Yochanan b. Zecharyah was a Jewish teacher and prophet known to the Christian world as John the Baptist. In the gospel of Luke, he is Jesus of Nazareth’s second cousin and the son of a Jewish priest.
Appearing at the beginning of all four gospels and described as the “forerunner” of the Messiah and the last of the Hebrew prophets, John straddles the line between the days of the prophets and the “Day of the Lord.” If we are to believe the gospels, then we must acknowledge that the authors of those books saw John as the end of an age.
Every gospel tells his story a little different, but in all them John’s message was simple: Repent, for God’s Kingdom is at hand. There was nothing complex about this message. John was saying that God was coming, and the time had come to get right. To drive home the point, Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)
It was hard to miss or misinterpret John’s message, and yet for all of our supposed ability and intelligence, we miss what he was saying.
Jesus is the Kingdom of God. He is the Temple of God. He is the Lord’s Messiah. And we live in “The Day of the Lord.”
John represents all that was Hebrew, all that was rabbinical. John is a Jew declaring the end of Judaism and setting the stage for the Messianic Age.
That’s why John’s message is not normative for the Church today. The era he lived in is over. The Law and Prophets are fulfilled in Jesus. The Hebrew epic has been completed and has been transformed into something more. Now what has been anticipated is at work.
The Kingdom is not somewhere we go when we die. It is the One who died for us. Heaven is not some other reality. It is the fully realized reality of Jesus and His resurrection. It is not this life somewhere else, but this life as something else. We are being transformed into Christ’s image, collectively.
The Kingdom is being realized imperfectly now, but will one day be fully realized when Jesus returns. But that does not make it any less real now. We do not perceive it or live it all the time, because we are blinded by sin and restricted by the forces of this world and its would-be usurper who styles himself the Prince of This World, Satan. But make no mistake. Jesus is the Kingdom, and those found in him are citizens of that Kingdom.