Keys to the Kingdom
Week 1: Kingdom has Come Near!
Last week we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Basic message? JESUS IS ALIVE!
- Each week we are called to live into the reality that we serve a LIVING God who suffered and died for us so that we may have a REAL, RIGHTEOUS, and ETERNAL RELATIONSHIP with Him!
- Over the next 5 weeks we will be talking about the realities of living as Easter people…citizens of Heaven while we live on earth.
- In short, we are going to be talking about the Kingdom of God and various keys…or attributes…to His kingdom.
Today we’re going to just get an overview of the Kingdom of God as we read one of the first places in the NT where that phrase is used. Look with me at Matthew 4:12-17.
This passage begins Jesus’s earthly ministry. It is preceded by his temptation in the wilderness by the devil. The angels had just attended to him (presumably with nutrition and comfort following 40 days without food).
Jesus’s cousin, who had just baptized Jesus not two months prior, was now in prison. When Jesus learned of it, He withdrew from Nazareth (hometown) to Capernaum in Galilee. Was this because of sadness? fear? troubled spirit?
NO! It is because Jesus’s hour had come! The kingdom of God was now to break in. As John predicted, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). John is Jesus’s harbinger, but NOT his rival. When the sun rises, the moon and stars fade away.
Nazareth—the hometown of Jesus—had rejected him as one who could teach them. So he traveled to the city of Capernaum on the coast line of the lake of Gennesaret (Sea of Tiberius), where they gladly welcomed him.
Why is it that our family and close friendships are the ones who have the hardest time accepting the testimony we have about how God has changed us? It leaves many of us fearful of even sharing Jesus with them. But we MUST! And if they reject us or our testimony, we have Jesus as our example: just move on to tell someone else!
Jesus’s “living” in Capernaum fulfilled what was said through the prophet Isaiah. It’s important to note that Matthew—writing to a largely Jewish audience—organized his material in such a way as to prove that Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish Messianic prophecy.
The first words in Jesus’s first sermon (proclamation) in Capernaum echo throughout the Gospel: “Repent (turn), for the kingdom of heaven (God) has come near (is here).” Matthew says, “From that time on…” implying that Jesus’s consistent, ongoing message to his audiences was two-fold: “God’s kingdom is among you…therefore turn or repent.”
These are the same words preached by John the Baptist. The point is clear: regardless of the bearer, the truth of God’s word remains the same: Repentance is needed by the hearer BECAUSE God’s kingdom has now come!
Jesus could have elaborated on John’s message…he could have deviated from it in some way. Jesus could have offered platitudes and eloquent analogies to tickle the itching ears of his more sophisticated listeners. Maybe some of us this morning would prefer 3 points and a poem…something to make us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in before heading off to lunch. That was NOT Jesus’s message, so I suppose it cannot be mine either.
What does it mean to repent?
The Greek word, μετανοέω, is a compound of two words: meta and noeo.metá, “changed after being with” and noiéō, “think”) – properly, to “think differently after,” (“after a change of mind”). Proverbs 23:7 according to the NASV says this: For as he thinks within himself, so he is.
If I make up my mind that I don’t like you, then my behavior will reflect that…EVEN if I try NOT to let it show. I won’t stay in the same room with you very long. I may avoid phone calls. I may answer your texts in a short and disinterested way. All because I thought within myself, “I don’t like so-and-so.” If I fixate my mind on lustful things…or if I spend an unhealthy time pondering ways to get more material possessions…or keep others from having what I have…then I will become a greedy, selfish, lustful person.
But if I spend more time thinking about what pleases God…if I learn the ways of Jesus and ponder how living that way today might change others around me, then it stands to reason that I will become a more loving, giving, sacrificial, Christ-like person.
The world in which Jesus entered was full of spiritual darkness and theological confusion. Not only were many religions practiced in 1st century Palestine, but even Judaism in which Jesus was born and raised had different ideas about God’s kingdom. Into this world Jesus came to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Following Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples—and even to 500 at one time!—over the course of many days. Luke 24 records Jesus’s encounter with the two on the road to Emmaus, and then his appearance to the disciples. In that exchange, Jesus is trying to prove to them that He is the resurrected Messiah. This is what he says, 45“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Simply put, we cannot have a Christian life without repentance. We cannot live in God’s kingdom without repentance…without a change of mind after an encounter with the resurrected Christ.
Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” What is the kingdom of heaven (God)?
The word used here (and just about everywhere when talking about the kingdom) isΒασιλεία = kingdom, sovereignty, royal power. When referring to God’s kingdom, it has to do with God’s sovereign rule both in the world and in the hearts of people.
Matthew uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of kingdom of God,” but these are interchangeable. Jewish audiences would have more readily used the phrase “malkuth shamayim,” (in Greek it’s βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν) which is “kingdom of heaven.” Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience preserved this phrase. But Mark and Luke used “kingdom of God” to be certain that their Greek speaking, non-Jewish hearers would understand its meaning.
A parallel passage to Matthew 4:17 is found in Mark 1:14-15à After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Believe the “GOOD NEWS.” Notice how Mark begins his Gospel by calling his account “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”
“Has Come Near”
Here’s where this “kingdom of God” language gets a little tricky. Has it come now? Or has it come NEAR. Has it already occurred or is it yet to occur? Is it history or is it futuristic? The answer is…YES! The more accurate translation of this passage is that “the kingdom of heaven (God) has come near.” That is to say, the reign and rule of God is imminent. It is closer now than ever before.
The kingdom of God has always existed, but in its fulness it is also yet in the future. To be sure, the kingdom of God entered the world in a new and more complete way with the coming of Jesus the King, but it will be fully experienced at His Second Coming, when at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father! (Phil 2:10)
That’s why we are told to be ready…to watch and pray. The fullness of God’s Kingdom is closer today than yesterday! In Rev 11:5, after the 7th angel sounded the 7th trumpet, loud voices called out of heaven, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ!”
Jesus’s apparent conception of the divine kingdom was not the popular conception of some cataclysmic outward triumph over all that was evil—especially the Roman Empire—but was the RULE OF GOD IN PEOPLE’S HEARTS! It’s not about ONE WORLD ORDER or even ONE NATION UNDER GOD…though that is certainly worth striving for. IT’S ABOUT GOD’S RULE IN THE HEARTS OF EVERY CITIZEN OF NEW JERUSALEM AT THE LAST DAY.
And that has implications for us today until that day comes. God wants to reign and rule in the lives of His children. That’s the new reality Jesus was ushering in as He began his ministry. And as we will see in future weeks, Jesus will both explain and demonstrate what this reign and rule of God in our hearts looks like. Are you ready? Do you want to be? “Come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.”