Thursday, January 26, 2012


For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:28-29).

The words “it seemed good” should not be taken as opinion, but it is language of a formal decree.[1] This decree is significant in that:

  • This decree is divinely sanctioned. Note it is not just the formal decree of men, but of God the Holy Spirit.
  • That “no greater burden” be placed upon the Gentiles; meaning circumcision and the Law. The Greek is stronger than the English translation, it is a present infinitive, thus indicating now and in the future there will be no greater burden placed upon you.
  • What are conveyed to the Gentiles are the essentials. These are not mere suggestions. The Greek word is epanagkes meaning necessary things and carries the idea of compulsory things. The Greek word is found in the N.T. only here. It is necessary not only in sensibility to the Jews, but to the worship of God; to prevent offending Him.[2] It is the avoidance of idolatry and immorality, especially in reference to pagan ritual and religious practices. They are to abstain (apechesthai) from things sacrificed to idols, blood, strangled meats, and fornication. We see the fourfold repeated use of the word “from,” a genitive of separation. The prohibitions speak of sanctification, not salvation.
  • These will have a unifying benefit. “The idea seems to be that keeping the prohibitions would be spiritually and relationally beneficial. By keeping the prohibitions, Gentile believers would be in harmony with the Holy Spirit, the Jerusalem church and other Jewish believers.”[3] They would not offend God or the Jews if they keep these prohibitions, thus keeping the door of evangelism open to the unbelieving Jews.
[For a very good article on the decree see: “A Reexamination of the Prohibitions in Acts 15” by Charles H. Savelle, BIBLIOTHECA SACRA, October-December 2004].

[1]  Witherington, ACTS, 469.
[2]  Bock, ACTS, 513.
[3]  Sevelle, "Reexamination..." 467.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hebrews 1:1-4

I was reading from Hebrews 1 today. Hebrews opens unlike any other letter or epistle. There is no prologue, or greeting of any type. It opens with a declaration, a statement of fact. This declaration is one long sentence in the Greek (1:1-4).  The structure of the sentence:

                                          In the prophets               

                                          To the fathers

  Long ago in various ways and portions
God / has spoken
                          In these last days                              
                                          To us
                                                  In His Son
                                                                | whom he appointed heir
                                                                | through whom He made the world (ages)
                                                         | He is the radiance of His glory
                                                                | the exact representation of His nature
                                                                | upholds all things by the word of his power
                                                         | He had made purification of sins
                                                                | sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high
                                                                               Having become better than the angels
                                                                | He has inherited a more excellent name
                                                                                 than they (angels)

Three things struck me about this passage and I was reading and diagramming it. First, God has spoken. This is the subject and verb of the sentence. Speaking is the action of God. This speaking is clearly progressive. Note how some of the phrases parallel each other in the passage.

                        In the prophets                                                In the son

                        To the fathers                                     To us (Hebrews)

                        Long ago…                                         In these last days

Second, this speaking was to the Hebrews. In old days God spoke by various means through the prophets, and in these last days in the person of the Son. The Greek text reads more literally, “In the last days of these” or at the end of these days. The word these refers back to the prophets. At the end of the Old Testament prophets God spoke in His Son. Remember, Jesus lived in the Old Testament time. I believe it is a reference to the Son’s incarnation. Both phrases speak of when God spoke to the Hebrews. One was in an imperfect fashion (various ways and manners), the other is in a perfect fashion (in His Son).

Third, God is speaking through His Son Who is the superior revelation. The author makes that clear by listing the characteristics of the Son that makes Him superior.

Jesus Christ is the center of God’s revelation, the living Word.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


A Study of Matthew 3:1-12 (continued).

d. The reasons for repentance (3:10-12)

Matthew now emphasizes the reasons for repentance. He gives three clear-cut reasons.

  1. Judgment is at hand (3:10).
Divine judgment will precede the establishment of the kingdom on earth. This is well established in the Old Testament (Isa. 1:27; 4:4; 5:16; 13:6-19; 42:1; Jer. 33:14-16; Dan. 7:27-27). John now announces that this judgment was forthcoming, for if the kingdom is at hand so must be its preceding judgments. Those who do not repent are in a serious position. The axe is at the root of the trees. Those who do not bring forth fruit will be hewn down and cast into the fire. (Picking up the imagery of verse 8).  The axe “is a symbol of destruction, and lying at the root of the trees paints a grim picture of impending doom.” [France, MATTHEW, 60] It is a prophetic image of judgment (Isa. 10:15). It is noteworthy the word choice made by John. He refers to trees in addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees, the leaders of the nation, for leaders were sometimes compared to trees (Judges 9:7-16; Dan. 4:20-22). The same judgment that fell upon the nations (Isa. 10:33-34, Ezek 31; Dan. 4:14) is about to fall upon the nation (Israel). John is giving a clear warning to the leaders of the nation that judgment is a hand. They need to repent and bring forth the good fruit of repentance. Failure to do so will lead to destruction.

