According to the four Gospel writers, Jesus’ public ministry began with the appearance of John the Baptist, who called for Israel’s leaders and her people to turn from their self-centered ways and toward the God of their forefathers. John’s message was simple and direct: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2).
Have you ever considered what this verse meant to John’s first-century audience? Let’s make a few observations.
First, John called upon his audience to do something: “Repent!” They were to obey this command without delay. Thus the message was relevant for them.
Second, John gave them a reason for this action: “for (because) the kingdom of God is at hand.” He did not say, “The Kingdom of God is 2,000 years away” or “The kingdom is being delayed indefinitely.” Yet, many popular Bible teachers believe the kingdom is entirely in the future. If that were the case, John missed the mark by a county mile and his message had no application for his audience.
So, was John correct or misguided about the kingdom? I will stick with the first option. John called for the people on the banks of the Jordan to repent in order to prepare them for the kingdom’s soon arrival.
Third, John saw no need to explain the phrase “kingdom of God” because Palestinian Jews of his day were already familiar with the term. They had long anticipated the appearance of a God-sent deliverer to defeat Israel’s enemies and usher in a golden age of universal peace over which God would rule. Although there were countless theories how this would occur, every Jew understood the general scheme. In whatever manner it happened, John’s hearers needed to ready themselves, lest they miss out on the kingdom.
Fourth, the words “at hand” means the kingdom was near in terms of time and space. Both ideas are important. Many Jews believed in the imminent arrival of the kingdom (time) and that its advent would occur in their homeland (space). Even our English word “king-dom” conveys these two concepts. A kingdom consists of a king and a domain. The people of God expected that God’s rule was “at hand” in both senses.
[Next, we will discuss Jesus and the Kingdom]. This discussion is based on the book “Heaven on Earth,” which can be purchased at Amazon.com and other retail and online stores