The kingdom at hand: who comes

john-the-baptist11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.While vv. 8–10 may be understood at least in part as continuing the address to the Pharisees and Sadducees, now John’s address is specifically to those whom he is actually baptizing.

The superiority of the “stronger one” is explained in terms of two baptisms. John’s water-baptism is a preliminary ritual with a view to repentance, clearing the way for the real thing, the “stronger one’s” baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire. Water is an outward sign, but the work of the Holy Spirit will be inward. Since fire occurs in both v. 10 and v. 12 (and probably also by implication in v. 7 in the imagery of the snakes escaping the fire) as a metaphor for God’s judgment, it should probably be taken in the same sense here. The coming of the Holy Spirit will burn away what is bad and so purify the repentant people of God. (France, 113) Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: response

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Our Response:  What should be our response to the coming of heaven? Should it be worship, praise and giving thanks? Ironically, those are good responses, but in Matthew’s gospel, not the ideal ones. Jesus never reprimands people for failing to worship or give thanks in this gospel (compare Luke 17:17-18), but he does rebuke those who have witnessed his mighty works and not repented (11:20-24). For Matthew, the ideal response seems to be repentance. We know from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew that people can worship God with their lips even when their deeds demonstrate that their hearts are far from God (15:3-9). Thus, the responsive worship of the crowds in 9:8 and 15:31 is commendable but will be in vain if performed with unrepentant hearts.  It is Matthew’s warning to the overtly religious of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees – and perhaps to us in this season of Advent – it is good to want to celebrate and praise, but make your priority repentance.  Let the coming one change our lives. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: herald

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:“A voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Continue reading

The kingdom at hand: context

john-the-baptist1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert,‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. Continue reading