Prior to understand the Kingdom of God, one must have a correct understanding of the Greek term which the New Testament most often translates as ‘repentance’.
Metanoeo: A Paradigm Shift
‘Metanoeo – μετανοέω’ is the Greek word that the New Testament most often translates as repentance. Most however, would never associate the word metanoeo with our idea of repentance. We usually think of repentance as remorse or sorrow based on one’s past actions. However, metanoeo carries no such idea or notion with it.
Metanoeo literally means change understanding [meta = change + noieo = understand.] In modern terms, we would call this having a paradigm shift. Merriam Webster defines a paradigm shift as ‘an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.’ This matches the Greek word metanoeo perfectly. Therefore, metanoeo means a change of understanding or way of thinking about something.
Both John the Baptist and Jesus used the word metanoeo when they said, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” If we only read this in English, we would tend to think that both John and Jesus were warning the people to be sorry for their sins and get their hearts right because God’s kingdom was coming. That is not what they were saying!
Translated literally from the Greek, the text reads, “The time has been fulfilled, and the reign of God has drawn near; change your understanding and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) They were not preaching ‘repentance’ as we know it today; that people should be remorseful for their sins. They were proclaiming that it was time for the kingdom to come and the people of Israel needed to change their understanding and way they thought about it.
Jews of Jesus’ Day Misunderstood the Promises of the Messiah
The people of Israel at the time of John the Baptist and Jesus had not understood the prophecies concerning the kingdom. They needed to understand! All Israel knew that the prophets foretold of a great king that they called Messiah (English = anointed one / Greek = Christ.) They foretold that the Messiah would usher in God’s kingdom when He arrived. Most of the Jews believed that He would reestablish Israel as a world power, and rule. They believed His kingdom would be a physical one not a spiritual one, and that once it was set up it would rule the world forever. It is unclear whether they thought that Messiah Himself would live and reign forever, or they believed He would set up a kingdom that would continue through the generations that followed.
However, their ideas about Messiah and His kingdom were wrong! John and Jesus both proclaimed to the Jews that they needed to rethink everything that they believed they knew about the kingdom. “Get a changed understanding the time of the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15) They needed to rethink things; Jesus’ kingdom was not, nor ever would be, anything like they were expecting!
First and probably, the most important change of understanding the Jews needed was that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus came to set up a heavenly kingdom not an earthly one. The Jews were not expecting this. They expected a king who would conquer nations and force them into subjugation.
Jesus told Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” John 18:36
The Jews had not understood Psalm 110, which prophesied about Messiah’s reign. (The New Testament quotes Psalm 110 more than any other Old Testament passage.) If they had understood Psalm 110, they would have known that the Messiah would rule in the midst of His enemies! (Not everyone would submit to Him.) And His subjects would be those who voluntarily received Him as their lord, master, and king. (See Verse 3: Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power.) Psalm 110 describes Messiah’s kingdom being completely made up of volunteers (we would call them converts) that would exist side by side with those who were enemies of the kingdom.
The Jews Misunderstood Prophecies About the Messiah
Nebuchadnezzar dreamed about a statue whose head was of fine gold, its chest and arms were silver, its belly and thighs were bronze, its legs iron, its feet were iron and clay.
Because of Daniel’s interpretation of that dream (Daniel 2:28-45) everyone in Israel knew that it was time for Messiah to come.
Nebuchadnezzar’s dream told of four great kingdoms that would come before Messiah came to set up His kingdom.
The Jews had already seen three kingdoms come and go (the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, and the Greeks.) The fourth kingdom, the Roman Empire, was currently in power.
The Jews knew from Daniel’s interpretation of the dream that the time of Messiah’s coming would be while fourth kingdom (the Romans) were reigning.
They also knew that when Messiah did come, God would ‘… 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 )
They misinterpreted this as world domination!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached to Jews who had assembled from every nation (Acts 2:5-37.) In his sermon, he quoted Psalm 16:8-11.
“I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.”
Peter told the assembly that David prophesied about Messiah. That God had sworn to David that he would raise up one of his direct descendent as Christ to sit on his throne. David also spoke about the resurrectionof the Christ that His soul would not be left in Hades, nor His flesh rot.
Peter then told them that God had kept that promise by raising Jesus, David’s descendent, from the dead and had exalted Jesus to His right hand to reign on the throne next to Him. Jesus also sent the Holy Spirit as He had promised.
Those that heard Peter were cut to the heart, they realized that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and they had killed Him. They asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered them, “Repent, (metanoeo-have a change of understanding) and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The message was the same throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts.
“Repent - Metanoeo” - Change the way you think. Transform your understanding.
“Believe in the Gospel”- The good news that Messiah and His kingdom has arrived.
“Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”