on Matthew 3 :2
Repent - Μετανοειτε. This was the matter of the preaching. The verb μετανοεω is either compounded of μετα, after, and νοειν to understand, which signifies that, after hearing such preaching, the sinner is led to understand, that the way he has walked in was the way of misery, death, and hell. Or the word may be derived from μετα after, and ανοια, madness, which intimates that the whole life of a sinner is no other than a continued course of madness and folly: and if to live in a constant opposition to all the dictates of true wisdom; to wage war with his own best interests in time and eternity; to provoke and insult the living God; and, by habitual sin, to prepare himself only for a state of misery, be evidences of insanity, every sinner exhibits them plentifully. It was from this notion of the word, that the Latins termed repentance resipiscentia, a growing wise again, from re and sapere; or, according to Tertullian, Resipiscentia, quasi receptio mentis ad se, restoring the mind to itself: Contra Marcion, lib. ii. Repentance, then, implies that a measure of Divine wisdom is communicated to the sinner, and that he thereby becomes wise to salvation. That his mind, purposes, opinions, and inclinations, are changed; and that, in consequence, there is a total change in his conduct. It need scarcely be remarked, that, in this state, a man feels deep anguish of soul, because he has sinned against God, unfitted himself for heaven, and exposed his soul to hell. Hence, a true penitent has that sorrow, whereby he forsakes sin, not only because it has been ruinous to his own soul, but because it has been offensive to God.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand - Referring to the prophecy of Daniel, Daniel 7:13,Daniel 7:14, where the reign of Christ among men is expressly foretold. This phrase, and the kingdom of God, mean the same thing, viz. the dispensation of infinite mercy, and manifestation of eternal truth, by Christ Jesus, producing the true knowledge of God, accompanied with that worship which is pure and holy, worthy of that God who is its institutor and its object. But why is this called a kingdom? Because it has its laws, all the moral precepts of the Gospel: its subjects, all who believe in Christ Jesus: and its king, the Sovereign of heaven and earth. N. B. Jesus Christ never saved a soul which he did not govern; nor is this Christ precious or estimable to any man who does not feel a spirit of subjection to the Divine will.
But why is it called the kingdom of Heaven? Because God designed that his kingdom of grace here should resemble the kingdom of glory above. And hence our Lord teaches us to pray, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, says St. Paul, Romans 14:17; does not consist in the gratification of sensual passions, or worldly ambition; but is righteousness, peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost. Now what can there be more than this in glory? Righteousness, without mixture of sin; peace, without strife or contention; joy, in the Holy Ghost, spiritual joy, without mixture of misery! And all this, it is possible, by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, to enjoy here below. How then does heaven itself differ from this state? Answer. It makes the righteousness eternal, the peace eternal, and the joy eternal. This is the heaven of heavens! The phrase, kingdom of heaven, מלכות שמים malcuth shamayim, is frequently used by the rabbinical writers, and always means, the purity of the Divine worship, and the blessedness which a righteous man feels when employed in it.
It is farther added, This kingdom is at hand. The dispensation of the glorious Gospel was now about to be fully opened, and the Jews were to have the first offers of salvation. This kingdom is also at hand to us; and wherever Christ crucified is preached, there is salvation to be found. Jesus is proclaimed to thee, O man! as infinitely able and willing to save. Believe in his name - cast thy soul upon his atonement, and enter into rest!
