The Kingdom of God has come near
Jesus began his public ministry with an announcement that initially thrilled the people of Judea but later frustrated them. He proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near!”
To a people who lived under the domination of an unwanted foreign army, and who lived on stories of David’s great conquests and Solomon’s wonderful kingdom, an announcement that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near brought to their hearts the prophets’ promise that God would restore the nation of Israel. But during the course of Jesus’ ministry, excitement over Jesus bringing in such a kingdom began to deteriorate.
Philip Yancey remarks, “Zealots stood at the edge of Jesus’ audience, armed and well-organized guerrillas spoiling for a fight against Rome, but to their consternation, the signal for revolt never came. In time, Jesus’ pattern of behavior disappointed all who sought a leader in the traditional mold. He tended to flee from, rather than cater to, large groups. He insulted the memory of Israel’s glory days, comparing King Solomon to a common day lily. The one time a crowd tried to crown him king by force, he mysteriously withdrew. And when Peter finally did wield a sword on his behalf, Jesus healed the victim’s wounds.
“To the crowds’ dismay, it became clear that Jesus was talking about a strangely different kind of kingdom. The Jews wanted what people have always wanted from a visible kingdom: a chicken in every pot, full employment, a strong army to deter invaders. Jesus announced a kingdom that meant denying yourself, taking up a cross, renouncing wealth, even loving your enemies. As he elaborated, the crowd’s expectations crumbled….
“The word kingdom meant one thing to Jesus and quite another to the crowd. Jesus was rejected, in large part, because he did not measure up to a national image of what a Messiah was supposed to look like.” (The Jesus I Never Knew, p. 241-242)
What did Jesus have in mind when he proclaimed that “the kingdom of God has come near”?
The Aramaic word for “kingdom,” malkut, refers not so much to a geographical area or to the people inhabiting such a realm as to the activity of the king himself. “Kingdom” in Aramaic has more to do with the king’s exercise of sovereign power.
By declaring that “the kingdom of God has come near,” Jesus was declaring that the king had arrived in Palestine and that his rule and his ways were about to be revealed. Jesus went about exerting his authority over evil and over the brokenness of this world, and he went about revealing his ways of grace and compassion and goodness.
Since Jesus came to assert his authority and his ways in this world, the word that followed the announcement of the arriving kingdom was naturally the command to repent, to turn from the way in which we had been going to the way in which the King is going.
William Barclay writes, “‘Repent!’ he said. ‘Turn from your own ways, and turn to God…. Reverse your direction, and stop walking away from God and begin walking towards God.’ That command had become urgently necessary because the reign of God was about to begin. Eternity had invaded time; God had invaded earth in Jesus Christ, and therefore it was of paramount importance that a person should choose the right side and the right direction.” (Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, p. 76)
Wherever the king establishes his reign, his ways are to be followed. If King Jesus has established his reign in our soul, we should repent of going our own way so as to follow his way of love, compassion, goodness and faith.