What was the specific message of John the Baptist, which was subsequently proffered by Jesus Christ and His disciples?
In brief, the specific message of John the Baptist, which later became the message of Jesus Christ and His disciples, was, as is stated in Matthew 3:2, “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand [has drawn near].” The Greek word translated “heaven,” as it relates to the kingdom, is always in the plural. The message was the “gospel of the kingdom,” not the “gospel of grace.” It was offered strictly to the nation Israel, which could have been the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy regarding the establishment of the coming literal Messianic (Theocratic) kingdom. Israel was being offered regal positions along side the nation’s Messiah, in a heavenly realm; but there was a condition. The nation had to repent (i.e., change its mind) as to its disobedience to God. The totality of the message was a call for the nation of Israel in its entirety to change its mind and thereby its “spiritual direction,” with a view to the Jewish people occupying regal positions with the nation’s Messiah in the heavenly sphere of the kingdom. By so doing they would be displacing the earth’s present ruler (Satan) and his angelic forces within the heavenly system of rulership that had been originally established by God and subsequently corrupted by Satan’s rebellion.
For more detail regarding this message, note the comments by the following commentators of the Word:
A. Edwin Wilson
The gospel of the kingdom of the heavens: John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness, saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.” (The word “heaven” in connection with the kingdom in Matthew is always in the plural.) In Matthew 4:17, we learn that Jesus began to preach the same gospel. In Mathew 9:35, we read the following: “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.” In Mark 1:14, we read that Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God, announcing that “the kingdom of God is at hand; therefore, repent ye, and believe the gospel.” That is, believe the good news; not the good news of salvation by grace, because that had not yet been announced, neither made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. But, believe the good news of the coming kingdom.
If you will read also in this connection Matthew 10:1-10, you will learn several characteristics of the gospel of the kingdom:
First, it was addressed only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, never to the Gentiles.
Second, it required repentance and public confession on the part of Israel (see Matthew 3:1-12; Acts 2:32-41).
Third, the preachers of the gospel of the kingdom were given credentials by the Lord to establish their authority as heaven-sent ministers. These credentials were signs, wonders and miracles. Included in these were the powers to heal, the ability to raise the dead, to speak in foreign languages without previous study or knowledge, to cast out demons, to handle poisonous serpents, to drink deadly poison and to cleanse lepers.
Fourth, the gospel of the kingdom was not to be preached to the Gentiles.
Fifth, this gospel of the kingdom was preached to the children of Israel as long as the kingdom of heaven was offered to the nation of Israel on the basis of national repentance.
Sixth, the offer of the kingdom to Israel on such basis was withdrawn at the time of Acts 28:28: “Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it.”
Seventh, with the setting aside of Israel as a nation, God began to take out of the Gentiles a people for His Name (see Acts 15:13-18).
Eighth, the offer of the kingdom and the preaching again of the gospel of the kingdom with its accompanying signs, wonders and miracles cannot take place until the fulfillment of Romans 11:25; that is, it cannot take place until the rapture of the saints, after which the gospel of the kingdom will again be preached.
The preaching of the gospel of the kingdom has nothing whatever to do with the preaching of the gospel of the grace of God. And the confusion of these two gospels — with many earnest, honest, sincere Christians in this dispensation of grace trying to re-establish and perform again the signs, wonders and miracles that belong only to the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom — has made shipwreck of the faith of many Christians. THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLE OF THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM IS THE AUTHORITY AND POWER OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
Gary T. Whipple
When Jesus Christ entered His public ministry, His message was the same as John the Baptist’s: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17). One may ask why Jesus did not preach the message of John 3:16 in Matthew. The answer is twofold. First, the message of John is not written generally to Israel, but to all nations that they might believe that Jesus is the Christ (John 20:31). Second, John 3:16 could not be preached until after the crucifixion, since it is a different gospel, the gospel of grace. In view of this, it is important for the reader to understand that the mission and message of Jesus, while in the flesh, was only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It was the “gospel of the kingdom” that He preached and not the “gospel of grace.”. . . .
