Kingdom: The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand (Matthew 3:2)
The first overt reference to the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s gospel comes from the lips of John, the Baptizer.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The introduction of John immediately pushes us into the Old Testament. Matthew the inspired Apostle connects the wild preacher-in-the-desert in his day, with the prophecies of one who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah.
The passage he uses to introduce John as the prophesied forerunner is from Isaiah 40. It points to a time when Israel’s standing with the Lord is changed, by the Lord’s initiative.
The will no longer suffer under their Babylonian captors, but will be liberated by God. At least that’s what THEY thought Isaiah was talking about.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” ~ Isaiah 40:1-2
When I read this sentence, I feel hope. I think that’s what God intended when He gave the words to Isaiah.
Israel had experienced a long, hard season of exile as a result of its own sin and straying. The culture as a whole had become indulgent, sexual aberrant, and idolatrous. Sound familiar?
Their punishment was severe and long-lasting. But through Isaiah, God was telling His people that comfort was coming in the future. Not only that, peace, forgiveness of sins, and an end to His judgement.
Those words would be like a cool wind of change that promised something better.
It’s just after the words above that the section introducing the “forerunner” comes… the passage that Matthew applies to John the Baptizer. In the context of Isaiah, his role is to prepare the way for this promised comfort and deliverance.
It’s quite intriguing the form this “comfort” takes.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
- A voice would cry out (as John did in his preaching)
- It would come from the wilderness/desert (where John lived and baptized)
- It was to be instrumental in making “a highway for our God.” (This is at the very least a hint that the Messiah would be divine).
- The valleys would be lifted up (Is this an allusion to the humble, the common people? That is certainly the audience John seems to have attracted.)
- The mountains would be made low (Is this intended to represent the rulers? High Priests? Pharisees & Sadducees? John definitely cut them down to size. More on that in a moment)
- The uneven ground would become level and the rough places plain (Perhaps this imagery was meant to convey a leveling of the playing field, so to speak… making access to God available to all).
- The “glory of the LORD” would be revealed (John surely did this… by pointing out the Messiah, Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world).
- All flesh would see it together (This is quite an expansive and all-inclusive description — one that is difficult to see being fulfilled in John’s day).
- God has declared it to be so (Certainty echoes throughout the statement).
John’s message: comfort and something more.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
With Isaiah 40 in mind, it seems to me that John’s insistence on repentance is HOW he prepared the way for the Kingdom. If the pardon was to come, it would come to those who were broken and contrite of heart (Psalm 51:17).
But what is this Kingdom of Heaven he speaks of?
That’s what I’m interested in…
In light of Isaiah 40, it seems that the word “heaven” is what Matthew is using to connect the kingdom to “God,” who is mentioned in Isaiah’s prophecy. God is the one who is ushering the kingdom in, bringing it to His people, thus it is HIS kingdom, also called the Kingdom of Heaven.
The fact that the Kingdom is brought to the people by God makes it something more than a geographical place, since God is more than any one place can contain.
Thus says the LORD:
“Heaven is My throne,
and the earth is My footstool;
what is the house that you would build for Me,
and what is the place of My rest
All these things My hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at My word. ~ Isaiah 66:1-2
The Kingdom of Heaven is therefore a context, an environment, a “season” within the plan and providence of God. And He was introducing it through John’s proclamation.
Once the Kingdom of Heaven arrived, four things would happen, according to Isaiah 40…
 The promised comfort of God would come.
 The warfare waged against God’s people would end.
 Israel’s iniquity would be pardoned.
 God’s judgment against Israel would end.
THIS IS QUITE A SET OF PROMISES
Promises Israel had long waited to hear and was no doubt eager to experience.
The Kingdom of Heaven that John declared was “at hand” was bringing the fulfillment of those promises.
But the timing is unclear
It’s natural for any human being who receives a promise to anticipate that promise coming true for them, in their immediate experience.