  1. The coming baptism work of Christ (3:11)

John here makes a comparison between his baptism with water and the baptism that Christ will perform. The two are not the same. He indeed baptized with water unto repentance. However, he points out that the one that is coming also has a work of baptism to perform. The coming one’s work is superior to his baptism, for He is “mightier than I,” which carries the idea of higher in rank, thus superior. The coming one is superior both in his person and his work of baptism. 

The verse brings out three baptisms:

Ÿ         First, is John’s baptism with water to prepare the way by repentance for the coming kingdom.

Ÿ         Second, is the baptism work of the coming Messiah with the Holy Spirit. The Bible student should be aware that the Holy Spirit here is not the agent of the baptism; rather it is the coming one, i.e. Jesus Christ. Christ, not the Holy Spirit performs this work. Chafer points out that “A certain group would force a rending…by translating the words ‘into the Spirit’ and ‘into water’; but the great majority of Scholars sustain the Authorized rendering, namely, ‘with’ the Spirit and ‘with’ water.” [Chafer, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, 5:67] Christ is the performer of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. This baptism is not the same as 1 Cor. 12:13, where the Holy Spirit is the performer of that baptism into Christ, not Christ. This observation has not been seen or recognized by Bible students. Chafer has and writes, “Those Scriptures in which the Holy Spirit is related to baptism are to be classified in two divisions. In the one group, Christ is the baptizing agent, yet the Holy Spirit is the blessed influence that characterized the baptism. In the other group of passages, the Holy Spirit is the baptizing agent and Christ as the Head of His mystical Body is the receiving element and by so much that blessed influence which characterizes the baptism.” [Chafer, 6:141] This is an important distinction. The baptism which Christ was to perform was an empowering baptism (see Luke 24:49) of which a foretaste took place at Pentecost (Acts 2). However, its complete future fulfillment is when Israel accepts Christ as her Messiah (Isa. 44:3; Joel 2:28-32). This is not the same baptism that Paul describes in 1 Cor. 12:13, which is a positional baptism of the believer by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body, the Church. The two are not the same. Neither baptism is one that is performed by water, but rather are spiritual baptisms.

Ÿ         Third, is a baptism of fire. This is not a water baptism. What is this baptism of fire? Some connect it with the baptism with the Holy Spirit and indicating one aspect of this baptism as purification. The reasoning for such a view is not without merit. Did not this baptism take place at Pentecost like fiery tongues? In other words, it is taken as a different aspect of the same baptism above. Toussaint points out that, “Since the two nouns are joined by the conjunction ‘and’ (kai) and one preposition is used with both, only a baptism of the Holy Spirit is in view.” [Toussaint, BEHOLD THE KING, 70] This is mostly true, but not always. In this text, the context seems not to fit here. The three rules of Bible interpretation are context, context, and context. The context is judgment and it must be the strongest consideration in our understanding of this text. The more natural fit contextually is that this is a second baptizing work of Christ—a baptism of judgment. “The context, which speaks of blessing for the repentant but judgment for the unrepentant, tends to favor two baptisms,” observes Constable. [NOTES ON MATTHEW, 53] Fire in the New Testament is generally taken in its destructive sense of judgment when used metaphorically (Matt. 13:42; 18:8; 25:41; Mark 9:43; Luke 9:54; 12:49; 17:29; 1 Cor. 3:13, 15; 2 Thess. 1:8; 12:29; Hebrews 1:7; 10:27; 11:34; James 3:5; 2 Peter 3:7; 3:12; Jude 7, 23; Rev. 20:9, 14.) It is likely that John develops the context here from his predecessor, Malachi who pictured the coming of Messiah with fire (Mal. 3:2-3; 4:1-3). He is carrying on that prophetic theme, for in Luke 3:16-17 we find the words “the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” The prophet Isaiah described this judgment or baptism of fire (Isa. 63:1-8). The Jews expected a time of impending judgment against the wicked and deliverance for the righteous, so it is not a stretch that the listeners would have associated the fire with judgment, rather than purification. This judgment of fire reaches it climax and realization in Revelation 16. It takes place at the second coming of Christ. Then He will come in flaming fire to judge those who do not know Him (2 Thess. 1:18). I believe Bultema is correct to say, “This baptism will be a pouring out of the fire of the wrath of the Lamb.” [BIBLE AND BAPTISM, 66]

