Episode 09: Jesus did not tell his disciples “Believe in me, the kingdom of heaven is at hand” but rather “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In this episode viewers will discover the direct connection between the kingdom of heaven and repentance. Since throughout the Bible sin leads to exile, it is also true that repentance leads to redemption. Followers of Jesus can help prepare the way for Messiah’s final redemption by walking in a life of repentance now.
The Lesson: The Mystery of Repentance
You wouldn’t think there’d be much of a mystery about repentance, but as this episode unfolds, a lot of details are unpackaged that I don’t think most Christians are conscious of. Today’s episode, “Repentance,” is a direct sequel of last week’s episode, The Gospel Message. It is a refactoring of the understanding of the desires of God and the work of Jesus Christ from a wholly Jewish point of view, and strives to communicate that the “good news” isn’t just about “me and my personal redemption.” Christianity seems to focus on “me and Jesus,” while Judaism, and specifically Messianic Judaism for our purposes, has a wider field of view.
From this time on, Yeshua began calling out to proclaim and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is on the brink of arrival.”
–Matthew 4:17 (DHE Gospels)
This was Messiah’s message to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, but why didn’t he say “believe in me” rather than “repent?” FFOZ Author and Teacher Toby Janicki calls us to start thinking outside the box of “me and my personal salvation.” Repentance and Kingdom are national concepts, not just personal directives. We’re talking about a message relevant to the entire nation of Israel and the whole of the Jewish people. I know that probably makes Gentile Christians feel a little insecure, but there’s more that we need to understand about who Jesus is and exactly the function of his mission.
Toby says that Jesus did NOT say “believe in me for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He said “repent.” So did someone else:
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
–Matthew 3:1-2 (NASB)
The following scripture adds more detail:
Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
–Mark 1:14-15 (NASB)
This breaks down into three points:
- The Kingdom of God is at hand.
- Believe in the gospel.
This is all very similar to the content of last week’s episode, and Toby makes the point that belief goes hand in hand with repentance. As he was speaking, I recalled that there are certain teachings in Judaism that say if all of Israel were to repent at the same moment, it would summon the coming of the Messiah. There are also contradictory teachings but the gist is that Jewish faith and repentance have a direct connection to when the Messianic Era, that is, the Kingdom of God arrives.
This is radically different from what most Christians believe, since we have been taught the return of Jesus will be on some fixed but unknown date on the calendar. We can neither make it come sooner or delay it from happening.
Here comes the first clue to solving our mystery:
Clue 1: The gospel message carries the imperative message, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
It’s a call to action. We must do something, that is repent, because the Messianic Era is on the verge of arriving.
But what is it to repent? Toby tells us that if we believe the gospel message, we will change…not like changing our minds, but changing our lives. My Pastor calls it living a transformed life. Toby says that repentance is a return to God’s Law, the Torah.
The scene shifts to Israel where FFOZ Teacher and Translator Aaron Eby explains the Hebrew word “Teshuvah” to the audience. He tells us the word gives the meaning of turning around and returning. It’s as if God’s desire for people is for us to walk in His ways, literally, walking God’s path. Sinning is like straying off the path and repentance is turning back or returning to the path.
So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you will possess.
–Deuteronomy 5:32-33 (NASB)
The timing of this review couldn’t have been better, since not only are we about to enter the High Holy Days on the Jewish calendar which emphasize repentance and return for the Jewish people, but last week’s Torah portion included the following passage:
“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.”
–Deuteronomy 30:1-3 (NASB)
The “mechanics” of repentance involves a literal ceasing of a specific sin, a deep regret for ever having sinned, verbal confession to God, and making life changes, such as repairing the damage you did to others by sinning, and even giving to charity as a way to compensate for any inability to pay back what you took or heal the hurts you caused. Returning to God’s path.
But this also illustrates that, for the Jewish people, and remember Christ’s primary audience were (and are) Jews and Israel, the only way to repent was (and is) to return to the ways of Torah. If the message of Jesus is as true today as it was nearly two-thousand years ago, then we cannot ask Jewish believers to stop observing the Torah mitzvot, nor can we in the church say that the Torah was meant to be temporary. To do so would be to deny the Jewish people any ability to obey God and repent of their sins. We’d be condemning them to permanent exile, and condemning ourselves to living outside of God’s will for the Gentiles.
Toby gives us the second clue:
Clue 2: Repentance is turning away from sin and towards God’s Law.
The rest of the mystery involves the linkage between repentance and redemption. As mentioned above, when Israel sins, she is exiled from her Land, but Moses in Deuteronomy 30:1-3 also promises that whenever Israel repents, she is redeemed and returned to the Land of Israel. This is the original template for what all of the subsequent prophets in Israel would say, not only about the historic exiles and returns, but the final redemption in the Messianic age.
…and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
–2 Chronicles 7:14 (NASB)
Toby rightly mentions that typically, we’ve heard sermon after sermon applying this verse to Christians in whatever nation we happen to be living in, which in my case, is America. But taken in context, this was being addressed to King Solomon and to Israel. This is not about Christianity and “saving America” as a “Christian nation,” but about the central message of every Jewish prophet in the Old Testament. God intends to heal Israel. Christians can’t afford to be so self-focused that we miss what the Bible is really saying. It’s not all about us and Jesus, it’s about the intent of God toward Israel. It’s about the redemption of national Israel, not individual Gentile souls.
Clue 3: Repentance is a prerequisite to redemption.
It’s almost like Toby is saying that if we all really repent, only then will Messiah return…or is he saying only if Israel repents…?
Toby says we can be a part of the redemption by living lives of continual redemption. Living such a life is like being part of a sort of “mini-Messianic age.” We experience a foretaste of what is to come when Jesus returns, the time when all of Israel will repent and the Messiah will come in power and glory, bringing redemption to the Jewish people and the world. But none of this happens for Gentile Christians unless Israel repents and is redeemed, so it is in our best interests to support and encourage Jewish observance of Torah.
This lesson has at least strongly implied if not boldly declared that Israel can’t repent unless they return to the specific behavioral path God has provided for them, the Torah. We in the church dare not inhibit this, for Israel’s sake and for our own.
What Did I Learn?
I learned that the timing of the return of Jesus is variable. It isn’t a fixed date on the calendar. According to something FFOZ President and Founder Boaz Michael said at the close of this episode, if Israel had repented at the first coming of Messiah, the Kingdom of God would have been established at that moment.
That’s a rather radical thought, because I always believed that the final redemption was “delayed” to allow time for the gospel message to be transmitted to all the nations of the Earth, to all of the Gentiles. If Israel had repented immediately after the resurrection and the Messianic Era was then established, the vast majority of the world would never have heard of Israel, of Messiah, and they certainly wouldn’t have had a clue that Israel was supposed to be the head of the nations and Israel’s King was the King of the entire planet.
After two-thousand years, if Messiah should return at this very moment, even though many would still disagree with who he is and what he is supposed to do, almost none of us could say that we never heard of Jesus, Israel, the Bible, and what Christians and Jews believe it all means.
Did Jesus truly expect for Israel to have repented long, long ago?
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
–Revelation 22:20 (NASB)
John wrote these words near the close of the first century CE and it certainly seems as if he expected the return of Messiah soon, perhaps within his own lifetime (and he was quite elderly when he penned this part of our Bible). Is it humanity’s fault that he hasn’t come yet? Is our lack of repentance and hardness of heart to blame?
It’s the mystery for next week.