“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” NIV
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” NRSV
Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. KJV
The opening of Matthew chapter 3 speaks of two things: the kingdom of heaven, and repentance. While the many translations word it slightly differently, the idea is pretty clear: repent of your old ways, for the kingdom, is close. There is one translation that I have found, however, that seems to tell a slightly different story.
“Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” The Message
Side-note: I know that The Message is a somewhat controversial translation and that it is not exact. I think, though, that it usually does a better job of conveying the whole idea of a passage, more than simply translating from the Greek or Hebrew.
So what exactly about this is a different story?
Change your life. That is very different from what I have learned the word repent means. This almost makes me think that it means more than just asking forgiveness of my sins. Like what John is about to say is something that will change my entire life.
God's kingdom is here. God's kingdom? Is that the same or different than Heaven? And it's here? Like on Earth, where I am right now? So, John is saying that God has brought His kingdom to Earth and it is not separate from us.
He was right. That does change my entire life.
You see, growing up, I knew about Heaven and Jesus and the whole shebang. I had grown up in the church. Literally. I was practically birthed in my family's church. I had accepted Jesus and been baptized when I was 8. I was following all of the rules: being kind to people, telling the truth, usually listening to my parents. I was definitely going to Heaven when I died.
My freshman year of college, I started to study Christian Spiritual Formation at my university, and I was challenged on everything I had ever known. In the best way possible.
I was introduced to the concept above. That the Kingdom (aka Heaven) is not something we have to wait for. We can experience it here and now. Living with Jesus does not just mean following rules and being kind to people, but it is a way of transforming yourself to be more like Jesus and to experience His reality. A reality of immense goodness, beauty, and truth.
John was trying to tell the people that Jesus was here and he was bringing Heaven with him. Maybe not Heaven exactly as it will be someday, but Heaven nonetheless. There are all sorts of things around us that bring a little bit of Heaven to Earth: babies, laughter, flowers, chocolate, music. We don't have to wait until we are dead to start living eternal life. Life with and in Jesus begins now, we just have to look for it.
This place is certainly not Heaven, but I have found bits of Heaven all around me, and that has changed my entire life.