  1. The Separating work of Christ (3:12).

The judgment work of Christ is a separating work, separating the believers from the unbelievers; the repentant from the unrepentant. The emphasis here is on judgment, not salvation. Christ has the winnowing shovel. The winnowing shovel (that is its proper name, although it looks more like a fork) is already in his hand, ready for immediate use. This metaphor is from the common practice of harvest. On the winnowing floor was piled grain with chaff. The farmer would shovel the pile and throw the mixture in the air. The grain would fall down on the floor, and the wind blew away the chaff. The grain and chaff were separated by this process. In many areas of the world it is still done by this process. The grain is gathered up, and the chaff is burned.  Many times chaff is used as fuel for domestic stoves. The thought is that since the kingdom is at hand, so is the preceding judgment. The coming Messiah will separate the grain from the chaff. When the Messiah comes to rule, he will purify His kingdom by first bringing judgment. The Greek word diakathariei means literally, “he will cleanse thoroughly.” [Nolland, MATTHEW, 148]  He will remove the useless and keep the useful. The useful will be gathered into the granary or barn, signifying the kingdom. The useless will end up in “unquenchable fire.” This underlines judgments finality. In Mark 9:43 it stands in apposition to Gehenna, the place of final punishment.

The message of John the Baptist was for both personal salvation and national salvation. The nation and the people were to repent for the earthly Kingdom was at hand. If they did not repent, they could not be saved from the judgment nor enter the Kingdom.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


A study of Matthew 3:1-12 (continued)

  1. Warning John pronounced (Matthew 3:7-12)

    1. To whom the warning is issued 3:7a

“But” (3:7a) brings us to an important contrast. While many were responding and repenting, there were those who were not. When the spiritual leadership came to the baptism, John shows his animosity toward the Pharisees and Sadducees. Who were these people? 
The Pharisees are mentioned in Matthew more than any other Gospel (29 times). They were a religious party that was strongly conservative in the Law. Their name is derived from the Hebrew word that means “separatist,” although recently it has been suggested that the word may lie in the Hebrew word for “specifies,” since they were scrupulous for exactness in observance of God’s laws. They studied the law meticulously and paid close attention to a mass of rules that was meant to help people avoid breaking them. “Physical separation was of paramount importance. Functional holiness was considered evidence of personal piety” among this sect. They saw themselves as the true proponents of the true righteousness of the law. To help others not break the law, they devised a system of rules to “fence” people from coming close to breaking the law. These laws were known as the seyag (fence). [William L. Coleman, THE PHARISEES’ GUIDE TO TOTAL HOLINESS,  8] These fence laws accumulated into the hundreds, and over time elevated to the level of the Law itself. These consisted of things like do not pick grain to eat on the Sabbath to keep you safe from breaking the Sabbath.

Although they were a small sect (around 6,000 during the time of Christ), they achieved great success, power and position. Their “claims of scrupulous piety and the preservation of ancestral laws were accorded wider circulation and support than any slogans the Sadducees or Essences could devise.” [S. Westerholm, “Pharisees,” DICTIONARY OF JESUS AND THE GOSPELS, 610]. They were well liked by the common people. Coleman notes that this party had its good points. They were national heroes, who accepted the Scripture as God-given, and careful students of it, who emphasized education, kept the ceremonial laws, were sacrificial givers, evangelistic, and anticipated a coming Messiah. They also believed strongly in resurrection.  However, because of all their pious and so-called righteousness to the law, they tended to think of themselves as being better than others. Their narrow view led them to be blinded to the intent of the Law, and they “fenced” themselves off from real righteousness. Their zealousness for the law drove them to externalism and legalism, forgetting the internal aspects of the Law, trading them for external public display. They were extremely self-righteous. Their philosophy by the time of Christ was, “Do we look right rather than are we right.” [Coleman, 29].