This message is again revealed in Matthew when Jesus sent His disciples out to preach. They were told not to go to the Gentiles, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and as they went, they were to preach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:6, 7). . . .
It [gospel of the kingdom] was first preached by John the Baptist and then by Jesus to the Jews. It was the good news that the kingdom was about to be established on the earth. This would have fulfilled the covenant that God had made with David pertaining to his house and his throne; the same covenant that would raise up David’s Seed (Jesus Christ) to sit on his throne and rule over the house of Israel forever (Luke 1:30-33).
Therefore, when Jesus Christ first appeared in Israel preaching, “Repent: for the kingdom is at hand,” He was officially offering the kingdom to Israel based on their national repentance for disobeying God’s commandments. Israel rejected the offer by refusing to repent and, as a result, crucified Christ. In spite of this rejection, God, in His great love and patience, elected to give Israel a probationary period of time after the crucifixion (about forty years) during which they could repent. This probationary period necessitated that the “gospel of the kingdom” would be preached to nation Israel during the same time that the “gospel of grace” was being preached to the Gentiles (up to about A.D. 63). . . .
The gospel of the kingdom was preached during the early Church period to individual Jews, calling upon them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). At the same time, the gospel of grace was being preached to individual Gentiles, calling upon them to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 10:43; 16:30-31; Romans 1:16). . . . It [gospel of the kingdom] was preached . . . to Israel until the last of the Jewish leaders (in Rome) would reject God’s offer for the final time. The “gospel of the kingdom” ceased to be preached around the year A.D. 63 when God set Israel aside. About seven years later, He scattered them throughout the world. . . .
The “gospel of the kingdom” will not be preached again until after the Church is raptured and the dispensation of grace is over. During the tribulation period that follows the rapture, 144,000 Jewish evangelists will be sealed by God to preach to the Gentiles. They will go throughout the world (excluding Israel) preaching the “gospel of the kingdom.” Scripture tells us that the end (of this present age) will not come until this gospel is preached in all the world (Matthew 24:14).
Many Christian writers, not knowing the difference between the “gospel of the kingdom” and the “gospel of grace,” have erroneously taught that the gospel of Matthew 24:14 must be preached throughout the world before the rapture can occur. However, this verse does not speak of the “gospel of grace,” but the “gospel of the kingdom.” The reference to the end in this verse is not the rapture of the Church, but the revelation of Jesus Christ at His coming to set up His kingdom. Hence, this scripture correctly says that the “gospel of the kingdom” must be preached throughout the world (during the tribulation period) before Christ will appear to set up His kingdom. This preaching of the kingdom will be done by the 144,000 sealed Jews throughout the world. No scripture teaches that the “gospel of grace” must be preached to every creature in the world before the rapture can occur.
Repent versus Believe:
The command to “repent” in the gospel of the kingdom is a national command. That is, the leadership (scribes, Pharisees and other leaders) of Israel were commanded to repent and turn back to God, thus causing the nation to turn back to God.
The gospel of grace tells us that the way of salvation for all men during the Church age is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is not a part of this gospel. The word repent cannot be found one time in all the pages of the gospel of John, which tells all people how to be saved (John 20:31). The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8, 9 that salvation is by grace through faith, and not of ourselves. It is NOT OF WORKS lest any man should boast. This scripture leaves our repentance, because repentance before faith is a condition, or a work; and if a work, then also a boast.
The only time the word repent is used during the Church age is when our Lord gives a warning in six of the seven letters that He sent to the seven churches of Revelation (2:5, 16, 21, 22; 3:3, 19). In each letter, our Lord was/is telling a church to repent and turn back to God. Since all the individuals of these churches were/are already saved (except for most of Thyatira) and had apostatized (fallen away) from God, He was/is warning them of the consequences if they do not turn back (repent).
Repent is used in the Scriptures mainly as a demand from God to those who already belong to Him and have spiritually fallen away. Hence, it not only is a word used by our Lord for Israel (nationally speaking) as a condition to inherit the kingdom (Acts 5:31); it is also a condition for Christians who desire to please God in order to inherit the kingdom. The results of repentance are manifested in the Christian’s life by a continuous confession of his sins (1 John 1:9).
