In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1–12 (ESV)
If we ask Christians, in our day, what Jesus primarily preached about – many of our brothers and sisters will miss the fact that the primary content of our Lord’s teaching was the Kingdom of God. But is “Kingdom of God” the most helpful way to render this idea into modern English? Jeffrey Gibbs suggests that we should understand “Kingdom of God” as “Reign of God” as the Gospels are focusing on the breaking in of God’s rule rather than on an institution. He writes:
To announce that “the reign of heaven stands near” was (and is) a verbally based noun. … the God of heaven was going to reign, to act as King, to break into history in judgment against His enemies and in salvation for all who would call upon Him. Modern readers of the NT and of Matthew’s Gospel in particular are plagued, in my view, by the English noun “kingdom” as a translation. It is not that “kingdom” is never an appropriate translation; at times it is. In normal English usage, however, a “kingdom” is a place, a static location, a territory. By contrast, … John’s message (and Jesus’ preaching after him) announces the kingly activity, the reigning, the deeds that God the King is now beginning to do. “The kingly deeds of God stand near! God is beginning to act!” This is the thrust of John’s message.
To announce the nearness of such divine kingly action is to say that the Last Day has begun. That is how the message would have rung in the ears of first-century Jewish listeners. … A first factor is that the OT prophets had proclaimed the days when God would come to judge and to save, and those same prophets had given voice to Israel’s longing for God to descend and act once again: “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make Your name know to Your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at Your presences!” (Isaiah 64:1-2 ESV). The good news hoped for by the prophets can be expressed precisely in terms of God’s royal rule: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him … who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 43
Q. 43. What is the preface to the ten commandments?
A. The preface to the ten commandments is in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.