John the Baptist was a very interesting individual. We know he was “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15), that he lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and honey for food, and dressed in camel’s hair (Matthew 3:4). He was the fulfillment of the prophesy through Isaiah that there would be one prior to the Messiah who would be “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Matthew 3:3).
Jesus said of John the Baptist that there was none greater on earth, but that the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he (Luke 7:28). In preparation for the appearance of Jesus, John the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins and said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).
When John the Baptist was put in prison, Jesus began his public ministry and echoed the cry of John to repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. But combined with the command to repent, Jesus also said to believe.
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:14-15)
The Greek word for “repent” involves regret accompanied by a true change of heart toward God. It signifies a change of mind consequent to retrospection, indicating regret for the course pursued. The Greek word for “believe” means to give credit to and have a mental persuasion. Repentance considers the past and focuses on a change in heart or direction away from past actions, attitudes, and values. Belief focuses on the current and the future based upon a new mental persuasion. Jesus was saying to turn away from the past and temporal values, and to turn toward the kingdom of God and toward Him, the entrance into the kingdom of God (John 14:6).
The other important truth Jesus was saying in this command to repent and to believe is that the kingdom of God is “at hand.” This means that the kingdom is near, within reach, next to us. What an exciting truth! Through Christ, the kingdom of God is available to each of us if we reach out for it, if we embrace it, if we believe it.
This is the promise associated with the command to repent and to believe: receiving the kingdom of God into our heart. We cannot work to earn the right to receive the kingdom, we cannot create the kingdom, we do not inherit the kingdom from our parents, and we cannot receive the kingdom through the faith of someone else. Each of us must believe and receive the gospel, the good news, of the kingdom of God.
The good news is actually “great news.” One Bible teacher says it is “almost too good to be true news.” And it is even more exciting to realize that God desires to give us the kingdom. When the giver of a gift knows that the gift will satisfy a great need and will be treasured by the recipient, the giver experiences great joy along with the recipient. Jesus said that when a person believes and receives the kingdom of God there is great joy in heaven. The entire chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke consists of parables describing the joy when only one sinner repents and believes. Jesus described the joy a shepherd experienced when his lost sheep was found, the joy a women felt when she found her lost coin, and the merriment a father directed when his wayward son returned home.
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Luke 15:10)
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:32)
Some people may think that because God is just and holy that He is always watching to see if we sin and will punish us if we “mess up.” While God does see everything we do and knows every thought we have, He is not out “to get us.” In fact, He provided for the atonement of our sins (all of the them, past, present, and future) through the shed blood of Jesus. The wrath of God was poured out upon Jesus for our sake and His justice was satisfied for those who repent, believe, and receive the kingdom of God.
It is God’s desire to bless us. In fact, He has already blessed those who believe “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). The commands of Jesus are not burdensome rules to “keep us in line,” but they are for our benefit and blessing. By these instructions or commands, Jesus has told us how to live in the kingdom of God while on earth so that we can experience “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Why would we not want to obey Jesus’ commands or rules of the kingdom?
The alternative is to remain in our sin and to be under eternal condemnation for not repenting, believing, and receiving the kingdom.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)