On the other hand were the Sadducees, who are mentioned only seven times by Matthew. The origin of the name has been lost in the halls of history. It is believed the name means the “righteous ones,” being from the same Hebrew word as the word righteous. [W.J. Moulder, “Sadducees,” ISBE, 4:278]. However, many scholars believe the name derived from Zadok, the high priest during the time of David. [Leon Morris, MATTHEW 57]. They regarded themselves as the true descendants of Zadok, thus seeing themselves as “Zadokites.” In contrast to the Pharisees, they rejected the oral tradition, and accepted only written Scripture as the voice of authority. Some say they accepted only the first 5 books of Moses as Scripture, but this is doubted by many. They were the liberal aristocratic party, enjoying the confidence of the wealthy, but not well accepted by the common person who saw them as heartless. They were the rationalists. They held the priestly power, while Pharisees (also Priests) held mostly the lower levels of the Priesthood. They held control of the high priesthood and the upper levels of the priesthood. Moulder says that the Sadducees “derived their power from their class, while Pharisees derived theirs from learning.” [Moulder, 4:279.]. They were the high society of the time, and worked hard at keeping the status quo, working in collaboration with the Romans, thus, having the real political power. They were power hungry and wheeled it to their best advantage. They gained wealth by their control of the temple businesses. They doctrinally differed from the Pharisees denying the resurrection, or existence after death, future rewards or punishments (Mark 12:18).  They also rejected the belief in angels and spirits (Acts 2:38). They were strong on free will, and this-worldliness perspective, so that God could not be held responsible for evil.  

Toussaint notes, “It is significant that this first mention of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospel marks them out as being hypocritical.” [Stanley Toussaint, BEHOLD THE KING, 68]. The Gospels do not present the two groups as hostile to one another probably because they are presented as united in their opposition to Christ. It is not uncommon to see different groups united against a common opponent. In Acts, we find the two groups disagreeing, especially around the issue of resurrection.

b. The description of those warned 3:7b

Matthew continues a low evaluation of the Pharisees and Sadducees throughout his Gospel. He calls them a “brood of vipers.” Here Matthew lumps them together, elsewhere he distinguishes them (22:34).  Both are leaders, and John says they are a bunch of snakes. It is a term that was used by the prophets (Isa. 14:29; 30:6) to describe God‘s enemies, and will be used by Christ of the Pharisees (Matt. 12:34).  It was an insult. A viper is a small poisonous snake, and points to these leaders’ deadly hypocrisy and fatal deceptions, which were poisoning the nation Israel. Keener points out that in the ancient Mediterranean it was a common thought to think of vipers as mother killers. [Keener, MATTHEW, IVP, 79-80]. It indicates moral depravity, and points out that by their hypocrisy they were killing their own motherland. A viper was not only deadly, but it was deceitful. He looked like a dead branch who suddenly would strike its victim (Acts 28:3). They were deadly and deceptive, like the serpent and the deceiver, Satan.  Is it any wonder then that Christ calls their father the Devil (John 8:44).

Hypocrisy deifies the outward actions, and nullifies the Spirit within. These leaders loved themselves and their reputation, but not God. Coleman says they “were shackled to a routine of religious conformity, but their faith and sincerity were an empty hull.” [Coleman, 96]. Paul defines hypocrisy well when he declares that some have “a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). Hypocrisy does two things.  First, it pretends to be what it is not.  Second, it conceals and blinds us to what we are. It is marked by outward ritual harshness and inward insincerity. These two together are deadly to the soul.

c. The call to repent (3:7-9)

To these he asked, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (3:7c). The question is ironical. In really, this question deals with their coming simply as an outward form or ritual to escape the wrath to come. The call to repentance implies God’s wrath and His judgment on those who do not repent. Who gave you the idea that you could escape simply by going through the motion or ritual of baptism to escape? Verse 8 clearly points out that they did not come in true repentance. Likewise, many today are trusting in they religious rituals, or good works, or church attendance to escape the wrath to come. It will not happen. The spirit of hypocrisy is alive and well. Superficial repentance and outward reformation never saved anyone. John warns them to repent. True repentance on their part entailed:

Ÿ         “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (3:8). Fruit is what people exhibit to others. Let us note at the beginning that John is not telling them to work for their salvation. Salvation in any dispensation has been by faith and not by works. In the Old Testament times, works were an expression of faith, but it was their faith that saved them. Under old dispensations, God said to offer animal sacrifices, faith offered the sacrifices, as Abel did. On there other hand, not bringing an animal sacrifice, like Cain, displayed unbelief. Here in John’s ministry, it was repenting and being baptized with water that true faith displayed itself. John is still under the Old Testament times, thus he is looking for the signs or fruit of true repentance. The fruit that John was looking for is given in Luke 3:10-14. The imagery of bearing fruit is used by Jesus (7:16-20; 12:33-37; 13:8, 22-23) and Paul (Rom. 6:22, 7:6, Eph. 5:9, cf. Gal. 5:22) which springs out of faith. It is clear from the context that there was no repentance on their part and the fruits were absent. “There was not external evidence that they desired to draw near to God in anticipation of Messiah’s appearance.” [Thomas Constable, NOTES ON MATTHEW, 51]

Ÿ         Do not rely on Nationality (3:9). Notice, he clearly says, “do not think” (3:9). The word indicates presumption on their part, and came to be translated, “Do not presume.” Many Jews of the time believed being a descendant of Abraham would automatically gain entrance into the Kingdom.  God has no grandchildren (cf. Gal. 3:1-9). The necessarily of the new birth is without exception (cp. John 3). The physical birth can make one a member of the external nation, but not the kingdom of heaven. No bank of “merit of the fathers” exists. It was believed in rabbinic circles at the time that Abraham sat at the gate of hell (Gehenna), to deliver all Israelites from being assigned there, based on the merit of the fathers. They believed the merit of Abraham was enough to save them. (This same fallacy is seen today in the Church of Rome in the merit of the saints). Both the Gospels (here, John 8:39-40) and Paul (Rom. 9:6-8) make clear not all who were born of Abraham are his true children. The text makes clear physical descent did not grant them immunity from God’s wrath. Such presuming is wrong. Nationality is no impressive matter, for God is able to make stones into children. It is generally agreed that the reference to stones is a pun on the Hebrew or Aramaic words used (Hebrew: banim—children; ‘a banim—stones / Aramaic: benayyaabnayya). [France, MATTHEW, 111] Repentance is necessary for all without exception. It is required for acceptance into Messiah’s kingdom regardless of race, position or nationality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


A study of Matthew 3:1-12

    B. What John performed (3:5-6)
    John’s work in the desert was to prepare the people of Israel for their Messiah. Large numbers came to him from Jerusalem and all Judea. His work was that of baptizing in the Jordan those who confessed their sins (3:6). Contrary to what many believe, this baptism was not the first time baptism took place.  In Heb. 9:10, we see the Jews practice “various baptisms.” Baptism was a part of the Mosaic system of worship (Exodus 19; Leviticus 15; Numbers 19). This was nothing new.  Hudson points out that “John’s ministry centered on truth that was obviously common ground to the Jews of that day.” [Baptism in the Bible, 77] When John was confronted they did not want to know the significance of his baptism, but his authority to do so (John 1:25).  They understood the meaning for it was a baptism of purification. In the Old Testament, baptism is connected with washing, cleansing or consecration. In Leviticus 15:8, the unclean had to wash to be restored into fellowship. This baptism did not equate with salvation, but was an act of purification.
    The passage does not teach baptismal regeneration. Rather it was a response to faith and confession of sin of a covenant people. This baptism “was not making them God’s people; they were already that by the covenant, but was calling them back to fellowship and blessing.” [Gospels, 28] John was like the prophet Isaiah proclaiming, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean…” (Isa. 1:16).  Bultema notes that, “Since John was living under the old covenant; his baptism was an old covenant affair, Jewish mass purification for the Messiah and his rule and kingdom.” [Bible and Baptism, 40] Constable is careful to note that, “John’s baptism did not make a person a member of the church, the Body of Christ, since the church had not yet come into existence.” [Notes on Matthew, 50] It was a religious rite done in conjunction with the confession of sin that was proper for Jews to do as preparation of the kingdom under the old dispensation and covenant. Purification baptism was common in Israel, especially of Gentile converts. Some hold that John is treating the Jews as Gentiles. However, the text does not indicate that that John was making proselytes of those who responded. He was purifying them for the coming kingdom. It must have been both humiliating and humbling for a Jew to respond to John’s message of confession and baptism. In light of their departure from the covenant and in the light of the coming kingdom, was it not appropriate for them to partake in this act of purification? It is estimated that between 200,000 and 500,000 responded to the message and work of John the Baptist. Josephus reports that John was so popular that Antipas feared a popular uprising (Ant. 18.118).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012