Many evangelists have tried to use Acts 20:21 to prove that a Gentile must repent before he can be saved: “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” They have called upon the lost in revival meetings to repent and then believe to be saved. However, Paul is speaking about two different peoples in this verse — Jews and Gentiles — and about two different gospels. Thus, to understand this scripture more fully, it could rightly be interpreted, “Testifying both to the Jews repentance toward God, and to the Greeks, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
[Note: The following from Chitwood will be taken from two of his works, the first being the scriptural account of how God has established His rule over His creation (an understanding of which is germane to a proper understanding of the “gospel of the kingdom”) and how this rule will be effected over the earth in the future; and, the second being more specific to the question at hand.]
Arlen L. Chitwood
Present Government of the Earth
The manner in which the present government of the earth has been established is really quite simple in its overall scope, but within that scope specific matters become quite complex. In its simplicity, God rules over all, Satan (with his angels) rules under God, and man rules under Satan (and his angels). The matter then becomes quite complex within the framework of God’s sovereign control of matters through both a rebel provincial ruler and fallen man.
With one exception, the manner in which the government of the earth is presently carried out has not changed since the beginning. In the beginning, following the creation of the heavens and the earth, God placed Satan (in his unfallen state) in the position of provincial ruler over the earth, along with a great host of angels occupying various positions of power and authority under him (Genesis 1:1; Ezekiel 28:14, 15; cf. Matthew 25:41; Ephesians 6:12; Revelation 12:4). But, at a point in time following Satan’s fall and disqualification (which would be following the accompanying ruin and subsequent restoration of the earth, recorded in Genesis 1:2-25), another provincial ruler was brought on the scene to replace the incumbent ruler. But the earth’s second provincial ruler was not of the angelic creation. Rather, an individual created in the image and likeness of God was brought on the scene to take the reins of government (Genesis 1:26-28).
This is the one exception to the past and present form of the government of the earth. In the beginning (Genesis 1:1; Ezekiel 28:14, 15), man did not fit into the equation. But for the past 6,000 years, matters have been different (Genesis 1:26ff). Though Satan and his angels continue to rule, man now has a part in the government, but not in the manner for which he was created. Man was created to take the reins of government held by Satan; but, because of his fall, man presently rules on the earth, among his own kind, under the incumbent ruler, i.e., under Satan, with his angels.
That is the manner in which Scripture presents the present structure of the earth’s government — a government in disarray, both within the ranks of the first and second provincial rulers.
The first provincial ruler, Satan, is not only presently holding the scepter in a rebellious fashion, but his kingdom can only be in disarray. Two thirds of the original contingent of angels, which God appointed in the beginning to rule with Satan (Revelation 11:4), refused to go along with him in his vain efforts to exalt his throne. Thus, the remaining one-third can only fall far short of the number of angels that God had originally decreed necessary to properly rule the earth.
Man was created to rule in the stead of Satan and his angels. But man, because of his fall, finds himself occupying a position alien to that for which he was created. He can now only rule under the one he was created to replace.
Thus, certain things within the present structure of the earth’s government are completely out of place, and they will remain out of place until the end of the present age. At that time, Satan and his angels will be put down, Christ and His co-heirs will take the kingdom, and a God-ordained number of rulers will once again occupy positions of power and authority.
1. Heavenly Princes, Earthly Princes
The manner in which the earth is presently governed is clearly set forth in Daniel chapters four and ten. But for purposes of this part of the study, first note that which is revealed in Daniel chapter ten.
In this chapter, Daniel had been “mourning” (to walk with the head down, to lament) for three full weeks. At the end of this time, Daniel saw a vision (vv. 5-7); and this was followed by the appearance of a heavenly messenger to make known the things in the vision (vv. 10ff), which corresponded to the things within Daniel’s thoughts. The vision had to do with the things that would befall Daniel’s “people in the latter days” (v. 14), which concerned mainly the future day of Antichrist and the ultimate deliverance of the Jewish people (chapters 11, 12).
