We are made to love, worship and reflect God’s glory. But how do we know God? We can only discover who the true God is by looking at Jesus Christ. John tells us that no one has seen God except God the son and it is him who makes God known (John 1:18). The challenge here for us however is that Jesus lived in 1st century Palestine over 2000 years ago. Ho w can we know him? We know him through the four Canonical Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In order to properly understand Jesus however, we need to understand his first century world.
With the knowledge of 1st Jewish world in mind, What did Jesus mean when he said to his hearers, “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand? (Matt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15). The Kingdom of heaven (as referred to in matthew) or the kingdom as God does not refer to some final resting place after this life is over, it is rather the rule of heaven, being embodied in the here and now. This is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
The Jews of Jesus’ day knew that they were the chosen people of God but their here and now reality contradicted that knowledge. They were facing a theological crisis since a pagan destroyed their temple in 587 B.C.E. Could you imagine a pagan destroying the Holy of Holies? I would say that in some similar ways some of us Christians living in this world today, believe that as God’s people we should have it all good. We are supposed to live peaceful lives, in good relationships with each other with our families, neighbors etc and we are supposed to enjoy life after all some of us came to faith in Jesus because someone somewhere told us that when we come to Jesus our lives would be changed and we will live in prosperity and peace.
The question for the Jews living in the first century Palestine was how God’s reign of peace and justice to come about? Several options that were apparently available for them to bring about God’s reign have been named:
–Realism option-This is the compromise option embraced by Herod and the Sadducees the world as it is and participate in its ways in hopes that God will validate our effort. Accept the world as it is.
–The separation option– This option chose separation from the world in order to wait for God to act. This is the group that the group that wrote the Dead Sea scrolls. We can choose to separate ourselves from the wicked world and regard ourselves as pure. Withdraw from the world and be pure.
–The zealot optionn- Rome only understood the language of violence therefore employs violence to defend ourselves and God will make you victorious over the forces of evil.
Proper religious option-This was presented by the Pharisees, observe rules and regulations.
But Jesus brought a different model and hence his call to, repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. Out of Jesus’ deep awareness, in loving faith and prayer, of the one he called “Abba, Father,” he went back to Israel’s Scriptures and found there another kingdom-model, equally Jewish if not more so. And it is that model that he calls the church to. He said the kingdom of God is at hand. In Jesus God was bringing about his justice and mercy to Israel and to the world. What Jesus was to his people, the church ought to be to the world.
The church ought to call the world to repent from the various options we are pursuing today. The word repentance has come to mean simply feel sorry for your sins and do something about it, although repentance constitute feeling sorry for sin and turning from it, when Jesus told his audience to repent, He was telling them to give up their agendas and trust him and his way of bringing about the reign of God. As Jesus’ followers, we should be for the world what Jesus was for Israel.
The implication is, instead of putting our trust on stuff or gifts, jobs, abilities, good looks, military might, economic superiority etc, or on people or political parties, Jesus calls his followers to turn and trust the good news that in and through him God is doing something to renew the creation. This way of accomplishing God’s will as we seen in Jesus’ life and ministry leading to the cross is costly it appears even foolish (1 Cor. 3:18). It is a way that proposes enemy love instead of killing enemies, it proposes overcoming evil with good instead of evil with evil. It feeds the hungry and heals the sick etc It is a whole new way of being humans not to mention being followers of Jesus and hence citizens of God’s kingdom. Let us embrace this messenger and his embodied message in his entire story, life, teachings, death, resurrection and the promise to come again to accomplish all things!