(Kregel Publications, 2009)

Charles C. Bing

The subtitle is “An Introduction to God’s Life-Changing Gift.” This is exactly that: an introduction to the great subject of grace. This is a great introduction. It is reader friendly, profound yet simple, and easy to read. No heavy theological mambo-jumbo. It is a straight forward, book on Grace with remarkable clarity that anyone can understand. “Simply by Grace” sums up the heart of Christianity, salvation, and the Christian life. Grace is the answer to all our needs as sinners and believers. Simply by Grace is the summation of the work of God today.

The book is divided up into 13 chapters. They range from the Gift of Grace; the God of all Grace; Saved by Grace; Secured by Grace; etc., to Sharing the Gift (of grace). It is a study of the work of Grace from start to finish. No matter where you are in your life, how deep your understanding may be of the Word, you will find something in this book for you. It will speak to you and lead you to personal growth in grace, as well as a new appreciation of God and His grace. It also speaks of our responsibility in grace. It motivates and shows freedom and accountability in the grace life. It would make a good Sunday School or home Bible study book. Get it. Read it. You will enjoy it.

Monday, January 9, 2012


A study of Matthew 3:1-12

    1. What John Preaches (3:1-4).

It is interesting that Matthew opens this section with the words, “in those days.” It is a very general term to say the least in the context. Hagner says that it “is not specific, it does indicate a special time.” [WBC:MATTHEW, 47] However the phrase is connected to the days in which Jesus lived in Nazareth. A.T. Robertson points that this phrase “usually occurs at the transition in the narrative….” [GRAMMAR, 708] Thus, it may be simply a transitional phrase to introduce a new subject. Morris says that it “may be an example of the use of “that” to indicate without precision some time in the past (cf. 24:38; Luke 2:1, etc), or perhaps better Matthew means ‘in those crucial days’ or ‘in that critical time.’ ” [MATTHEW, 51] While the phrase may be general, it speaks historically. It speaks of the days when John the Baptist was ministering. However, the emphasis of the verse is not on the time, but on the person and activity of John the Baptist. John is a very popular name, as seen from the fact there are a number of Johns in the New Testament. John is called “the Baptist” seven times in Matthew, and places emphasis on John’s activity of baptizing. It identifies which John we are talking about. However, we must not allow his title as Baptist to obscure his purpose. His main thrust of ministry is not baptism, but the announcement of judgment being near with the coming of Messiah/King. His main purpose was to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah.

John the Baptist appeared and preached in the wilderness of Judea near the mouth of the Jordan River, not the Temple nor in Jerusalem. He is Christ’s forerunner (cf. John 11:9-12). In a real sense, John is a true forerunner, in that he precedes Christ in His birth, in His appearance, and in His death. 

John the Baptist came with Elijah’s spirit and power to turn hearts to God (Luke 1:15-17). He came to preach. To preach (kerysso) means to act as a herald, to proclaim or publish.  John came to publish the coming of the King and His kingdom. He was like the servants of the king who were sent ahead to smooth out and straighten the road in preparation for the King to come.  He was Messiah’s advance man. His message was clear and simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matt 3:2). This consisted of two things:

First, it was a message of repentance. The word repent is the Greek word metamorphoo, compound word meaning after (meta), and the mind, or the way of thinking (noeo), thus a change of mind. It has the meaning to change one’s mind, opinion, feeling, or purpose. It is a present imperative, a voice of command. Baker notes that “the word etymologically means after-thought. It refers to reconsidering or changing the mind after an action has taken place.” [DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY, 411.]The word does not mean to feel sorry (contrast lupe meaning grief or sorrow). That idea has come in because of the Latin rendering. In Latin it was rendered as “to exercise penitence” (penitential agere), a word that suggests grief, sorrow, distress, but not necessarily change. One can feel sorry and not change either his mind or his actions.  It should also be noted that sorrow can, and often is, a part of the change of mind. As Chafer comments, “It is doubtless true that often sorrow leads to repentance, but the sorrow as such is not repentance (cf. 2 Cor. 7:9).” [Repentance,” BIB-SAC, April 1952, 131]. The emphasis of the word is on the mind, not feeling or emotion. The object of repentance is not always identified or given in Scripture (Acts 20:21), however, it is generally toward God or sin (Acts 20:21, Acts 8:22). Repentance is central to faith and a relationship with God for Jews. The context in which the word is used indicates the direction one must change his mind. Repentance is that conscious change of attitude (mind), both spiritual and moral, regarding God, on the one hand, and sin, on the other.

