NIV Matt. 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
This verse in Matthew is a transitional sentence between to eras in the life of Jesus, and it would be easy to dismiss it as simply that. However there are a number of overtones we don’t want to miss.
First of all it says that Jesus began his public ministry. We tend to characterize this as a ‘rabbinic’ type of teaching, but Matthew is careful to note that Jesus began to preach and then deals with the calling of his particular rabbinical students or disciples.
So what about Jesus the carpenter? Did he give his notice on Thursday afternoon, saying to the others he worked with, “I’m starting a new job on Monday, you can mail my last paycheck;” or did he phase out of carpentry work gradually? After he started preaching, what if someone needed their table fixed? Did he continue to do that type of work?
I’m going to say probably not. We have a good example in scripture of bi-vocational ministry in the life of the Apostle Paul (and others he ministered with, such as Lydia) but there’s no indication that Jesus continued doing the work of his earthly father Joseph. I would prefer to think of his teaching ministry as an all-in, full-time, abandoning-all commitment; the complete object of his time and devotion.
The second half of the verse is a reference to John the Baptist who we understand as also involved in full-time peripatetic ministry. Jesus picks up the teaching ministry of his forerunner, which begins in a call to repentance.
He does this only after learning that John has been imprisoned:
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.
and this of course comes only after a time of testing:
1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.
This temptation culminates a time of preparation which begins with Jesus discussing the scriptures with the rabbis at age 12 in the temple:
Luke 2:46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers…49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
and then in our key verse for today (17) the scene has changed, his teaching ministry commences, as the Asbury Bible Commentary describes:
The proclamation of Jesus contains two major and interrelated elements. The first is the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is near. The kingdom of heaven is a central theme in this gospel; therefore this phrase deserves special comment.
In Matthew’s gospel, “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are used interchangeably. They mean the same thing. The kingdom of God is a dynamic concept referring to the active reign of God. In fact, it is better translated “the rule of God.”
This concept stems primarily from the Jewish understanding of the two ages. The Jews divided all of history into two periods: (1) the present evil age, under the immediate control of Satan; and (2) the age to come, when God will break the power of evil and usher in his kingdom through his Messiah. Mt 4:17 therefore declares that the long-awaited rule of God has now drawn near (to the point of having already arrived; cf. 12:28) in the person of Jesus.
The second major element in 4:17 is the call to repentance. It is not enough to hear that the kingdom of God has arrived; persons also must respond to this message. And the only appropriate response is repentance. The term literally means “changing of the mind” (metanoeo), and in this context it involves orienting all of life, both thinking and behavior, around one ultimate reality: God now rules in the person of his Son, Jesus.
This will be the status-quo of ministry life for Jesus until the next scene change, the next time we see the phrase “From this time on.”
Matt 16 21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
The Bible Panorama describes chapter 4 of Matthew in four terms:
- Devil Resisted
- Darkness Dispelled
- Disciples Called
- Divine Results
The latter is a reference to verses 23-25
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. 25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
What about you? Is it time for you to begin your ministry?
Today’s thoughts prepared with free study resources available at BibleGateway.com