John the Baptist called upon Jews of his day to abandon their self-centered ways and turn toward the God of their forefathers. He cried out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). Here we discover a command to obey and a reason to obey it.
Command. John did not request that his audience to repent. He ordered them to do it and expected an immediate response. This shows that the gospel of kingdom was relevant to his generation.
Reason. The word “for” offers the motivation for the requested action: “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He did not say the kingdom was 2000+ years away. Many Bible teachers believe the kingdom is entirely in the future and will not arrive until the Lord’s return. Others believe it was offered to Israel, but delayed when they refused to repent. Who is right—John the Baptist or the theologians? If the latter, John missed the mark by a country mile because he said “the kingdom is at hand.”
The words “at hand” can refer to time and/or space. The Jews expected the kingdom’s soon arrival (time). They also believed that the kingdom or reign of God would be set up in their homeland (space).
As the English word “kingdom” (translated from the Greek basileia) indicates, a kingdom is composed of a king and a domain. It is a political entity. The Jews were hoping for God to free them from Roman rule and set up his kingdom in Israel.
After John’s death, Jesus came to Galilee and announced, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14). Both John and Jesus preached the same message with one exception. Jesus added, “The time is fulfilled.” The kingdom was not only close by. The time was up! A new day was dawning.
Tomorrow we will discover what Jesus meant by the words, “The time is fulfilled.”[For an in-depth study of the kingdom of God, read “Heaven on earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now.” Available at: www.amazon.com/Heaven-Earth-Experiencing-Kingdom-Here/dp/0736949143 (you can download as an ebook and start reading immediately).