When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
This is the central message of Jesus’ preaching ministry, the core thing on his heart for people to hear and embrace. Matthew places it right here, right at the beginning of this stage of the story, so we don’t miss it.
If it sounds familiar, it should. This is the very same message (indeed, exactly word for word) that John the Baptist preached as he began his ministry of preparing the way back to the Lord (Matthew 3:2). Do you think all of this was coordinated? Yes, in heaven itself.
“Repent.” Have a change of mind that leads to a change of behaviour. Turn back into alignment with the Lord God.
“The kingdom of heaven is near.” The dynamic rule and reign of the Sovereign Lord is breaking into human experience. It’s near – yes, indeed, right at the very door.
Of course, the one difference in Jesus’ message over against John’s is that now the reality is intensified. Absolutely. That’s because the kingdom comes near in the person of Jesus himself. It’s through his presence and teaching and work (ultimately culminating in the cross) that God’s kingly rule breaks into the world. Jesus is here.The kingdom is breaking in.
But do you notice the setting in which Matthew places this statement? It’s surprising. The“kingdom of heaven” is a profoundly Jewish hope, deeply rooted in the prophetic scriptures, its fulfillment long anticipated by Israel. They knew themselves to be highly favoured, chosen by God for his purposes. And so, with good reason, they yearned for the fullness of God’s reign to be experienced. By them.
Why, then, does Matthew introduce Jesus’ first proclamation of the kingdom by linking it to Isaiah’s prophecy about “Galilee of the Gentiles”?
It’s because this good news is for everyone. Jew and Gentile. Those living in darkness. Those living in the land of the shadow of death. All experience the in-breaking of the kingdom. All have the light of the world himself dawning upon them.
Yes, Jesus is initially sent solely to “the lost sheep of Israel”(Matthew 15:24). But already Matthew has let us see Magi from the ends of the earth bearing him homage, and he will end his account with Jesus’ own voice ringing in our ears: “Go and make disciples of all nations”(Matthew 28:19). The in-breaking kingdom is meant for all.
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.
Lord Jesus, praise you that your light shines on all. Praise you that your kingdom has broken in. I look forward to the day when it comes in all its fullness. In the meantime, may your invitation go out to every person. In your name. Amen.
Rejoice: This good news of the kingdom is for everyone. Take time to give thanks for all you yourself have received as a result. Then, put into the Lord’s hands again all your hopes for future fulfilment. Pray for those who have yet to respond.