Mission of John the Baptist: The Kingdom at Hand

Matthew 3  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Matthew 3
John the Baptist came from the wilderness of Judah crying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
The kingdom of heaven in its new form, the form it takes while the King is absent, began at Pentecost, three-and-one-half years after the mission of John the Baptist. Christ had been rejected by Israel and the Gentiles, so the kingdom must take a new form. 'Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power." Psa. 110:33Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. (Psalm 110:3). The form of the kingdom while Jesus is in heaven is His ruling in the hearts of His people on earth. They all, having repented, have a new life.
Israel in pride would not accept a king coming in humility in the manner suggested by His genealogy. They would have a king ruling in splendor, seated on a throne of royalty, clothed with glory and majesty like Solomon in the day of his splendor. But the state of the people of Israel forbad such a display at that time. Rather, humbling in repentance was required. So John the Baptist was sent as a messenger (Mal. 3:11Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)) to preach to and baptize those who repented.
By refusing the King, the nation of Israel was set aside in their blindness to make ready for the kingdom of heaven. They will be blind until they learn to say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." Matt. 23:3939For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 23:39). The day of the kingdom of heaven on the earth is the day of His grace. This being the day of grace, divine intervention by judgment has been delayed for two thousand years.
Israel as a nation, being reared under law, which had ordinances and demands of an outward character, did not understand when John the Baptist introduced that which aroused the conscience and the inner man. This inward ministry did not suit the thinking of the leaders of Israel, but was just right for the poor, the meek, the needy, the publicans, the sinners and the Gentiles. God must have reality in the inner man-a heart that has been brought to Himself through the conviction and confession of sin. Then the sons of the kingdom will walk in the precepts of the kingdom willingly, each with a nature that loves the truth, showing that a work of grace has been done in them.
The clothing of John the Baptist, a raiment of camel's hair with a leather girdle around his loins, and the food that he ate, locusts and wild honey, did not suggest that he lived in luxury, but that he lived in keeping with the message he carried, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." This was a moral highway of repentance. John's example of living a life in keeping with his message is a worthy one for us to consider for our lives.
The custom among kings was to have a servant run before the chariot on formal occasions to announce his coming (1 Kings 18:45,4645And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. 46And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:45‑46)). So John as a forerunner directed the hearts of his hearers to Jesus the Christ, the son of David, the Son of God and the King of Israel.
Both John the Baptist and his message were foretold in Isa. 40:33The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3): "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Being opposed in his preaching by the leaders of Israel, he called them a generation of vipers. They were told to bring the fruits of repentance: obedience and dependence. If they produced no fruits of repentance, the ax already being laid to the root of the tree (man), they would be cut down. These sayings were primarily for the Jew but apply also to the Gentile and to all who would enter the kingdom of heaven.
John spoke of Jesus who, coming after him, would baptize with the Holy Spirit. This took place at Pentecost; it was a new life for the believer in the Spirit. The unbeliever would be baptized with fire, the unquenchable fire of hell.
In a coming day, when Christ will come again in power to set up His kingdom on the earth, He will cleanse His floor, Israel, and will burn the chaff, the unrepentant, with fire. The wheat, the believers, will be gathered into His barn, before the unbelievers are burned.
Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John. John answered that he, John, needed to be baptized by Christ. But Jesus said, "Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness." Then John baptized Jesus. By being baptized He identified Himself with the remnant of faith in Israel (Psa.16:3). Christ needed no repentance, but He placed Himself in the company of the remnant who had been baptized for repentance.
As He came up out of the water, the heavens were opened to Him. The Spirit of God came down like a dove to rest on Him, a man, and a voice came from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Never before had the Spirit of God come down to rest on a man or on the earth. We see the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit witnessing Christ's baptism.