(By way of passing, note that Daniel 10:14 makes it very clear that events in chapter 11 [also chapter 12] have to do with “the latter days,” not with events surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes, over 2,200 years ago as many attempt to teach. Rather, events in this chapter [beyond v. 4] have to do with the future day of Antichrist and the deliverance of the Jewish people at the time Antichrist is put down [11:45-12:3]. In this respect, Daniel 11:2-4 corresponds to events prophesied in Daniel 8:3-8, and events in Daniel 11:5ff correspond to events in Daniel 8:9ff.)
However, for purposes of the subject at hand — the government of the earth — another matter other than this fourth and final vision shown to Daniel needs to be considered. The heavenly messenger sent to Daniel, who made known things occurring during his three weeks of mourning (corresponding to things in the vision), had been dispatched at the very beginning of his time of mourning, but detained at a point in-route. He had been detained in the heavens for twenty-one days by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (10:13).
This prince was so powerful that Michael, “one of the chief princes,” had to be dispatched from that part of the heavens where God dwells in order to effect the deliverance of this messenger. And during this time the heavenly messenger who had originally been sent to Daniel remained in the heavens with “the kings of Persia” (v. 13).
Comparing this verse with verse twenty, where “the prince of Persia” is again mentioned, along with “the prince of Greece,” an individual can arrive at only one conclusion. Earthly rulers in the human realm have counterparts within Satan’s kingdom in the heavenly realm — powerful angels ruling within a chain of command under Satan. And since “the heavens do rule” (Daniel 4:26) — beginning with the most High God, with Satan still holding the earth’s scepter, under God — it can only be further concluded that any rule by man would have to be under Satan and his angels (who rule from the heavens) within this chain of command. And man ruling after this fashion, because of his disqualification to assume the scepter in Eden, continues to hold a position during the present time described as “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:4-6; Hebrews 2:7, 8 [note that these verses are set within a context having to do with governmental rule]).
(But, as will be shown, this rule from the heavens [a rule from Satan’s domain in the heavens through men upon the earth] has to do with the Gentile nations alone, not with Israel.)
Satan is the provincial ruler, the ruler over all the Gentile nations. Then under Satan, within his heavenly kingdom, there are lesser (but powerful) rulers governing various individual nations. Then under these angelic rulers, still within the heavenly kingdom, there is a further breakdown of powers and authorities (note “the kings of Persia,” which could only be a division of rulers under “the prince of Persia”). Then “the prince of Greece” is mentioned (in a prophetic frame of reference) because he ruled, from the heavens, over the earthly kingdom that would eventually succeed the kingdom of Babylon under the Medes and Persians.
As seen in Daniel chapter ten, among the Gentile nations on earth, all existing government is structured after a parallel fashion to an existing government in the heavens. There is a breakdown of powers under the earthly rulers that corresponds to a breakdown of powers under the heavenly rulers. And, accordingly, there is no such thing as Gentile rulers occupying positions of power and authority during the present time apart from occupying these positions directly under a breakdown of powers within the kingdom of Satan.
Thus, (1) God sovereignly rules over all, (2) Satan rules under God, (3) angels within the kingdom of Satan rule under him (occupying various positions of power and authority), and (4) man then rules under these angels (holding various counterpart/parallel positions on earth to those held by angels ruling under Satan in the heavens). And since both fallen angels and fallen men are involved in the government of the earth, numerous things would be done outside the will of God; but nothing would be done outside God’s sovereign control of matters.
Exactly to what extent earthly rulers are influenced and moved to act on the basis of decrees and determinations rendered by their counterparts in the heavens could only be open to speculation. There are fallen creatures ruling in the ranks of both, and Satan’s kingdom itself is presently in disarray (note again that two-thirds of the angels formerly ruling under Satan refused to have a part in his rebellion [Revelation 12:4]). Suffice it to say though that possibly far more acts by world leaders than we may realize conceivably have their origin in prior decrees and determinations rendered by powerful fallen angels in Satan’s kingdom in the heavens.