Repentance is not limited or equated always with personal salvation, nor is it a onetime event. “New Testament repentance is not confined to the unsaved or the moment of conversion. It may take place repeatedly within Christian experience, whenever there is a need for it” explains Hodges. [
ABSOLUTELY FREE, 143] This is important to understand. In Matthew, the call of repentance is to the people of Israel to return to the covenant relationship with God. Baker reminds us, “What most students fail to recognized is that Israel as a nation was in covenant relationship with God, a relationship shared by no other nation in history.” [ACTS, 27-28]. This is clearly a prophetic theme, for it is common in the Old Testament for the nation to be called back to God (cf. Joel 2:2; Isa 55:7; Ezek. 33:11, 15). In Deuteronomy 28 is the principle of how God would deal with the covenant people. Obedience brought blessing; disobedience discipline. Deuteronomy 30 indicates that discipline would not be lifted until they “turned” back to God. Israel is not being called to repent to become a covenant people; they were already a covenant people. They were being called to repent because they had wandered away from God as a nation. John’s ministry is in conjunction with the principles of the Old Testament. Repentance was an adjustment of those who are already in covenant relation to God. Thus, this call to repent is a call to harmonious relations with God by a people who are already under the covenant. Repentance is foremost a message needed by the nation. Chafer says, “It is possible to be under the provisions of an unconditional covenant and to fail for the time being to enjoy its blessings because of sin. When sin has cast a limitation upon the enjoyment of a covenant and the covenant, being unchangeable, still abides, the issue becomes, not the remaking of the covenant, but the one issue of the sin which mars the relationship.” [SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, 3:375-376] Thus, the call Israel is to repair their disastrous breach with God. During the time of Christ, they were being called back into fellowship with God within the covenant. Repentance was essential and available.

Second, Matthew clearly declares the reason John preached repentance was that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This statement is important, thus we cannot overlook it.  Two things demand our attention:
    1. What is the meaning of the kingdom of heaven? The term is clearly related to the prophecy of Daniel. The origin of the phrase is from Daniel 2:44, which declares that “God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all the kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” This is clearly not a kingdom in heaven, but one that comes from heaven and is set up on earth. It is when the God of heaven sets up His kingdom on earth. McClain notes: “since this divine Kingdom comes from “heaven” to destroy and supplant kingdoms existing on earth, it is apparent that we have here a clear correspondence of ideas between Daniel’s prophecy and Matthew’s terminology.” [GREATEST OF THE KINGDOM, 279]. Daniel 713-14 describes this kingdom coming at the coming of the Son of Man. Clearly, the term kingdom of heaven refers to the same kingdom that is described in Daniel. It is the earthly kingdom anticipated and prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. Toussaint [BEHOLD THE KING, 274-303] gives these reasons why it is evident that Daniel’s kingdom and John’s declarations are the same:
      First, neither John nor Christ made any new explanation of the kingdom being different from that of the Old Testament prophets.

      Second, it is seen in the restriction of the message to the Jews exclusively (Matthew 10:5-6).  In the Old Testament, the reality of this kingdom is contingent upon its reception by the nation of Israel. If this is a spiritual kingdom only, why is this necessary?

      Third, the anticipation of a literal kingdom on earth was held by the disciples, which Jesus never indicated that they held a mistaken notion (Matthew 20:20-21).

      Based upon simple logic, the kingdom in view cannot be the church since the church was still a mystery (Eph 3:1-10). Toussaint correctly says: “The only conclusion at which one can arrive is that the proclamation of John refers to a literal, earthly kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and prophecies.” [BEHOLD THE KING, 62].  It cannot be simply God’s universal reign over the hearts of man, or exclusively a spiritual kingdom. The significance of the announcement that it is “at hand” loses its impact, for the rule of God in the heart had been recognized among the people of God since Old Testament times (Psa. 37:31; 103:19).

