“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2 ESV
This was the focus of John the Baptist’s preaching in the wilderness of Judea. There had been 400 quiet years (in between Old and New Testament) where the Israelites waited in anticipation for the one whom Isaiah, the prophet, spoke about: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever more…” (9:7). Almost out of the blue came this man wearing camel-hair garments, who ate locusts and wild honey (Matt. 3:4), who spoke about the kingdom of heaven. At this time, the Jews were being oppressed by the Romans. Was John the Baptist speaking about their redeemer?
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This verse is pregnant with meaning. It was the same message that Jesus preached once John the Baptist was arrested (Mark 1:15). At the end of Matthew 4 and from Matthew 8 onwards, Jesus starts healing many from various illnesses and demon possession, but if we don’t understand the meaning of “the kingdom of heaven”, we will not understand why Jesus healed all of these people.
One important thing to note is that the Israelites, and even Jesus’ disciples, didn’t know from the beginning that He was both man and God. It is only in Matthew 16 where Peter recognized Jesus as “the Christ” (the Messiah), but that was only one part of the truth. That’s why Peter was incredibly confused when Jesus told the disciples that he was “to suffer many things” and “be killed” (16:21). They thought that He, as a human, was literally going to sit on David’s throne in order to bring peace and free them from their Roman oppressors. Even after Jesus’s death and resurrection, before His ascension, some of His disciples still didn’t understand – “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?” (Acts 1:6)
One of the reasons why Jesus healed many people and cast out demons – in fact, the reason why Jesus performed many miracles – was to demonstrate His authority as God in the flesh. If you flip back to the creation story in Genesis, how did God create the universe and all that it contains? By His Word. Who was there from the beginning, according to John 1? The Word. How did Jesus heal the sick and demon possessed? How did he calm the storm? (Matt. 8:26) By speaking. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1;3). Jesus is the Word. Jesus is God. Jesus was there right from before the beginning. Jesus created the universe. Colossians 1:13 tells us that “He is the image of the invisible God”. Who would be able to command a disease to leave a body? Who would be able to rebuke the ocean? The One who made it. By healing the sick and demon possessed, Jesus is showing that He is not just the Son of God; He is God.
Now we are beginning to understand the kingdom of heaven being at hand. Jesus, being Immanuel, God with us, had come to Earth, from Heaven. But that is only one part of the meaning. The word “kingdom” carries a lot of weight in the Bible. In Genesis 12:1-3, God promised Abraham innumerable descendants, a land, a great name and blessing…a promise that should make us think back to the Garden of Eden before the Fall. “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and blessing” (Vaughan Roberts). The perfect Kingdom.
The Old Testament is full of promises and clues to this special Kingdom. One of these come in 2 Samuel 7:9-10;12-14 (God speaking to king David): “And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more…I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” See the similarities with God’s promise to Abraham.
This promise was somewhat fulfilled in David’s son, king Solomon, but he was still human and sinful, and his kingdom certainly didn’t last forever. This promise, and the promise made to Abraham, was only truly fulfilled in the person of Jesus. But what “place” was being spoken about? Was it the earthly city of Jerusalem?
The prophet, Isaiah, told of a new heavens and new earth that God would create where “…no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress (65:17;19). There are striking parallels in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (1, 3-4). The perfect Kingdom. The heavenly Kingdom.
This is the Kingdom that John the Baptist and Jesus preached about. It is no coincidence that we find the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5-7, after Jesus had been teaching in the synagogues and “proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people” (4:23). The Sermon on the Mount is all about God’s Kingdom! It will be worth your time to read and study those chapters again.
Why did Jesus heal all those people? To show His authority as the Creator of the Universe and to give them a foretaste of what His perfect Kingdom would be like – the New Heavens and New Earth where there would be no more pain, tears or disease. This is the place we too can look forward to if we have placed our trust in Jesus’s death and resurrection to forgive our sins, and believe in Him as our Lord and Saviour.
Some of you might ask, why isn’t God healing so many people today? The Coronavirus has shattered so many lives. There’s no question about God’s ability – nothing is impossible for God. He certainly can heal people of the Coronavirus, but is bodily healing honestly our biggest need? It might seem so if we focus on the here and now. Imagine that you did get healed, but never placed your trust in Jesus in your earthly life, forfeiting a place in God’s perfect Kingdom?