But, there is one exception to the preceding type rulership among men on earth and angels in Satan’s kingdom. The nation of Israel is not to be “reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9; cf. Deuteronomy 7:6). Scripture reveals that Michael is the “prince” among heavenly angelic beings over Israel (Daniel 10:21), and Michael is not part of Satan’s present kingdom.
Thus, there is the major governmental distinction between Israel and the Gentile nations which would have allowed God to place Israel at the head of the nations within a theocracy during Old Testament days, out from under Satan’s governmental control. Israel could have ruled the nations, within a theocracy, apart from Satan’s kingdom (Exodus 19:5, 6). But no Gentile nation has ever occupied or ever will occupy a governmental position of the nature occupied and held by Israel.
(Refer to the author’s book, God’s Firstborn Sons, chapter 2, for more information along the preceding lines.)
2. Watchers and Holy Ones
Daniel chapter four, along with showing God’s sovereign control over the entire matter, reveals another behind-the-scenes facet of the earth’s government. This chapter deals with “watchers” and “holy ones” who are operative within God’s government of the earth (vv. 17, 23-26, 32).
Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of Babylon within the framework of that period covered by the book of Daniel — “the times of the Gentiles,” beginning with that period depicted by the head of gold on the image in chapter two and ending with that period depicted by the feet part of iron and part of clay on the same image (vv. 37-45). God had given Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom and had established him as the ruler. And along with the kingdom and position of power; God had given him strength, glory, majesty, and honor (cf. 2:37, 38; 4:17, 25, 32; 5:18).
Nebuchadnezzar though looked upon the matter after a different fashion. Nebuchadnezzar looked at his kingdom, his position, and all that he possessed, and said,
Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty? (Daniel 4:30)
And because Nebuchadnezzar had failed to recognize that “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomsoever He will” (vv. 17, 25, 32), all that he possessed was taken from him. He was suddenly stripped of his power, strength, glory, majesty, and honor; and he was driven into the field to eat grass as the oxen for seven years. And he was forced to remain in this position until he recognized the truth about the origin of all that he possessed as king of Babylon (4:32ff).
The matter of Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude and his removal from power is where the “watchers” and “holy ones” enter into the picture. They are revealed as the ones who acted on the Lord’s behalf through watching affairs within the kingdom, issuing decrees, demanding that certain action be taken, and then themselves carrying out that action. And that which they did, acting after this fashion under what could only have been fixed laws previously established by God, was looked upon as having been done by the Lord Himself (cf. 4:17, 23-32; 5:18-20).
Within this same light, since the watchers and holy ones were the individuals who actually removed Nebuchadnezzar from power and stripped him of all that he possessed, it would logically appear correct to view the watchers and holy ones as having also previously acted on the Lord’s behalf after this same fashion in establishing Nebuchadnezzar in his position of power, at the beginning. And, in this same respect, they were apparently also the ones who reestablished Nebuchadnezzar in the kingdom after he had spent seven years in the fields, removed from the kingdom.
The Lord uses angels after this and related fashions in numerous facets of everything which He does. Note for example that the law was given through “the disposition of angels [‘the direction of angels’ — God sovereignly acting through angels],” though the Lord Himself was present (Exodus 19:3; 24:16-18; Acts 7:38, 53; Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2). Then note how angels will be very instrumental in bringing matters to pass during the coming seven-year Tribulation, as revealed in the book of Revelation (cf. 7:1; 8:2; 10:1; 14:6; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1; 18:1; 19:14). And, during the present time, angels are very instrumental in the Holy Spirit’s mission to acquire a bride for God’s Son, though the Holy Spirit Himself is present (cf. Hebrews 1:13, 14; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).
Events surrounding the destruction of the cities of the plain during Abraham’s day provide an example of activity within the angelic world similar to that seen in Daniel chapter four. In this case a report had been presented to the Lord concerning activity in the cities of the plain; and the Lord, in the company of two angels, went down to see for Himself whether or not they had done “altogether according to the cry of it.” But even going down to see for Himself (though, in His omniscience, God already knew everything about that which He had come down to see), the two accompanying angels were the ones who actually went on down into Sodom to see and act on the Lord’s behalf. The Lord remained with Abraham in the high country, removed from the cities in the plain (Genesis 18:20-22; 19:1ff).
