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WHAT DO YOU MEAN, "REPENT?"
John the Baptist preached, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 3:2, NASB).
Later, Jesus proclaimed, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Mt. 4:17, NRSV; NIV is similar for both verses).
These were both public proclamations. But what was the idea of this admonition to the people of Judea in the first century?
Webster defines "repent" as, "to feel sorrow, remorse or regret for one's past conduct; to be penitent; to remember with compunction or self-reproach; to experience such contrition as to amend one's way of life; to have a change of mind about a past action."
This has been the traditional idea regarding the meaning of the "repent" in the preaching of evangelical Christianity since the time of the Reformation. But, was this what either John or Jesus had in mind when they were preaching?
Dr. Ann Nyland, in The Source NT, renders both John's and Jesus' statements, "Change your minds! Heaven's Realm is close!"
My own translation of 3:2 reads,
"You folks be continuously and progressively changing your thinking – change your perceptions, attitudes, frame of mind, mode of thought and understanding, and turn back [toward God], because the reign of the heavens
(the expression and effect of kingdom rule which has its source in the atmospheres; the activity of exercising the sovereignty which exists being the heavens; the reigning [of the King] which pertains to the heavens; the kingdom which belongs to and comes from the atmosphere; the influence of the sovereignty which is the heavens) has approached and is now near at hand and is close enough to touch (= has arrived and is now accessible)!"
A study of the Greek verb "metanoew" instructs us that the folks listening to John and Jesus would have heard these words with both the meanings that I have given in my rendering of this verb, plus the traditional connotation from the messages of the prophets to Israel, "convert yourselves and turn back toward Yahweh."
But the reason for doing this was because of the nearness of the kingdom and reign of heaven. The situation was changing, and they needed to change their thinking, their attitudes, their perceptions, their frame of mind, their mode of thought and understanding, and their expectations. And this was a corporate message and a public matter affecting the whole people – not just individuals and their personal morals or holiness. As J. Behm points out as to how John used this word,
It "advances in the ancient prophetic summons for conversion," but also "it stands under the urgency of the eschatological revelation of God" (TDNT, vol. 4, p 1000).
The arrival of the Messiah with His death, burial and resurrection, was to change everything – affecting all of mankind and the entire universe. Christ came preaching new wine, and it had to be put into new wineskins: they had to change their thinking (or: wineskins) about the expected Messiah and His reign among them.
Later, Jesus told His disciples,
"Truly, I am now laying out my thoughts and saying to you that no longer, under any circumstances, can I (may I; would I; should I) drink from out of the product of the grapevine – until that day, whenever I can drink it (or: constantly drink it) new in quality and kind, within God's reign as King (or: in the midst of the kingdom of God; = the realm of God's activities, influence and way of doing things)." – Mk. 14:25
He was ending the old, and as Paul informs us,
"the original things (the beginning [situations]; the archaic and primitive [arrangements]) passed by (or: went to the side). Consider! New things have come into existence!" – 2 Cor. 5:17b
A change in perspective and way of thinking had to happen.
Furthermore, using a different metaphor, Jesus had also told folks,
"No one usually sews a patch of an unshrunk shred of cloth upon an old and worn out cloak (coat; outer garment). Yet, if [he does], is not the filling-result (the [patch] that fills up [the hole]) progressively lifting up away from it – the new (fresh) one from the old one – and a worse split-effect (or: tear; rip) is gradually happening?" – Mk. 2:21
In 1 Cor. 5:7 Paul referred to the covenant community as "a new lump [of bread]." In Col. 3:10 he admonished folks to,
"[be] suddenly clothing yourselves with (or: entering within) the new [humanity] (the fresh one which existed only recently), the one being continuously (or: repeatedly; habitually; progressively) renewed (made new again, in kind and character) into full, accurate, added, intimate and experiential knowledge and insight which is down from and corresponds to the image of its Creator."
The people of Judea were being told that changes were coming, and they would soon find out that with the new arrangements there would be:
no more flesh boundary markers making distinctions
between people groups – and the Gentiles were now
included in the covenant
no more temple sacrifices
no more celebrations of the annual feasts or distinction of
no more nationalistic thinking with its attending prejudices
no longer a kingdom belonging to the rich, but belonging to
the poor and the outcasts.
The new would be composed of folks being admonished to seek the low positions, and the great ones would now be the folks who served others.
The change that came with the resurrection of the Messiah was much bigger than concerns about personal failures, guilt, bad habits, addictions, etc.
It was about the arrival of the kingdom – the new creation – which made old things of the former age pass away. It brought freedom. It brought the Spirit. It brought Life. It brought grace: "the act producing happiness, which is granted as a favor" – Jim Coram. It brought a new relationship with God that required a change of thinking for both Jews and Gentiles. It brought us the Second Humanity, the New Being.
This, then, is the cup in which we participate, the bread that we are, and the life that we are called to lead. If we have not yet done so, let us repent – change our minds and our way of thinking – for God's reign is close enough to touch and is available for us.
So, did Jesus need to change His mind and way of thinking? I suggest that the answer is, "Yes." He was born under the Law and lived under the Law. But He now needed to see Himself as the One that was to bring the kingdom close enough for people to touch – or, to be "at hand," and accessible to them.
Furthermore, He needed to change His thinking from that of being an individual that had been under the child-escort of the Law to that of being God's Son, the Anointed one that would deliver His people, and humanity, from the human predicament: dead in trespasses and sins; in slavery to the Law; lost and destroyed (cf Gal. 4:1-5).
