On that day, this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The rugged figure of John the Baptist shouting, “Repent – the kingdom is near,” must have been a curious sight to all who witnessed his abrupt entrance onto the scene. His rough-and-ready appearance must have offered a stark contrast to the meticulous dress and scrupulous appearance of the fastidious priests and flawless Pharisees. They were learned men who tithed their herbs and spices with painstaking precision. They kept to the letter of the Law with unparalleled zeal – could recite the Torah with eloquent accuracy – were perfectly groomed in every detail of their model behaviour.
John the Baptist’s call for repentance was a particular call to a particular group of people at a particular time and for a particular purpose – he was calling for national Israel to turn away from their proud, hypocritical, fleshly, religious ways, back to the God of Israel – because the time of God’s promised Messiah had arrived. John had been chosen as the appointed herald of the Jewish Messiah.. Israel’s King, Who would welcome everyone who turned round from their sin – into His kingdom.
The common people were ready to welcome the King into their lives, but their religious leaders were protective of the outward trappings of a religious system that they themselves had built up.. an organisation which had grown into a monster that barely resembled the faith in God, that was displayed by their forefather, Abraham.
For 400 years the iron gate of heaven was shut tight, for the sound of the prophet’s voice had been silenced, as God waited for His people Israel, to turn back to Himself, but with every passing day the yoke of oppression became unbearable, as burdensome religious rites and the traditions of men were piled onto the backs of Jewish people.
This was the domestic scene in the streets of Jerusalem when John came as God’s final prophet to herald the Messiah and call Israel to repent – for the kingdom was near. This was the sorry state of the nation of Israel, when John, the final Old Testament prophet of God, strode into the spotlight to call the nation as a whole to repentance.
At this crucial time in Israel’s history, Jews were baptised to identify with the message of repentance that John was preaching – in keen anticipation of the coming Messiah. Many flocked to identify with John, as increasing throngs joyously turned their lives around and plunged into the water as a sign that they too had repented of their sins.
However, this baptism of repentance was confined to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and it was designed to prepare the people for the approaching kingdom. No one but Israel had a covenant with God and Israel alone was promised the glories of a kingdom of peace and prosperity such as that described in so much of Scripture.
And at this critical time, John was appointed to present their king to Israel. But the unrepentant, jealous leaders of Israel had their King and Messiah crucified. But God in His omniscience knew the hypocrisy of Israel’s religious leaders – He knew the nation would reject their Messiah and crucify their King – but God is faithful – God will never reject His people forever – His plan for the kingdom still stands….
John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah as God’s appointed forerunner of Christ’s first advent – but in the not too distant future, another Elijah will stand up as a witness to the Jewish nation crying, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Jesus told us that on that day, this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come – for Israel will repent. Then Israel will look on Jesus, Whom they have pierced – and mourn bitterly. But Jesus their Messiah-King will set up His kingdom.. and Israel will be the head and not the tail of the nations… for the promises of God are without repentance. What grace.
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