The two angels, acting on the Lord’s behalf after this fashion (acting under fixed laws, previously established by God), conducted matters after such a manner that the Lord Himself was looked upon as the One doing these things. For example, the two angels brought about the destruction of the cities of the plain, but the Lord Himself was said to be the One Who destroyed these cities (Genesis 19:13, 24).
And that’s the fashion after which the present government of the earth has been established and is being carried out. God is sovereign, and He so rules. Nothing escapes His attention; nor is anything done apart from His sovereign control of matters. He is the One who establishes and removes rulers, along with bestowing upon these rulers all that they possess; and He carries out all things within His kingdom through angels who hold various assigned positions and act on His behalf.
(Also note man acting in a similar capacity [1 Samuel 15:1, 17], though angels undoubtedly had a prior part in the matter.)
Satan and his angels are still in power (acting on the Lord’s behalf, though in a rebel capacity) and will remain in this position until the end of the Tribulation. And man throughout the Gentile nations, occupying positions of power and authority today, must, of necessity, occupy these positions directly under Satan and his angels.
There is no alternate form under which any present government among the Gentiles nations can find itself established today.
3. Earthly Rulers
All rulers on earth today are like Nebuchadnezzar in the sense that they have received everything that they possess from the Lord (their positions of power, glory, honor, etc.). The Lord is the One who, through the direction of angels, placed them in their respective positions of power and bestowed upon them all that they possess. And, in this capacity, they are as Cyrus, King of Persia during Daniel’s day, or Saul, King of Israel during David’s day — “the Lord’s anointed” (cf. 1 Samuel 15:17; Isaiah 45:1).
And within a Scriptural framework, it is very wrong to do that which is being done on a massive scale today — bring accusations against the Lord’s anointed. Such accusations can only reflect, after a negative fashion, upon the Lord Himself, the One previously placing these individuals in their respective positions.
Note that those under Moses who rebelled against his divinely appointed leadership were, in reality, rebelling against the One who appointed him. They were rebelling against God Himself (cf. Numbers 14:2, 9).
This is why David had such respect for the Lord’s anointed, Saul, even though Saul was a rebel king (typifying Satan within the overall framework of the type). Saul had been placed in his position by God, and this had to be recognized and dealt with accordingly (1 Samuel 15:1, 17). David refused to stretch forth his hand against Saul during the time he was in exile (1 Samuel 24:6). Then he later had one of his men slay the Amalekite who had previously slain Saul; and this was for a reason that went far beyond God’s command to slay Amalek and all that he had (cf. Deuteronomy 25:17-19; 1 Samuel 15:3). This particular Amalekite had “slain the Lord’s anointed” (cf. 1 Samuel 26:9-11; 31:3-6; 2 Samuel 1:14-16).
Even Michael, when contending with Satan about the body of Moses, wouldn’t bring “a railing accusation” against him for the simple reason that Satan was (and remains today) the Lord’s anointed. Michael simply said, “The Lord rebuke you” (cf. Ezekiel 28:14; Jude 9).
There was a case during David’s day where a man cursed the Lord’s anointed and cast stones at him. And the question was later asked, “Shall not Shimei [the guilty party] be put to death for this…?” (2 Samuel 16:5-7; 19:21). Though Shimei received mercy at the hands of David (19:22, 23), his previous actions had been such that the death penalty was brought into consideration.
Ministry of John, Jesus, and the Twelve
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea with a single, simple message: “Repent: for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This was a message directed to the nation of Israel, calling for national repentance, with a view to the Jewish people holding the scepter, with their Messiah, within the heavenly sphere of the kingdom.
The kingdom was “at hand [had ‘drawn near’]” because Messiah was present. The King of the kingdom — the One destined to replace Satan as the ruler over this earth — was present; and the scepter could, at that time, have passed from the hands of Satan and his angels into the hands of Man, conditioned upon Israel’s repentance.
Israel was being offered regal positions with the nation’s Messiah, in a heavenly realm; but there was a condition. The nation had to repent. The nation had to change its mind.
