – This is the Eternal Gospel (Revelation 14:6) in a nutshell – this is the message of reconciliation, the tidings of great joy, the the good news that God’s kingdom is near and accessible to anyone who is willing to turn away from their selfish attachments to the things of this world and submit themselves to God.
But what does it say? “The message is near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart.” This is the message about faith that we are proclaiming: If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:8-9 ISV)