Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Repentance in Jesus’ Early Message, Matthew 4:17-22 and Mark 1:14-20

It will be recalled from an earlier posting that John the Baptist preached a repentance that was directly tied to the coming of the Kingdom and that demanded action, not just assent. Starting with his baptism, Jesus preached a similar repentance:

17 From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent [metanoiete]! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” 18 Walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them. 22 They immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Matthew 4:17-22 (WEB).

Jesus declared to His hearers that the Kingdom of Heaven had approached them—the Greek here translated “is at hand” is really a single word, the verb eggizō (to approach, draw near, impend)in the aorist tense, a tense which ordinarily refers to completed past action. Jesus was not saying the Kingdom would soon come, in the future. His choice of tense declared the Kingdom had already drawn near to his hearers. The obvious interpretation of this is that Jesus brought the Kingdom with him, so that it drew near when they heard his words. Because the Kingdom was standing right next to them, he commanded his hearers to “repent!” Here, he used the stronger verb for repent, metanoeō, a verb which also carries an implication of actions corresponding to a changed course, as I have previously shown.

However, the context in Matthew 4 does not stop there. While preaching this message, Jesus starts to call disciples individually. He calls Simon Peter and Andrew to follow him, and they demonstrate their repentance by immediately leaving their own business and following Jesus. He then sees James and John, and they immediately left their boat and their father and followed him. When the Kingdom stood next to them, and called, they followed.

Mark gives a similar account of Jesus message, but adds a few words that clarify Jesus’ point that the time had arrived:

14 Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.” 16 Passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets, and followed him. 19 Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.

Mark 1:14-22 (WEB).

Jesus came preaching the “good news” (euaggelion, also translated “Gospel”) of the Kingdom of God. He said that this good news was that his hearers did not have to wait any longer for the Kingdom, because the time was filled full (peplērōtai), completed, and the Kingdom of God had already approached them (again using the aorist of eggizō). Their commanded response to the near approach of the Kingdom was this: repent (again, metanoiete) and believe the good news. Jesus does not say their response to the Kingdom should be to repent by believing the good news. Jesus does not here teach that repentance consists of changing one’s mind about dogma, and is complete when the appropriate statement of faith is made. Instead, the two are presented separately—because the Kingdom has come near, we should both change our behavior (repent) and believe that the Kingdom is with us in Jesus.

Again, as in Matthew, the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, with its call to repent, leads to the calling of the first disciples, who willingly follow Jesus.


  1. So repentance here especially means following Jesus, becoming a disciple who not only hears Jesus' words but does them. Since Jesus is the newly anointed king (by heaven, the Spirit descending and the voice announcing, at his baptism), he now begins to form his new kingdom of disciples (the kingdom of heaven).