This was the totality of the message proclaimed by John. It was a call for the nation of Israel (the entire nation) to change its mind, with a view to the Jewish people occupying regal positions with the nation’s Messiah in the heavenly sphere of the kingdom. Satan and his angels would be put down, and Christ and the repentant nation would move in and take the kingdom.
However, things didn’t go in this direction, and John eventually found himself in prison. Then Jesus took up the same message, which, under His ministry, was accompanied by miraculous signs — signs having to do with the kingdom, which centered on physical healings.
Jesus went throughout all Galilee doing two things: (1) “preaching the gospel of the kingdom,” and (2) “healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people” (Matthew 4:12, 17-25).
The message concerned the proffered kingdom, and the healings were miraculous signs intimately and inseparably connected with the message being proclaimed. Israel was sick, “from the sole of the foot even unto the head,” and healing for the nation was in the offing, conditioned upon the nation’s repentance.
All of this — Israel’s condition and that which could and would occur following Israel’s repentance — was set forth in detail numerous places in Old Testament prophecy. But one section of the numerous prophecies will suffice to illustrate the point — a section of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Note how Isaiah opened his prophecy. He began by describing Israel’s present condition:
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel to anger, they have gone away backward.
Why should you be stricken any more? You will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint.
From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. (Isaiah 1:4-6)
Then Isaiah continued his prophecy by describing Israel’s healing. He went on to describe what the nation could have, if . . .
Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes; cease to do evil;
Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. (Isaiah 1:16-19)
And, beyond that, Isaiah concluded a section of his prophecy by describing conditions in Israel following the time of the nation’s repentance and healing:
And I will turn My hand against you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and take away all your tin [paralleling ‘dross,’ undoubtedly referring to metals in an impure sense].
And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning: afterward you shall be called, the city of righteousness, the faithful city . . .
And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.
And many people shall go up and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He shall judge among the nations . . . .” (Isaiah 1:25, 26; 2:2-4a)
Christ’s message to Israel, along with the message of the Twelve whom He later commissioned (Matthew 10:1-8) — in complete keeping with Isaiah’s prophecy (among numerous other Old Testament prophecies) — was simply a call for the nation to repent, with a view to healing and the nation being established in her God-ordained position in the kingdom (Exodus 19:5, 6). The healing of an individual constituted a sign for the Jewish people to visibly behold, showing them what could happen to the entire nation, if . . . .
“Repentance” on the part of Israel was the sole condition in the message proclaimed to the nation by John, Jesus, and the Twelve: “Repent: for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.” Then, following national repentance, healing would occur.
The Jewish people were to change their minds about their prior attitude towards God’s commandments (Isaiah 1:19; cf. Leviticus 26:3ff; Deuteronomy 28:1ff). They had previously disobeyed that which God had commanded. And because of this disobedience, Israel had not only failed to fully occupy her God-ordained position in the Old Testament theocracy but the day came when this theocracy ceased to exist; and, in connection with the end of the Old Testament theocracy, Israel found herself in captivity and scattered among the Gentile nations.
(The northern ten tribes were carried into captivity by the Assyrians about 722 B.C., and the southern two tribes were carried into captivity by the Babylonians about 605 B.C., beginning the times of the Gentiles. And a few years later the Shekinah Glory departed from the holy of holies of the temple in Jerusalem, ascending to heaven from the Mount of Olives, marking the end of the Old Testament theocracy.)
And even during the time Christ was on earth, though a remnant was back in the land, the nation remained under Gentile dominion. The times of the Gentiles, which began during the days of Nebuchadnezzar, continued then, as it still continues today. John opened the message to Israel concerning the proffered kingdom, Christ continued this message following John being cast into prison, and the Twelve later also carried this same message to Israel. And, though numerous Jewish people heeded the call and repented, the nation as a whole refused. The nation as a whole refused to change its mind relative to disobedience, something which had marked the history of the nation throughout centuries of time.
Israel’s Climactic Rejection
Events surrounding the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel, beginning with John and continuing with Jesus and the Twelve, reached an apex in Matthew chapter twelve. However, the apex reached was not one of acceptance on the part of the nation. Rather, it was one of rejection.
