“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” -Matthew 3:2
Just like Jesus, John’s first message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
What is it about this message that merited first place on their teaching agendas? Why did John use it to prepare people for Jesus’ coming, and why did Jesus not only teach it, but teach his disciples to teach it as well in Matthew 10?
If the gospel does not have very real implications for human life, then it cannot really be good news. And the close proximity of the kingdom of heaven is the most concrete fact of the gospel, if you believe it.
Because, if you recognize that the kingdom of heaven, or heaven itself, is near, that re-frames your entire perspective on life. If you’re going to heaven, you can live so much more generously on earth. Money doesn’t need to be hoarded. Safety does not have to be sought. And self-justification can be given up–an absolute necessity before accepting a Savior.
Re-framing your life perspective is the definition of “repentance”–metanoia in Greek–as used in these verses.
Meta- is the same root that you find in metanarrative or metacognition, used to describe something that is beyond, after, or of a higher order. For instance, a metanarrative is not a story, but a comprehensive account that appeals to universal truths; metacognition is not thought, but the awareness of thought processes–it could be considered thinking about the way you think.
-noia, from -noeo, is the same root you find in paranoia or hyponoia (which, honestly, I never heard of until I started looking for words for this post). Paranoia is kind of like having a double-mind–a second consciousness running in parallel with you. Hyponoia is to be in a state of dulled mental activity.
So metanoia, translated as repentance, is primarily about re-framing your entire perspective on life by setting your mind not on only your immediate circumstances, but on something beyond them, something that is coming, something like heaven. In psychology it’s a mental breakdown and rebuilding that results in a stronger mental state than before. In theology, it’s a complete change of understanding about life.
So what was John’s first message?
Think differently. Live your entire life in light of a heaven that will be here soon. The kingdom of heaven is near.