He was to be the Messiah, the new Moses that would liberate His people, the Head of the Second Humanity, the last (or: eschatos) Adam. The Spirit of the Lord was now upon Him (Lu. 4:18-21). In preparation for this He, in following the pattern of Israel being delivered from Egypt and being baptized unto Moses first in the Red Sea, and then in the Cloud of Yahweh's presence (1 Cor. 10:1-4), Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River where He was anointed by the Spirit and then immediately impelled by this same Spirit into the desert (or: wilderness) to be tested for 40 days (corresponding to the 40 years that Israel was in the desert, prior to entering into the promise).
I suggest that Jesus was subjected to tests that represented human desires and the expectations that His people held: food and provision (like the manna from heaven, the water from the rock, health and "sandals that did not wear out") as their ancestors had experienced; a Messiah that would rule all the kingdoms of the world (a greater "David" on Israel's throne); demonstrations of the miraculous (like Moses and then Elijah). We are told that He was tested in all points, just as we are (Heb. 1:17-18; 4:15). He too needed to change His thinking away from the Law, from Israel's human expectations, and to focus on the will of the Father – the leading of the Spirit. He was now Israel's (and humanity's) Man, the Forerunner (Heb. 6:20) that would lead Israel and humanity behind the veil (Heb. 10:19-22). He would become the Priest-King of the order of Melchizedek, who recalled the time of the giving of the promise to Abraham – before the creating of Israel as a separated nation. His stepping into the Jordan would open the way for people to cross over into the promises of God (Josh. 3:14-17).
Just as the life of Israel changed when they left the wilderness and crossed into the promised land, so would the life of Israel (as well as all of humanity) change again with the coming of the Promise of, and which is, the Father (Lu. 24:49).
Now both Jew and Gentile must change their thinking, having the mind of Christ now available (1 Cor. 2:16) and now being one new humanity (Eph. 2:10-22).
When Jesus was baptized by John, "the heavens were opened back up again" (Mt. 3:16). They had been closed to humanity, but Jesus was now in the process of entering back into the Garden – and He would open the Way for us, past the cherubim (Gen. 3:24) that were embroidered into the veil (entrance) of the holy of holies (a figure of the Garden, within Eden, or Paradise – figured by the temple complex).
I have followed the MS readings that omit "to Him" in vs. 16 (as do, e.g., the NASB, NIV, Nyland), because of the form of the verb. It is the verb "opened" that has a prefix added "ano" which means "back; up; again." I conflated these meaning, above, to give the full meaning of what was happening with the Spirit descending and coming upon Him. Things were beginning to change.
The biggest change of thinking for Jesus, I suggest, was doing what He saw the Father presently doing – instead of simply following the Law. This needs to be the change of thinking for all people, as well. Those who are continuously led in the Breath-effect, and by the Spirit, are God's sons. This involved a change in the thinking of Jesus, and so it also does in the thinking of His brothers.
But now we are called to "follow Him" – take up our crosses and lead a cruciform life – Mt. 16:24ff,
24. At that point Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone continues intending (purposing; willing; wanting) to come on behind Me, let him at once deny, reject and disown himself, and then in one move lift up his execution state (cross), and after that proceed to be by habit continuously following after Me!
25. "You see, whoever may intend (or: should purpose; might set his will; happens to want) to keep his soul-life safe (to rescue himself; to preserve the interior life that he is living) will continue loosing-it-away and destroying it. Yet whoever can loose-away and even destroy his soul-life (the interior self) on My account, he will continue finding it!
26. "For what will a person (or: mankind) proceed being benefited, or in what will he (or: they) continue helped or augmented, if he can or would advantageously procure [for himself (or: themselves)] and gain the whole ordered system of society: government, economy, culture, religion – even the whole universe, yet would be undergoing the loss of, receive damage to, or be made to forfeit, his soul-life (his interior self [in its reality])? Or what will a person (or: mankind) continue giving, as a price paid to change his (or: its) soul back (or: to effect the interior transformation of himself/itself, back again to make himself/itself other than he/it is)?
Now let us turn to Paul and his words in Rom. 12:
1. Consequently, brothers, I am repeatedly calling you folks alongside to exhort, implore and encourage you, through God's compassions to stand your bodies alongside (or: to set or place your bodies beside) [the] Well-pleasing, Set-apart (Holy; Different-from-the-usual), Living Sacrifice by God (or: in God; for God; to God; with God), [this being] your sacred service which pertains to thought, reason and communication (or: your reasoned and rational service; the logical and Word-based service from you folks).
2. And stop constantly conforming yourself to (or, as passive: Then quit being repeatedly fashioned or patterned together by) this age [or, with other MSS: and not to be continuously configured to this age; and not to constantly remodel yourself for this age], but on the contrary, be continuously transformed (transfigured; changed in shape, form and semblance) by the renewing (or: in the renewal; for the making-back-up-new again) of your mind into the [situation and condition for] you to be habitually examining in order to be testing and, after scrutiny, distinguishing and approving what [is] God's will (design; purpose; resolve; intent): the good and well-pleasing, even perfect (finished, complete and destined)!
(or: = the thing [that is] virtuous, satisfying and able to succeed in its purpose.)
To God be the glory,
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GOD'S MESSAGE OF
WHICH BRINGS GOD'S
GIFTS OF HIS SPIRIT,
HIS LIFE, HIS GRACE,
HIS POWER, HIS
FAIRNESS, HIS PEACE
AND HIS LOVE