The “guy” on the corner yelling “repent for the end is near,” and holding a “turn or burn” sign might think he is carrying on in the spirit of Elijah, the spirit of John the Baptist, but I think he is missing something. I have nothing against his open air public preaching, I admire his boldness, I am thankful for his commitment to the doctrines of repentance, hell, and the return of King Jesus, but there are some problems.
His message markets Jesus simply as char prevention. Repentance becomes just another adventure in self-seeking for our narcissistic culture. By all means preach the ugliness of sin and the reality of hell, but only to preach the glories of Christ. You must preach the heinous nature of sin and its consequences for the good news of Jesus to be good news, but it is not until you preach the good news of the cross that sin is seen in its most ugly, true form. If you preach repentance without redemption you are not longer preaching the gospel, but law.
Our calling is not to preach an isolated hell or repentance but the gospel.
When the guy says “repent for the end is near” he is not saying the same thing John does when he says “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
What is the “kingdom of heaven” that Matthew will reference 32 times? Let’s begin with what it is not. It isn’t the people of God, nor the church. Just try replacing them sometimes and you will see the absurdity.
Your [church] come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10
The [church] is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. – Matthew 14:44
The time is fulfilled, and the [church] is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. – Mark 1:15
So what is the kingdom? Lets narrow in on a precise definition in three steps.
- The kingdom is here now but not yet, near yet far, present (Matthew 12:28, Luke 17:20-21) yet future (Matthew 6:10; Luke 22:18).
- The kingdom primarily is the dominion, rule, and reign of God. Edmund Clowney said it well, “In the Scriptures, God’s kingdom is the shadow of His presence; not so much his domain as his dominion; not his realm but his rule. God’s kingdom is the working of his power to accomplish his purposes of judgment and salvation.”
- Primarily the kingdom is the saving rule and reign of God that began radically to break in with Christ’s first advent and will be consummated upon His return. It isn’t that God wasn’t working His plan of redemption prior to the coming of Jesus, but with Jesus’ advent our redemption was at hand.
The good news that we preach is the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23, 9:35, 24:14; Acts 8:12, 28:31). The text says that the reason why John was doing what he was doing was to fulfill Isaiah 40:3. He is the herald sent ahead of the king telling them to prepare for the coming of the King. In Isaiah 40 the coming of the King is good news. So the reason why the “kingdom is at hand” is because the king has come. Now the question is why has he come? Matthew has already answered that question in chapter one, “you shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.”
So we plead with people to repent not simply because sin is vile and hell is hot, but most deeply because Christ is glorious! Our primary motivation toward repentance is not negative but positive. There is sorrow in repentance, but there is also joy; sorrow over sin and joy over Christ. Repentance is not the begrudging sacrifice of great pleasures to avoid dire consequences. Repentance is seeing by faith the glories of Christ, and then comparing His promises and pleasures with those of sin and shouting, “No contest – Jesus!” True repentance not only hates sin, it loves Jesus.
Though [repentance] be a deep sorrow for sin that God requires as necessary to salvation, yet the very nature of it necessarily implies delight. Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder. ‘Tis impossible that anyone should see anything that appears to him excellent and not behold it with pleasure, and it’s impossible to be affected with the mercy and love of God, and his willingness to be merciful to us and love us, and not be affected with pleasure at the thoughts of [it]; but this is the very affection that begets true repentance. How much sovever of a paradox it may seem, it is true that repentance is a sweet sorrow, so that the more of this sorrow, the more pleasure. – Jonathan Edwards