Matthew 3:1-3

From The Kingdom series.

Matthew 3:1–3 (HCSB):  In those days John the Baptist came,  preaching in the Wilderness of Judea  and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”  For he is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah, who said: A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!  

This is the first mention of “kingdom” in Matthew’s gospel. Let’s establish some context. The setting is in the wilderness of Judea – southern Israel, around 30AD give or take. The people of the land were Jewish, but did not enjoy self-rule. The land had been ruled by foreigners for most of the previous six hundred years by the world super-power du jour – first the Babylonians, then the Persians, followed by the Greeks, a hundred years of Jewish Hasmonean rule, and now the Romans. This history parallels the kingdoms in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s troubling dream (Dan 2:2-45). But for our purposes, one verse of that interpretation really stands out:

In the the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will shatter all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, but will itself stand forever. (Dan 2:44).

And that kingdom is the kingdom we are talking about. The Jews were well aware of this idea of a coming king, an anointed one, a messiah. We are told that Joseph of Arimathea who asked Pilate for Jesus’ body was one who was “waiting for the kingdom to come” (Mk 15:43). The people were expecting a Messiah – “Are you the one who is to come?” (Mt 11:3). Mark just comes right out and says it “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mk 1:1). Also worth knowing that during the period before the Romans arrived, the sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Zealots arose (as well as the reclusive Essenes), who Jesus encounters in various ways in his ministry. The Jews wrote and wrote also, leaving us apocalyptic tales of a vanquishing king as well as a body of “tradition” which were interpretive add-ons to the Torah – the Old Testament law, among other inter-testamental works.

From a literary standpoint, we are at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, just after the accounts of Jesus birth. We have already seen an earthly king act out in vicious paranoia to the prospect of a rival “king of the Jews” (Mt 2:1-18). A detailed genealogy (Mt 1:1-17), makes it very clear that Jesus being descended from king David is a very important point. Joseph was spared the angst of coming up with a name for the baby when an angel told him in a dream to call the Christ-child Immanuel – which means God is with us (Mt 1:30-23).

Do you see the set-up here? God is coming into the world to be the king of all kings, but a very different kind of king. Not wielding brutal political or military power, but coming on the scene disarmingly as a baby. God is establishing outposts of his kingdom on earth, for the time in history is now just right to bring the message and the life that would lay the ground work for God’s eternal, long-promised, perfect kingdom.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *