The New Testament opens in Matthew’s gospel with the account of Jesus’ birth, before embarking on a description of the ministry of John the Baptist whose first word was Repent.
When the Lord started His earthly ministry, He also said Repent. Matthew 4:17
It would appear therefore that the whole of the New Testament hinges around the matter of repentance.
There are certain rules for correct biblical interpretation, one of which is what is called “the law of first mention”.
This is where a precedent has been established or has become the starting point for something and so our journey with God has the starting point of repentance, but it is surprising to find that true biblical repentance is a topic that is not often preached about and is often misunderstood.
Before we go any further let us see what Mathew said about John and then about Jesus.
And in those days Yoḥanan the Immerser came proclaiming in the wilderness of Yehuḏah, and saying, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens has come near!” From that time יהושׁע began to proclaim and to say, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens has drawn near.” Matthew 3:1-2
From that time יהושׁע began to proclaim and to say, “Repent, for the reign of the heavens has drawn near.” Matthew 4:17
You will notice that both men spoke about the kingdom, calling it the reign of the heavens. This is talking about rulership. The kingdom of God is not heaven (the place). It is his dominion and in His kingdom, He reigns, having established certain laws and principles of kingdom living, both in heaven (the place) and on the earth. It is how God works.
He gave this dominion on the earth to the first Adam, who sold out, creating what we call the fall and sin entered.
The second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, regained it all and made it possible for restoration to occur.
Jesus turned it around and this in essence is what repentance does.
If we turn now to Acts chapter two, the Holy Spirit came, just as Jesus said He would and Peter became a changed man.
I do not know about you, but I sure needed to become a changed man and this too is an indication of the meaning of true repentance. Peter preached under the same anointing Jesus had and the same anointing we can and should have.
Jesus did not start His earthly ministry until the Holy Spirit came upon Him. If this was essential for Him, we should follow suit. We should not try to do God’s work without the tools He provides and they come from the holy Spirit.
We call Him Jesus Christ, but the word Christ is not His surname...it is His title. It represents the anointing. For the first time in human history, a man was anointed, not temporarily as it once was, but the anointing came and remained to equip Him for ministry. Jesus was the Anointed One, or the Christ. This title comes from the words Christos and Chrio and this same principle is how God operates with us and through us today and when the Holy Spirit comes on us, which He can do, we can legitimately call ourselves anointed ones. We are called Christians or Christ ones, so should be similarly anointed.
On that Day of Pentecost, when the crowds gathered around, Peter preached with such authority that the people were pricked in their hearts so much they had to respond and asked him what they had to do. He replied “Repent” . Acts 2:38-39
They could have been emotional about it, but the real point (as we shall see later) is that they made a decision after weighing up the matter and realizing that, despite their religious beliefs and practices, they were falling short of the mark. We can thus see that the ministries of John and Jesus both started with one word—Repent.
In like manner, the Church started with the very same word—Repent.
Before I continue, please stop and think about this and do a little exercise with me. Get something to write with and describe what repentance means to you. It is likely that you would have written something like “to feel sorry about something”, but feeling remorse can sometimes only happen when one is “caught out” and can be only temporary anyhow. It can be easy to feel sorry for being found out and uncertain of what can happen next. We like to try pushing back the clock and avoid punishment. In certain evangelical circles repenting describes the act of someone coming to the front of the church in a meeting to “get saved” but this is but the start of the journey.
This is why I described it, as depicted on the banner, as both the starting point and the journey.
Repentance could be well described as an ongoing thing, not as a simple and single act and it is certainly not done in a religious or pious manner. It is a way of life.