Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:
Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light,
and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in
shadow of death.
From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”
As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people.
The “good news” and the calling of the first followers. These first followers were called to help spread the “good news,” the “euaggelion,” (Greek: εὐαγγέλιον), often times translated as “gospel.” And what was the gospel message? “Here comes the kingdom of Heaven!” Or as Tom Wright puts it1, “The kingdom of heaven is arriving!”
A couple of points. First, Matthew, writing to a mostly Jewish audience, wouldn’t have used “kingdom of God” like the other writers, even though they’re all talking about the same thing. To this day, devout Jews don’t write “God” where it might be erased or discarded out of reverence. The word “heaven,” i.e., G_d’s dimension of creation2, was often used instead. Matthew does the same throughout his telling of the story of Jesus. So, let’s not let that trip us up when reading his telling of the story.
Second, Jesus announced that G_d’s long promised Realm was coming at last (or “arriving”). Not sometime in the future (certainly not the distant future). But right then. Somehow, through Jesus.
Third, even though G_d’s promised Realm was coming through Jesus (however mystically that sounds), people wouldn’t just be able to access it. No. They’d have to “change their hearts and lives.” This is the Common English Bible’s understanding of the word, “repent.” The scholars and the editors and the study groups, et. al., felt that “repent” wasn’t clear enough, so they fleshed it out a bit. In other words, it’s not about how one feels, but what one does that’s important (sorry, my Reformed friends). The word means to “change direction” or “turn around and go the other way.” That is, it’s about action. It’s like an addict who no longer wants to be one. The addict must change the way she does things if she wants a life free from her addiction.
However, Jesus’ application of “repent” (or “change your heart and lives”) here is much more specific than a general call for repentance. His contemporaries were longing for freedom from Rome and were ready for violent revolt. They were wanting to fight the darkness with darkness — to go to war with Rome the Roman way. Jesus tells them that G_d’s promised Realm was coming — a realm that would bring true justice and peace. But, if the people were twisting justice and peace to suit their own grasps for power, they would need to change. Or they’d get caught up in G_d’s justice and wouldn’t like the outcome.
In other words, G_d’s promised Realm is different from the other realms people are used to. The “old way” of doing things, the “old ways” of being, just won’t cut it. No longer could people claim that they were G_d’s children because they were children of Abraham. Yahweh could easily raise up children from the stones on the ground (Matthew 3.9). These “new” people wouldn’t necessarily be people “who are outwardly circumcised on their bodies. Instead, it is the person . . . who is circumcised in spirit, not literally” (Romans 2.28-29).
Furthermore, these “new” people could no longer act like people only caring about themselves. These “new” people will have to put other’s needs before their own. They would have to think of others first. They would have to let love rule in their hearts and that love would have to extend toward others, even their enemies. These “new” people would need to be willing to lay down their lives in service to others.
Therefore, when Jesus told people to “repent” he was meaning people will need to change and start doing things differently and being the people G_d has always intended them to be.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1 The Kingdom New Testament: A Contemporary Translation; N. T. (Tom) Wright; © 2011 Harper One.
2 If you think of “heaven” as the place where you go when you die, you’ll miss what Matthew is getting at—G_d’s dimension is coming to our dimension.