In his relatively short (3+ years) “public” ministry, Jesus’ first word of exhortation or was “repent.” This repentance is the essential and only starting point to inheriting the Kingdom of God and knowing God today. Therefore it is VITAL to understand what repentance is and what Jesus was saying. Repentance is very different from what Christianity has made it.
(Matthew 4:17): From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In the gospel of Mark, this command is recorded slightly differently, as: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God* is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” If we combine the accounts of Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ first declaration was, essentially: “Repent and believe the good news, for the kingdom of God/heaven is at hand.” The “what” he was telling those who would listen to do was to “repent” first of all, and jointly to “believe” the gospel (i.e. “good news”). The “why” is that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
(*As a slight rabbit-trail; attentive readers may notice that one author records Jesus announcing the “Kingdom of God” and one the “Kingdom of Heaven.” The phrase “Kingdom of God” always refers to God’s rule on earth, which is the only place He is not yet fully acknowledged as King. When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, then the Kingdom of God has come to earth in that space. In distinction, the “Kingdom of Heaven” refers to the spiritual realm, in fact, the word “spirit” means wind/breath, and the word “heaven” literally means the realm of the air, sky, and beyond. This realm is invisible to and inaccessible to flesh, and in this realm God is already acknowledged and obeyed as King. It’s a distinct realm from the physical. Jesus dwelt and walked in the kingdom of heaven, and brought it with him to earth in order to bring the kingdom of God to earth).
“Repent” in this case is the Greek word “metanoeo.” This word is a simple combination of two Greek words: meta and noeo. Meta has a variety of meaning, but usually means “after,” and sometimes “with.” Noeo means to perceive, to understand, to consider, to think, to ponder, etc., and carries with it the idea of a mind or mindset that uses uses deep, perceptive understanding. Therefore, to “repent” means essentially to “reconsider and begin to think with deeper perception and understanding.” It has to do with the mind and thoughts. Now, if actions are an outward expression of what first goes on in the mind, then repentance (a change of mind) may well result in a change of ones actions or lifestyle. A change in behavior or sorrow for wrongdoing are only legitimate before God as a PRODUCT of repentance. One could have repentance without a noticeable change in behavior, and one could make a radical change in behavior, for the better, without repentance. This is a big difference.
“At hand” essentially means is near, is present, has arrived and is accessible, touchable. Jesus was saying that in and through him, the kingdom of heaven was near and the Kingdom of God had come to earth and was going to be declared and made known and accessible. Therefore, a fuller translation or meaning of Jesus’ first declaration could be: “Reconsider your old understandings and mindsets and begin to think with deeper perception and understanding, believing the good news that I will be declaring, because in and through me the kingdom and reign of the heavenly realms has come near you and is accessible.“ The “good news” we are to believe can only be believed AFTER we repent. This good news (which is only really good to the spiritual) is the freedom we have through Jesus Christ and the inheritance of the Kingdom of God as His sons that Jesus made possible for us. This post will be focusing on repentance, but more on the “good news” soon, perhaps.
In one place, Paul summed up his ministry as: (Acts 20) 21 Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- (2 Timothy 2) 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil…
- (Hebrews 6) 1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…
- (Matthew 3, Darby) 7 But seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of vipers, who has forewarned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce therefore fruit worthy of repentance.”
Christianity, in it’s fear-based, self-preserving and self-focused relationship to God, has twisted the true meaning of “repentance” into being sorrowful for wrongdoing and into permanently reforming behavior, which it IS NOT. Religion is based on fear, particularly fear of judgment and lack. If this self-preserving fear is present, no matter how covered and deeply buried or repressed, true knowledge of God is absent. God is love, and there is no fear in love or love in fear. This doesn’t mean we are unaccountable, it means we are free. This is another issue I hope to discuss later.
The Kingdom of Heaven was NOT “at hand” prior to Jesus Christ. Jesus’ declaration makes no sense if it already was, for one thing. Before Christ came, the relationship with God presented to man was that of law, i.e. rules and regulations, which enabled sin. Therefore, at the very outset of Jesus’ resurrection, the apostles of Jesus Christ, understanding the vast change in relation to God that occurred through Christ, labored to convince and prove to a law-minded people that relating to God via “law” was worthless, outdated, and undesirable to God. It is actually dangerous, because it prevents one from rightly knowing or properly relating to God at all.
The religion of Christianity in our day also typically relates to God based on law, thought it has been repackaged in modern wrapping; therefore many of the writings and exhortations which the first apostles gave people in their day still apply to us. The initial “repentance” that is needed is a switch from a law-based servant mindset toward God to a deeper perception of a son in a kingdom who is to inherit this kingdom – it’s essentially a change from religion to a relationship of son to Father. Jesus embodied, taught, and then paved the way for this change at the cross.