“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” John’s message was very plain: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John was predicted by earlier prophets like Isaiah and Malachi. In Isaiah 40:1-5, directly quoted in Matthew 3, we read of the coming of this forerunner of Jesus. In the same paragraph Isaiah writes about the ultimate Judgment Day which will not take place until the second coming of the Lord. All of the New Testament centuries were presented by Isaiah, Malachi, and John as a singular future happening that would soon arrive. The “iniquity” of the Lord’s chosen people would be “pardoned” and “the glory of the Lord” would be “revealed” in such a way that “all flesh” would “see it together.”
We now know that the ministry of John the Baptist was at the very beginning of the New Covenant era, while the entire glorious kingdom of Christ would be seen many centuries later at the end of that epoch when heaven would come to earth. John baptized repentant Jews with water back in the first century AD. At that time he also rebuked Pharisees and Saducees who were unwilling to change, demanding that they “bear fruit” that matched their “confessing of their sins.” He insisted that Old Testament Israel would soon be cut off, and that the Lord’s “axe” was already at “the root of the trees.” Though the temple would be destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans, the end of the world would not arrive until the gospel was first preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14). That would take many centuries of evangelistic labor by the church.
We should not be surprised that John did not fully understand the timing of all that God had ordained. Even the Messiah would later indicate that in His human nature He did not know the day or the hour of the end of the world (Matthew 24:36). There were many other truths that John did not yet comprehend. For instance, he was quite shocked that Jesus came to him for John’s baptism of repentance. Jesus understood that He was being baptized for sinful humanity, just as He would soon die on the cross not for His own transgressions but for ours. Both His baptism and His atoning death were essential parts of His mission to “fulfill all righteousness.”
In between His baptism and His death, our Lord would obey the Law of God for us so that He could serve as our perfect Substitute when He died on the cross. Even at this early stage in the gospel narrative, the Father declared His entire approval of Jesus. A voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
There would be much more for the disciples to learn regarding the kingdom of heaven, but already certain central facts were clear in these opening days of the public life of our Redeemer. First, John’s call for everyone to turn away from their sins tells us that God was very serious about true holiness. Second, the baptism of Jesus helps us to understand that we needed a Man approved by God who would be willing to represent sinners before the Almighty. Finally, according to the testimony of John the Baptist and the Word of God from above, Jesus was and is that Man. The Kingdom of heaven was now “at hand” with the arrival of our Savior, the perfect Son of the Father.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Sovereign Lord, there is so much for us to learn from the Scriptures. It is there plainly for us to receive and obey, but what will the condition of our hearts be when we hear the divine message preached to us? Will we be willing to repent of our sin? Your Son had a complete commitment to fulfill all righteousness. Grant to us this same Spirit, that we might be eager to know and love the truth. Our Savior is fully pleasing to You. In Him we are Your beloved children.