The people of Israel, as a nation, no doubt did this when Isaiah spoke his prophecy (chapter 40). I’m sure they had their own students of the scriptures who scoured the writings of the various prophets trying to piece together what they saw happening in their day regarding the promises God had given.
But look how long it took for the promises of Isaiah 40 to even be hinted at in history (through John’s role as forerunner)… between 600 and 700 years.
There’s a lesson here for us 21st century humans…
BE CAUTIOUS WHEN PIECING TOGETHER THE PROPHECIES AND PROMISES OF GOD UNLESS THE TIMING IS CLEARLY SPELLED OUT (by Him).
In my humble opinion, this is why many of the end times frameworks we’ve been subjected to over the years have been so varied, extreme, and far-fetched. Let’s face it, some of them are so convoluted they make your head hurt.
Well-meaning students of the Bible have tried to put together a timeline in light of what they see happening in the world.
And they’ve done so without one or both of two things… A clear understanding of the timing that IS revealed in scripture (they simply don’t understand what it’s saying)  An open mind that allows them to step outside their preconceived interpretive frameworks and see what the text is really saying.
John’s arrival starts the “prophetic clock” on the Messianic / Kingdom promises
Scripture is the best interpreter of scripture, so when Matthew (an inspired author of scripture) tells us that John the Baptizer was the fulfillment of Isaiah 40, we can bank on it.
Now we KNOW that John’s declaration that the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” means that God is beginning to fulfill the promises of Isaiah 40.
But again, just because the promise-clock has officially begun doesn’t mean we can expect a rapid fulfillment.
Remember, it’s God who has determines times and seasons (Daniel 2:21). He gets to carry out His plan for the fulfillment of the Isaiah 40 promises (among others) in His own way and at His own pace.
Our job is to watch, learn, and trust.
John reveals something Isaiah didn’t mention
When John began preaching in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, his message added a bit of detail to what Isaiah said. John indicates that there is a necessary precursor to the blessings promised by Isaiah being fulfilled.
Everyone within the sound of John’s voice was encouraged to repent. They were preparing for the coming Kingdom by doing so.
What does this necessary precursor say about the nature of the Kingdom? It is God-ordained, God-determined, and God-ruled. Therefore it is HOLY. It is RIGHTEOUS. In other words, God’s Kingdom takes on the nature of God.
This explains why John had SPECIFIC acts of repentance in mind for the religious types of his day. History tells us that the religious leaders of Israel had become corrupt to the core. They had conspired with Rome to fleece their own people, control and manipulate commerce to their own individual and familial advantage, and used God’s law to bully the people into cooperating.
By our standards, John is pretty hard on them, but given the reality of the chasm between who they had become and who God intended them to be, his words are more than appropriate.
He calls them a “brood of vipers” and says that if they don’t truly repent, they are in for it. God would drop on them. Their “trees” (lives? families?) would be cut down and thrown into the unquenchable fire of judgment that Jesus (the coming Messiah) would bring.
We’re just getting into this study of the Kingdom of Heaven, so I don’t want to jump too far ahead… but historically, we know that the judgment John describe here happened in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem fell. And it was 100 times worse than John described.
What does this say about the importance of repentance for entrance and fellowship within the Kingdom of Heaven?
Anyone who enters the Kingdom of Heaven does so through humble repentance (faith) and should continue in that attitude as a grateful subject under God’s comforting rule and reign.
In the last post...
(see it here) – we discovered that the Kingdom of God was long-anticipated.
In this study we see that…
- the Kingdom requires something of those who hope to enter: Repentance.
With a heart that is humble before the Messiah, we can become partakers of the long-prophesied promises of comfort, peace, and an end to warfare.
But the TIMING is unclear regarding when the full reality of the promises will be ours. Will the promises of Isaiah 40 be received immediately upon entrance into the Kingdom?
Our own experience as Kingdom Citizens (Christ-followers) tells us that they are ours in part, spiritually speaking, but that we do not fully possess them yet (Philippians 2:1).
We’ll discover more as we move forward.
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