"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."Matthew 3:2(NASB)
While Matthew chapter 2 determines the historical timing for the birth of Jesus and John the Baptist... in the days of 'king Herod the Great', chapter 3 pinpoints the start of John's witness, in preparation for the ministry and mission of Jesus the Messiah, the royal Son of David, the promised Seed of Abraham.
Both men had a miraculous birth. Both were anointed of God and came in fulfilment of prophecy. Both came to call Israel to repentance, in preparation for the day of their visitation. Both had conflicts with the Jewish authorities, and both were filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. And both John and Jesus were obstructed by religious leaders, unjustly delivered over to their enemies, and had to face a violent and unjust death.
Much like the sudden appearance of Elijah in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, John the Baptist suddenly appeared on the Jewish scene as a prophet of the Most High God. He came with a blistering message and preached in the wilderness of Judea, calling Israel to, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven is near!"
John was God's witness of the imminent arrival of their long-awaited King to set up His promised kingdom. In Bible times, a herald would always be dispatched to prepare the people ahead of the triumphant entrance of the king into their city, to allow the people to prepare for the great day. Israel had become an apostate nation who had twisted the truth of Scripture and needed to turn from their wicked ways, back to the God of their fathers in preparation for His coming.
The target audience of the gospel of Matthew were Jews, "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and the primary message of Matthew was that the promised kingdom of heaven-on-earth, about which prophets of old had spoken, had finally arrived after 400 silent years.
John had been sent to prepare the people of God for the arrival of their King and the first essential was that their hardened hearts should be turned back to God, their deaf ears unblocked, their blinded eyes opened, and their apostate ways rejected.
Turn from the ungodly ways of the past, was John's message. Reject the idolatrous behaviour of your ancestry! Return to the Lord Your God! Draw near Him, cleanse your hands, purify your heart and repent! "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
The Messianic kingdom for which generations of Jews had yearned, was finally being announced. The Messiah was soon to make Himself known to His people and John's message to Israel was loud and clear. "Prepare the way for the Lord! Make His paths straight! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand."
But Jesus came to His own people in His own land and was spurned. He came as their rightful King. He came to set up His promised kingdom as foretold in the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms... and God's anointed herald came as a voice crying, "prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord. Clear away all obstacles! make straight in the desert a highway for our God!"
But they despised and rejected Him. They missed their most glorious opportunity and caused the kingdom of heaven to be postponed... until a time yet future when Israel as a nation will repent of her sin and cry out to her Messiah for salvation.
Israel's shocking rejection of their Messiah-King and their refusal to repent, prevented the kingdom from being established at God's appointed time. However, it secured salvation for Gentile nations and for 2000 years men and women have been saved by grace through faith in Christ. And the Church, which is the Body of Christ, has been used of God to forward His glorious plan of redemption and make disciples of all nations.
A day is coming when the dispensation of grace will end and Christ will remove His Church from the world scene. A time is coming when Israel will finally fulfil their God-given mission to preach the gospel of the kingdom to all the world, and THEN Jesus will return in power and great glory to be crowned King of kings in the holy city of Jerusalem, when He sets up His Millennial kingdom... and the earth will be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the Gospel of Matthew and the amazing way it gives us an understanding into the life and times of Jesus during His first advent, when He came to 'tabernacle' among His people... and for the ministry and message of John the Baptist who was so faithful to his calling as forerunner and herald to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Thank You that in Your grace You chose to use the Church to forward Your message of salvation to a lost and dying world, and thank You that the day is coming when Christ will return to earth to set up His kingdom of heaven on earth... and Israel will repent and recognise Jesus as their Messiah and King. Praise Your holy name, AMEN.