“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)

These words have been ingrained in our consciousness over the years by street preachers and sermons alike. Do we actually understand the meaning of these words?

There are several translations of this verse, including:

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (NIV 2011)

"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" (Hebrew Names Version)

"Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh." (Darby Translation)

Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (American Standard Version)

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible)

Whichever translation we accept, these words described the jist of the preaching of Jesus following his hearing of John the Baptist’s imprisonment:

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 4:17)

We also know that John the Baptist taught this prior to Jesus:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:1-2)

And Jesus told his own disciples to pass on this very same message:

"As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:7)

The meaning of the word “repent” is critical. As we directly follow the previous lesson from Jesus’ face-off with satan (Matt 4:10), we can see that at issue was our focus upon the trappings of the material world. To "repent" in this context would be to withdraw from our activities that utilize the material world as a place of our enjoyment. To "repent" from these activities would mean to discontinue them. Many might add that "repent" also means to ask forgiveness. This would surely be true, except it should be pointed out that there is no functional basis for apologizing without at least an attempt to make changes.

This appears contrary to the popular definition of "repent" as projected by many in the Christian world today. Many see repent as wrapped up within a public proclamation of some sort. To proclaim “I repent,” in a public ceremony, or “I surrender to Jesus” would not necessarily encompass the type of personal “repent” Jesus is referring to. To truly and personally repent in this context would be to personally give up one’s intention to serve oneself for selfish purposes, and begin constructive measures to focus upon coming to know and please God.

This latter point regarding the focus upon God is relevant in the discussion regarding the kingdom of heaven being near. While many might prognosticate that this relates to a coming “end of the world,” we simply can apply logic to disband this notion.

Consider that these were the words of Jesus’ preaching. To whom was he preaching? Certainly he was preaching to those with whom he lived and traveled among. While we might suggest that Jesus was indicating the end of the world, we who read this 2,000 years later certainly must realize that a teaching proposing the world was going to end during the lifetimes of his listeners would be considered preposterous. Would Jesus be trying to threaten his students with a coming end of the world in order to convert them?

The word "near" is being translated from the Greek word ἐγγίζω (eggizō), which means, according to the lexicon:

1) to bring near, to join one thing to another
2) to draw or come near to, to approach

The proselytizing that this indicates a point in time would therefore be false. The word indicates "closeness" in terms of distance - not time. Thus Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of God being nearby.

The true meaning of “..for the kingdom of heaven is near” is that each of us can reach the kingdom of God immediately by our worship and love for God. By dismissing ourselves from our search for happiness in a world of emptiness and physical gratification and reaching out to the Supreme Being, we have the opportunity to immediately enter the kingdom of God.

To limit the kingdom of God to a place outside of the physical universe we currently reside in would be to also limit God’s ability to be present in a place of His creation. Certainly if we accept that God created this world, we can also accept that He has the ability to be here. If He can be here, and we can be focused upon Him with love and service, then we have the ability to bring the kingdom of God right here, where ever we are--as long as we are focused upon doing His will rather than our own will.

The statement, "the kingdom of God is near," is stating that we can immediately reject our worldly desires and give ourselves to God. We can immediately decide to dedicate our lives to pleasing God and doing His will. Yes, God's kingdom is that near.