In Matthew, John the Baptist’s message (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus’ message (Matthew 4:17) are identical. Here it is in Greek.
Here is the usual translation of this message.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (NASB, ESV, KJV)
- I understood “repent” to mean that I needed to have a “conversion experience.”
- I understood the fact that the Kingdom was “at hand” to mean that very soon, either I would die or Jesus would return. I would face heaven or hell.
Since I had responded to an altar call at age 7, I had repented. Since I had repented, I was bound for heaven when I died. I had done what Jesus and John said to do.
But here is a translation that captures the Greek better.
Change your thinking! The Kingdom of Heaven stands in your face.
The word that grabbed my attention was ἤγγικεν, normally translated “at hand.”
If I hear that something is “at hand” I understand it to mean that something is coming very soon, as in “Christmas is at hand.” So I read Jesus’ message to mean that God’s Kingdom will be here soon.
Since “the Kingdom of Heaven” meant a place I would go when I died, this verse was warning me that soon, I would die (or Jesus would return).
But ἤγγικεν is in the perfect tense.
The Greek perfect describes something that happened in the past that continues up to this very day. My favorite example is the translation, “It is written” for γέγραπται. By “it is written” we mean that it was written and it stands written. This is exactly the force of the Greek perfect.
To translate ἤγγικεν as “at hand” pictures the Kingdom as nearly, but not yet, here. This is almost exactly the opposite of what is intended by the Greek perfect. What is meant is that the Kingdom has been established and remains established.
The need to repent is not because of a future event (my death or Jesus’ return). The need to repent is due to a present reality. To capture this, I translate ἤγγικεν as “stands in your face.”
Jesus revealed a completely different way of life, one in which people leave the judging to God, one in which we loved our enemies and forgiveness is not optional. This is not the way of our world. That’s why we need to repent. God’s ways are not our ways. But what does it mean to “repent?”
Μετανοεῖτε is usually translated “repent.” This sounds like a religious experience. But μετανοεῖτε means “change your thinking.” It means to “look at things in a new way.” When we genuinely look at things in a new way, we live in new way too. “We naturally bring forth fruit in keeping with our “change of thinking.”
I’m glad I repented at age 7 and I’m glad I was baptized. But I am not through with Jesus’ message. It greets me every morning. Every day, I am tempted to live in the universe of me, a world that revolves around me, a world where I judge others and nurse my grudges.
Every moment, Jesus say: Change your thinking! The Kingdom of Heaven stands in your face.
There is a new reality, a world to which I am invited every day. If I will open my eyes and enter it, all will be made new. That’s why this message is called εὐαγγέλιον (“good news”).