In this chapter, Christ healed a man on the Sabbath (vv. 9-13), pointing to Israel’s coming healing on the Sabbath (the seventh millennium, the coming Lord’s Day, following the six millennia comprising Man’s Day [cf. Numbers 19:11, 12; Hosea 5:15-6:2; Matthew 17:1-5]). And, following this miraculous sign, “the Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him” (v. 14).
The Pharisees (along with the Scribes) — fundamental, legalistic religious leaders — were, by far, the largest of the religious parties in Israel. And, occupying this position, they sat “in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2), controlling the religious life of the nation.
These controlling religious leaders were the ones who followed Christ about the country, seeking, at every turn, to counter both His message and the miraculous signs He was performing. And, in this chapter they reached an apex in their rejection by not only rejecting the manifested sign of a man being healed on the Sabbath (pointing to Israel’s healing on the Sabbath) but by subsequently holding a council concerning how they might be able to do away with the One having performed this sign.
Then, later in the chapter, Christ healed a man possessed with a demon, who was both blind and dumb (v. 22); and the Pharisees, in their rejection of the manifested signs, reached a terminal point. They attributed the power behind the manifestation of this miraculous sign to Satan (v. 24). And doing this after they had rejected the sign pertaining to Israel being healed on the Sabbath, along with subsequently seeking to do away with Christ, was the final straw.
These signs were being performed through the power of the Spirit (in completely keeping with the way God performs His works [cf. Genesis 1:2b]); and the Pharisees, attributing Christ’s works to Satan, committed what was called by Christ, “the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (v. 31).
The Pharisees had previously done the same thing (Matthew 9:34), but here the setting is different. Here it follows their rejecting the sign of the Sabbath and their attempting to do away with the One having performed this sign. Israel’s religious leaders, at this point, had gone beyond what could be allowed. And Christ stated, relative to that which they had done:
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (vv. 31, 32)
For all practical purposes the kingdom of the heavens was taken from Israel at this point in Matthew’s gospel, though the announcement was not made until later (Matthew 21:43). And it was at this point in Christ’s ministry that a major change occurred.
The Scribes and Pharisees, immediately after Christ told them that they had committed a sin having far-reaching consequences, had the effrontery to ask Christ for an additional sign (v. 38). They had rejected all of His previous signs, even attributing the power behind the last one to Satan, and now they asked for something that they had previously rejected time after time.
This was little more than a personal affront, further seeking, by any means possible, to discredit the One performing these signs (as they had previously attempted to do). But Jesus, knowing full-well their thoughts, responded with the only sign that would now be given to them — the sign of the prophet Jonah, pointing to His coming death, burial, and resurrection rather than to the kingdom (vv. 39, 40).
Then Christ described the condition in which the nation of Israel, because of the actions of their religious leaders, now found itself.
The men of Nineveh would rise up in judgment and condemn this generation, for they had repented at the preaching of Jonah. And One greater than Jonah was standing in Israel’s midst, calling for the nation’s repentance, but to no avail (v. 41).
The queen of the south would, likewise, rise up in judgment and condemn this generation, for she had come from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And One greater than Solomon was standing in Israel’s midst, One whom the Jewish people wouldn’t hear (v. 42).
The nation was to be left in a desolate condition, wherein the Jewish people would walk through dry places, seeking rest, and find none. And, should the people comprising this nation persist in their disobedience, particularly relative to any attempt to bring about a change in their state themselves, conditions would only become worse. Their latter end would be “worse than the first” (vv. 43-45; cf. Leviticus 26:18-31).
And this is the setting for Christ’s departure from the house, His going down by the seaside, and His beginning to speak in parables in Matthew chapter thirteen.
 Selected Writings of A. Edwin Wilson, edited by Arlen L. Chitwood, Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1981, pages 354, 355
 The Matthew Mysteries by Gary T. Whipple, Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1995, excerpts from pages 33-38
 First, The Most High Ruleth by Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 2004, pages 17-25, 27-29 Second, Mysteries of the Kingdom by Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., 1998, pages 5-11