The pronouncement of the Kingdom Come in Matthew first occurs by the forerunner of Christ, His cousin John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Subsequent to this pronouncement, John offered a baptism of repentance in preparation of the coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. His baptism signaled a continuity with the Old Covenant purification practice but more importantly pointed forward to a greater baptism of the Spirit promised by our Lord (Matt. 3:11; cf Acts 1:5). In keeping with the consistency of John’s kingdom declaration, the Lord makes an identical pronouncement as the first ministerial words recorded by Matthew, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
As we continue through Matthew’s gospel, we should not be surprised to see this pronouncement of Christ’s kingdom come leading directly into the infamous Sermon on the Mount. It serves as a sort of preamble to the constitution of the kingdom (if you will) that comes in Matthew chapters 5-7. Leading into the sermon, Matthew provides an important summary of Jesus’ ministry as a prefix to its inauguration, “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) The significance of this statement and it’s placement here in Matthew’s account of the life of Christ cannot be understated. It frames the upcoming sermon, as well as our Lord’s introductory healing ministry, alongside the identical Matthew 9:35. These two passages form an inclusio (or brackets) and when broken down into the individual components reveal the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
- Teaching in their synagogues
- Proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom
- Healing every disease and affliction [among the people]
Returning to our earlier quotations of John preaching that the kingdom was at hand and our Lord following his lead in doing the same, we ought now to combine our understanding of the kingdom with the proclamation that the kingdom had come. Preaching, used in Matthew’s gospel in reference to both John and Jesus, should not be thought of in the same way as we think of preaching today. This is not the scholarly transference of information to a silent audience. Quite the contrary. The preaching that the kingdom was at hand is itself a proclamation. With John, his proclamation is further defined as a coming event enveloped in the person of Christ, “prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight,” and “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” With Jesus, the proclamation is not of a coming event nor really even of a person, rather the proclamation IS the event itself. In effect it is a declaration of fulfillment that the time of the kingdom is now! (Mark 1:15) If we may speak plainly, John states that the King is coming while our Lord states emphatically that the King has arrived.
In his gospel account, Matthew – and as a point of clarity – he under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has up to this point prepared his audience for the arrival of the King, namely Jesus. He did so first in the opening with the establishment of Christ’s genealogy from the line of David, via Abraham (Matt. 1:1-6). Second, at the birth announcement of Jesus, wise men, Gentiles no less, inquire to where the “king of the Jews” has been born. Third, he did so by announcing Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem as a fulfillment of Micah 5:2 and the prophecy of a ruler coming to shepherd God’s people Israel. Fourth, when we look closer at John’s preparatory announcement of the coming King/Kingdom, particularly with his quotation of Isaiah 40:3, we ought to note that a connection is made between the arrival of Jesus and preparing “the way of the Lord”. Here, there is an equivocation being made that this Jesus being announced is none other than the Lord. The word for Lord throughout the New Testament is kurios meaning Master or Sovereign, i.e. King. Each of these are like building blocks in this opening New Testament book that prepare us for John’s pronouncement and even further for the announcement of our Lord that the kingdom was at hand. But we ought not overlook one final piece to the King/Kingdom description.
The use and reference of Christ, not just in Matthew but through the entirety of the New Testament, is not the last name of Jesus, rather it is His title meaning Messiah or Anointed One. Naturally, this carries with it the weight of the Old Testament expectation of the Messiah to come. Not only does the Old Testament speak of the Lord’s Anointed (e.g. Psalm 2:2) and not only does it promote an expectation of the One to come, but through the use of Anointed it by necessity carries with it the weight of those who were anointed, namely kings and priests.
Summarizing what we have seen of the kingdom in the opening chapters of Matthew leading up to the Sermon on the Mount, we have learned that the use of kingdom (basileia) is primarily a reference to the King and that this is no ordinary King. This King is from the royal line of David, but more than that He is the promised Anointed One. This King also holds the office of High Priest and prophetically announces as the King-Priest that His kingdom has come. The demand He places on all, rightfully as Sovereign, is to repent and believe the gospel of the Kingdom. It is this King who by His sovereign authority announces the terms of His Kingdom in His Sermon on the Mount and follows this up by asserting His authority over disease, death, and demons. Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, is King and His Kingdom has come, is come, and will come. Solus Christus