Having prepared a people for the arrival of their Messiah and King, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist would now retreat into the background. He had known all along that this would happen, and had warned his followers about it, but he did not foresee that the cross he would bear would lead to him being put to death in King Herod’s prison. Nor did he realize that Jesus’ Messianic kingdom would not be immediately installed over the whole world, as the prophets had seemed to indicate. Instead, the Messiah first had His own cross to bear at Calvary, to once and for all atone for the sins of all believers throughout the world.
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17 (NKJV)
With the captivity of John, Jesus moved from Nazareth down to the cities on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee to begin in earnest the preaching of the coming kingdom of God. This is the kingdom that had been written about by the prophets, the one that will ultimately replace all of the earthly kingdoms and governments that preceded it. As was recorded in the book of Daniel, written many centuries before the birth of Christ:
44 And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. Daniel 2:44 (NKJV)
Jesus brought the good news firsthand of the arrival of God’s ultimate kingdom. He instructed people to repent, or turn away from their sins, and to turn towards God, because His kingdom was “at hand” and He would gladly receive them. God was now in their midst, in the flesh, going about healing people and freeing them from spiritual bondage to attest to His credentials as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
After Jesus was raised from the dead, He spent forty days equipping and teaching His apostles and disciples, around 120 people in all, who then witnessed Him ascend into heaven. Ten days later, after He had instructed His followers to pray and wait in Jerusalem for the Comforter to come, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and a large group of worshipers who were gathered there to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Thousands in the crowd became believers and were baptized by the twelve apostles. This was the beginning of Jesus’ church on earth, the first fruits of a church that will grow and spread throughout the earth, both Jew and Gentile, until it is time for Him to return to fully install His global kingdom once all nations and tongues have heard the good news.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (NKJV)
When Jesus told the crowds that His kingdom was “at hand”, it implied that it was close by, imminent, right there before them, just as He was. But it also implies that we have a role to play. Unlike the human kingdoms of the earth throughout the millennia, its citizenship is not imposed upon anyone. One must choose it, desire it, and reach for it. Eternal citizenship in the kingdom of Christ is a prize of infinite value, but it is still up to us whether or not we will choose it or reject it. From the time that Jesus first began to preach the good news until now, it is still a kingdom at hand. Choose it!
Father God, we know that we could never be good enough to earn a right to citizenship in Your eternal kingdom. It is only by the loving sacrifice of our eternal King, Jesus Christ, on the cross, and by You raising Him from the dead, that we are made righteous enough to stand in Your holy presence forever. We thank You and praise You for this great gift received by faith. Help us to walk ever closer to Jesus each day by the power of the Holy Spirit. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.