The OT pointed beyond itself to the perfectness. That perfectness consists in the removal of all the evil which sin has wrought, in the restoration of man to God, and in the fulness of blessings which flows from fellowship between God and man.
This is the kingdom of God.
To announce it and to prepare for it, was the object of the OT.
This shows us that prophecy didn’t only have a predictive element but a moral one. The same was true of the miracles performed, especially by Christ. They all had an ethical standard. The people were to prepare for the kingdom of God, which is precisely what all the prophets told them, the greatest of which was John the Baptist.
Israel hadn’t had a prophet for over 400 years and now the greatest of all the prophets was in the desert dressed like Elijah.
Israel’s final OT prophet, the greatest, came to prepare them for entering the long promised kingdom of God.
MAT 3:1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying,
MAT 3:2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
“Repent” - to change the mind and turn around (act on the change - not only remorse or confession).
MAT 3:8 "Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance;
MAT 3:3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet [40:3], saying,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
'Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!'"
MAT 3:4 Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
MAT 3:5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan;
MAT 3:6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed (Greek: exomologeo = public, not private confession) their sins.
The religious leaders thought they were good enough to please God, the “sinners” of Israel who believed John understood they were not because what they did was sin.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
In Luke’s account we have John’s answer to their anxiety concerning his message.
LUK 3:8 "Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
LUK 3:9 "And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
LUK 3:10 And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?"
LUK 3:11 And he would answer and say to them, "Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise."
LUK 3:12 And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"
LUK 3:13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to."
LUK 3:14 And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."
How does this prepare them for the kingdom of God?
First off, it is obvious that the keeping of the simplest matters of the Law of Moses had grown lackadaisical in Israel. The simple matters John refers to by Luke’s account, and there might have been more, are give to your neighbor’s need, don’t defraud your neighbor, and be content with what you have.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
Yet, were the Pharisees alone in violating the laws of justice, mercy, and faithfulness? No is John’s answer. Perhaps the others in Israel were not as bad as the Pharisees or as brazen or as hypocritical, but all are guilty.
The heart intent on performing the works of the Law will only find that he is very unqualified to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Law makes sin alive.
If a Jew listening to John did these things, is he qualified to enter the kingdom of heaven? Actually, the doing of these things will only reveal to you that you are very unqualified to enter that righteous kingdom. Knowing what you ought to do before God will reveal to you that sometimes you don’t do them, and more often than you would like to admit, you don’t want to do them.
ROM 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, "You shall not covet."
ROM 7:8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.
ROM 7:9 And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died;
ROM 7:10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me;
ROM 7:11 for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.
ROM 7:12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
ROM 7:13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.
ROM 7:14-23 - even as believers we struggle with keeping God’s laws. Our solution there is not rededication or believing again or really, really believing the gospel, but faith on the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, which is the theme of Rom 8.
Yet, we see that the Jew who sets his mind to fulfill the Law of Moses as the Baptist is telling them, must conclude that they are very wretched, rather than qualified to enter the righteous kingdom of heaven.
ROM 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
ROM 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
John tells them that the kingdom of God and its King are at hand and that you must be prepared for the King. The preparation is that you realize that you are not qualified to enter the kingdom. But it is more than just admitting you are a sinner and caring nothing for the sin against God. That is no different than offering sacrifices of animals to God for sin, thinking it is sufficient. The sacrifices were always to be given with a broken and contrite heart. Without that they were just rituals.
John’s water baptism was a type of the true cleanliness that was to come, that was prophesied. And, no one in Israel ever baptized in concert with repentance.
EZE 36:25 "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
EZE 36:26 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
EZE 36:27 "And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
EZE 36:28 "And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.