Malachi’s book ends with a promise to send Elijah and four hundred years later, a man dressed like Elijah announces the arrival of the Kingdom of God to an Israel groaning under the iron weight of Rome. Surely, the appropriate response would be to arm themselves for war but this “Elijah” calls for a change of mind, namely, repentance. This surprise ought not be so because John the Baptist does little more than echo the cry of the prophets before Him: Repent!
Matthew points his audience to Isaiah 40, a poem calling for God’s people to prepare for the kingdom of God. God calls Jesus His Son just as He referred to Israel as His Son in the book that regales us with the tale of a nation forged by God – Exodus.Just as Israel went through the water into the wilderness, Jesus goes through the water into the wilderness. Satan, as usual, is on hand to tempt Him but Jesus rebuffs him, drawing lessons from texts dealing with Israel’s failures in the desert.
Jesus is a weird King. Instead of rescuing John the Baptist and reclaiming Jerusalem, He heads off to the despised North, preaching the same message as John: repent in preparation for the kingdom. While a king would be expected to recruit the cream of the Jews as his cabinet, Jesus recruits fishermen and reaches out to heathens.
Isaiah 40 explains his weirdness. The poem tells of a God with a perspective much wider than ours. While we are only interested in the Kingdom for our selfish reasons, God is building a Kingdom beyond our wildest dreams. God sees far more than we do and so cannot be confined to our expectations. The kingdom of heaven is here today and as it was in Matthew’s time, the key to joining it is a change of mind – Repent.