What does Matthew 3:2 mean?
ESV: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
NIV: and saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.'
NASB: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
CSB: and saying, "Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near! "
NLT: Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near. '
KJV: And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Verse Commentary:
This gospel jumps forward in time from Jesus' arrival as a small boy in Nazareth (Matthew 2:23) to the ministry of John the Baptist. At least 25 years have passed. John the Baptist was a prophet specially sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus' ministry on earth. John—not the same as the author of the gospel of John—preached in the wilderness area of Judea, west of the Jordan River. He delivered one central message to the Israelites, found in this verse.

The word "repent" is metanoeite in Greek, which means "to change one's heart and mind." More literally, it means to change direction, to stop going the wrong way and to start going in the right way. It conveys an active change. The chapter will show that John was calling the people of Israel to confess their sins and submit to God's true law.

John called these people to repent because the "kingdom of heaven" was at hand. John's Jewish listeners would have been familiar with the idea that a new kingdom would one day be established by the promised Messiah. John will point to Jesus as that Messiah, and to the imminent establishment of His kingdom. John will insist, though, that repentance—turning from sin—was necessary for his Jewish listeners to be included in that kingdom. The mere fact of their Israelite heritage would not be enough. This would have been a new idea to some.

Scholars from different theological traditions have debated about whether this coming kingdom of heaven is best understood as spiritual or physical. The Jewish people were looking for a physical kingdom; they assumed Messiah would overthrow the Romans and establish peace and prosperity in Israel. Jesus' kingdom, though, would first be spiritual in the sense that He would begin to rule on earth by ruling in the hearts of those who followed Him (John 18:36). Eventually, He will also reign over a physical, political kingdom on earth (Revelation 20:6).
Verse Context:
Matthew 3:1–12 introduces John the Baptist, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea near the Jordan River. John, dressed in camel hair and a leather belt in the style of the prophet Elijah, has a simple message: repent because the kingdom of heaven is coming. Crowds come from miles around, including even Israel's religious leaders. John calls those leaders vipers and warns that Messiah will bring the wrath of God against the unrepentant. The Messiah will baptize the repentant with the Holy Spirit and fire. The trees that do not bear fruit, spiritually speaking, will be cut down and burned.
Chapter Summary:
Matthew introduces John the Baptist as a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3. He is the voice crying in the wilderness as he prepares the way for the Lord. John calls the crowds who travel to hear him to repent from their sins. The kingdom of heaven is close! He also warns of God's judgment, specifically on Israel's spiritually-barren religious leaders. Finally, the Messiah he has been speaking of arrives and insists that John baptize Him. When he does, the heavens break open, the Holy Spirit comes to rest on Jesus, and the voice of God the Father says Jesus is His Son and that He is pleased with Him.
Chapter Context:
Matthew's story of Jesus jumps forward several decades from the moment when His family settled in Nazareth. This passage finds John the Baptist preaching about repentance in the wilderness and baptizing those who are willing. Crowds come from all around to hear John preach in the look and style of Elijah, including Israel's religious leaders. John warns them of God's coming judgment on those who do not truly repent. Jesus arrives and insists that John baptize Him. As Jesus emerges from the water, the heavens break open, the Holy Spirit descends to rest on Jesus in dove-like form, and the voice of God declares that Jesus is His Son. After this baptism, Jesus will be led into the desert to be tempted by Satan, in chapter 4.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Matthew clearly shows the influence of its writer's background, and his effort to reach a specific audience. Matthew was one of Jesus' twelve disciples, a Jewish man, and a former tax collector. This profession would have required literacy, and Matthew may have transcribed some of Jesus' words as they were spoken. This book is filled with references to the Old Testament, demonstrating to Israel that Jesus is the Promised One. Matthew also includes many references to coins, likely due to his former profession. Matthew records extensive accounts of Jesus' teaching, more than the other three Gospels.
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