The Manifold Meaning of ‘Metanoia’

This pastoral passage was first written for LRBC on November 27 2016.

When Jesus began to preach, he said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word ‘repentance’ (in Greek, ‘metanoia’) here is a word with a wider meaning than simply turning from sin. It is a word closer perhaps to our word ‘conversion’. It means to turn away from one thing and towards another. Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God announced that its arrival was imminent, and that we must drop everything in order to be ready and on board for it – that is, we must repent.

This repentance will look very different for different people. For the immoral person, this of course will mean to turn from their sins and look to him for mercy. For the righteous, religious person, it will be to renounce any confidence in their righteousness in light of the utter holiness of God. The idolater and the irreligious are summoned to abandon their mistaken faith and adjust themselves to the coming new reality. Successful and ambitious persons are to forfeit their goals and to pursue those of God’s kingdom. Outcasts may lift up their heads, finding that the Lord has a place for them. The secularist is notified that Jesus has first place in every sphere of human life, including their own, and the nationalist is told that God’s program is open to all, and that they must not reject those that he would welcome.

Right now we live in the time between Jesus’ first and his second coming. In God’s timetable, the kingdom’s coming is the next event. In a way, our time is like a stretched out moment of anticipation between hearing a guest’s car arrive in our driveway, but before they knock on the front door. God is about to interrupt his wayward world. Are you ready for it? If not, repent – because the kingdom of heaven is at hand.