on Matthew 3 :2
Repent ye - Repentance implies sorrow for past offences 2 Corinthians 7:10; a deep sense of the evil of sin as committed against God Psalm 51:4; and a full purpose to turn from transgression and to lead a holy life. A true penitent has sorrow for sin, not only because it is ruinous to his soul, but chiefly because it is an offence against God, and is that abominable thing which he hates, Jeremiah 44:4. It is produced by seeing the great danger and misery to which it exposes us; by seeing the justice and holiness of God Job 42:6; and by seeing that our sins have been committed against Christ, and were the cause of his death, Zechariah 12:10; Luke 22:61-62. There are two words in the New Testament translated "repentance," one of which denotes a change of mind, or a reformation of life; and the other, sorrow or regret that sin has been committed. The word used here is the former, calling the Jews to a change of life, or a reformation of conduct. In the time of John, the nation had become extremely wicked and corrupt, perhaps more so than at any preceding period. Hence, both he and Christ began their ministry by calling the nation to repentance.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand - The phrases kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, kingdom of God, are of frequent occurrence in the Bible. They all refer to the same thing. The expectation of such a kingdom was taken from the Old Testament, and especially from Daniel, Daniel 7:13-14. The prophets had told of a successor to David that should sit on his throne 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:25; Jeremiah 33:17. The Jews expected a great national deliverer. They supposed that when the Messiah should appear, all the dead would be raised; that the judgment would take place; and that the enemies of the Jews would be destroyed, and that they themselves would be advanced to great national dignity and honor.
The language in which they were accustomed to describe this event was retained by our Saviour and his apostles. Yet they early attempted to correct the common notions respecting his reign. This was one design, doubtless, of John in preaching repentance. Instead of summoning them to military exercises, and collecting an army, which would have been in accordance with the expectations of the nation, he called them to a change of life; to the doctrine of repentance - a state of things far more accordant with the approach of a kingdom of purity.
The phrases "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of heaven" have been supposed to have a considerable variety of meaning. Some have supposed that they refer to the state of things in heaven; others, to the personal reign of Christ on earth; others, that they mean the church, or the reign of Christ in the hearts of his people. There can be no doubt that there is reference in the words to the condition of things in heaven after this life. But the church of God is a preparatory state to that beyond the grave - a state in which Christ pre-eminently rules and reigns and there is no doubt that the phrases sometimes refer to the state of things in the church; and that they may refer, therefore, to the state of things which the Messiah was to set up his spiritual reign begun in the church on earth and completed in heaven.
The expression "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" would be best translated, "the reign of God draws near." We do not say commonly of a kingdom that it is movable, or that it approaches. A reign may be said to be at hand; and it may be said with propriety that the time when Christ would reign was at hand. In this sense it is meant that the time when Christ should reign, or set up his kingdom, or begin his dominion on earth, under the Christian economy, was about to commence. The phrase, then, should not be confined to any period of that reign, but includes his whole dominion over his people on earth and in heaven.
In the passage here it clearly means that the coming of the Messiah was near, or that the time of the reign of God which the Jews had expected was coming.
The word "heaven," or "heavens," as it is in the original, means sometimes the place so called; and sometimes it is, by a figure of speech, put for the Great Being whose residence is there, as in Daniel 4:26; "the Heavens do rule." See also Mark 11:30; Luke 15:18. As that kingdom was one of purity, it was proper that the people should prepare themselves for it by turning from their sins, and by bringing their hearts into a state suitable to his reign.
on Matthew 3 :2
3:2 The kingdom of heaven, and the kingdom of God, are but two phrases for the same thing. They mean, not barely a future happy state, in heaven, but a state to be enjoyed on earth: the proper disposition for the glory of heaven, rather than the possession of it. Is at hand - As if he had said, God is about to erect that kingdom, spoken of by Daniel Dan 2:44; 7:13,14; the kingdom of the God of heaven. It properly signifies here, the Gospel dispensation, in which subjects were to be gathered to God by his Son, and a society to be formed, which was to subsist first on earth, and afterward with God in glory. In some places of Scripture, the phrase more particularly denotes the state of it on earth: in ,others, it signifies only the state of glory: but it generally includes both. The Jews understood it of a temporal kingdom, the seat of which they supposed would be Jerusalem; and the expected sovereign of this kingdom they learned from Daniel to call the Son of man. Both John the Baptist and Christ took up that phrase, the kingdom of heaven, as they found it, and gradually taught the Jews (though greatly unwilling to learn) to understand it right. The very demand of repentance, as previous to it, showed it was a spiritual kingdom, and that no wicked man, how politic, brave, or learned soever, could possibly be a subject of it.