    2. This kingdom is “at hand.” What does that mean? The Greek word used is a perfect tense of eggiken, which means to draw near or literally “has come near.” The word clearly means something is near, but has not arrived. Johnson notes that, “the perfect tense, with its indication of an action in the past with present continuing results, points to the approach of the kingdom in the approach of the King. He is now here, and, therefore, the kingdom is now near.” [“The Message of John the Baptist,” BIB-SAC, January 1956, 35].

      It is to be noted that while the King is present, the kingdom is near, but not in actual operation on earth. The reality of the establishment of the kingdom could not be set up until the King and his Kingdom were accepted, nor could it be accepted until it was offered. There is no indication of an offer of the kingdom during the Gospel period. This is because the events of the cross had to take place before the offer. This is evidenced in and by prophecy (sees Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, and Zechariah 13), which explicitly declare that the glory follows the suffering of Christ (Zechariah 12:10, 13:6). We read of no real offer of the kingdom until after the cross in Acts 3:19-21. Peter clearly makes an offer of the kingdom at Pentecost. It is an offer to the nation of Israel offering their national hope of restoration. As Baxter writes of this verse:

      …is it not equally clear that these words of Peter utter the promise that the Lord Jesus would return, and the times of restoration set in without delay, upon the repentance and conversion of Israel? Here is the fact, clearly stated, that had there been a national repentance and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Christ, on the part of Israel, the second advent of Christ in power and glory would have taken place then and there. Never was a more direct promise given. [

      Israel rejected the Messianic King in the Gospels and the offer of the Messianic Kingdom in the book of Acts. During the Acts, we see the fall of Israel and the rise of the Church, the Body of Christ. Baxter says there are three pivotal events of rejection: The stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:57-60), the outbreak against Paul (22:22), and the going out to the Gentiles (28:28). [GRASP, 311] He calls the stoning of Stephen “the final indictment of the nation.” [GRASP, 312]. At that point they resisted the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51). This is the final nail in the coffin of rejection. Israel rejected God the Father by rejecting the message of the prophets, they rejected Christ at the cross, and they rejected the Holy Spirit at the stoning of Stephen. In the case of John the Baptist, they permitted his death; in the case of Christ, they demanded his death; and in the case of Stephen, they murdered him. This is a clear progression of rejection. With Stephen, their rejected was complete. At this point, God brings in a new apostle, Paul, to reveal the mystery that was hid from ages past, and to declare the message of grace to all without distinction (cp Eph 3:1-11). It is a mistake to take John’s message and apply it to the church today. Gaebelein warns:

      The Gospel of Grace is something different. It was not known then; it could not be fully made known and preached until after the death, the resurrection, the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. To preach the Gospel of Grace from the words of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heaven has drawn nigh,” would be misleading. Still it is being done throughout Christendom. [MATTHEW, 64].
    John the Baptist came in fulfillment of the Word (3:3). Isaiah had predicted one coming in the wilderness to make ready the way of the Lord. Matthew links John the Baptist to that prophecy of Isaiah 40:3, quoting the Septuagint (LXX). He identifies John as that coming one who would announce Christ is coming, and prepares the way. In John 1:23, the Baptist says of himself: “I am the voice….” He evidently knew that he fulfilled the prophecy. The emphasis here, and in the Gospels, is placed on the voice, for it is the message that is important, not so much the messenger. His work is to prepare the way for Yahweh. Clearly, Matthew, as well as the New Testament, sees Jesus as the Yahweh (Lord) of the Old Testament (compare Exodus 13:21 and 1 Cor. 10:4, Isa. 6:1 and John 12:41; Psa. 102:25-29 and Heb. 1:10-12).   
    The physical appearance of this messenger is unorthodox to say the least. He came not in priestly robes, even through he was a son of a priest, and was of the priestly tribe. He wears a garment of “camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (Matt. 3:4). While this is typical clothes of poor people and those cut off from the mainstream of society, it links John with Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).  He was an outdoorsman. According to Matthew 11:14 if they would receive John, he would be the Elijah who was to come. However, he was rejected, so it appears that one will come in the future to fulfill this to Israel (Malachi 4:6). His diet consisted of “locusts and wild honey.” Four kinds of locust were permitted as food to be eaten by man, according to Leviticus 11:22. Such a diet is common in the extreme regions of the area. An old Arabian saying says “One should not argue about taste.” Hendriksen points out that “those who enjoy shrimp, mussel, oyster, and frog-legs should not find fault with those who eat the locust.” [MATTHEW, 200].