By Rob Lampard
This is the fourth paper in this series. The first, The Gospel of the Kingdom, focuses on the answer we find in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The second, Eternal Life, does the same for the book of John. And the third shows how these messages about the Kingdom and Eternal Life hang together as a cohesive whole.
So how might we access these good things? We’ve already seen one angle on this in Jesus’s answer to the man known as ‘the rich young ruler’ (Mark 10:17-30). Does he give us any more detail?
Repentance and Belief
Right from the outset of his ministry, Jesus gives us this invitation.
“The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
So what do ‘repentance’ and ‘believing’ mean?
In the original Greek, ‘repent’ is ‘metanoeo’, which means ‘to change one’s mind or purpose. It always in the New Testament involves a change for the better, an amendment. And except in Luke 17:3-4 (where its object is the offence caused to another person) it is always used of sin towards God.’
For more on repentance, refer to John Piper’s explanations which are reproduced in a recent Hope Church Luton blog. Meanwhile, more on belief later in this paper.
Repentance and Baptism
Interestingly, Mark places the statement above immediately after his summary of the ministry of John the Baptist. This John also emphasised repentance, along with baptism:
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)
The response of the people was that ‘confessing their sins, they were baptised.’ (1:5) Jesus himself, though uniquely having no sin to confess or repent of (see John 8:46) also submitted to baptism by John. He did this as he was about to begin his public ministry. We see in this a consecration to God of himself and of the ministry he was about to undertake. There are a variety of inferences in his action. A quote from the Quran springs to mind: ‘In this there are signs for men of understanding.’
Most of the references to baptism in water in Matthew-John are about John the Baptist. Jesus doesn’t mention such baptism at all in his teaching until immediately before his ascension:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them” (Matthew 28:19)
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Belief and Baptism
Interestingly again, these things often seem to be mentioned in pairs. First we had ‘repent and believe’, then ‘a baptism of repentance’, now ‘believe and be baptised’. We conclude that, according to Jesus’s teaching and his companions’ summary of it, repentance, belief and baptism all form part of the response which we are to make to Jesus’s preaching of the good news. So what of belief?
The Greek word ‘pisteuo’ means ‘to believe, also to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust. It signifies in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence. … Matthew uses the word ten times, Mark ten, Luke nine, John ninety-nine!’ It’s clearly one of John’s favourite words. It helps capture the urgent and dynamic response Jesus’s message demands of us. This is why he frequently combines the verb ‘believe’ with the preposition ‘eis’, meaning ‘into’.
As John records it, Jesus is at pains to convey that he requires of us the sort of active personal response as the tight-rope-walker Charles Blondin once supposedly asked of his audience. The story goes that, as he was about to undertake one of his many crossings of Niagara falls, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, he suddenly asked the spectators, “Do you believe I can do it?”
“Yes,” replied a man.
“Right,” said Blondin, “Get in the wheelbarrow.”
Whether or not this story is true is beside the point for our present purposes. Regardless, it pointedly illustrates the type of belief in him which Jesus requires of all his followers: not just an acknowledgement that he was a prophet and a great moral teacher; not just an intellectual assent that he was and is the Messiah; but rather a complete commitment of the whole person’s whole life to him and his cause. This is what he called ‘the rich young ruler’ to:
“Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
Jesus expands on this at considerable length in John, chapter 6:
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
He goes on:
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Herein he makes multiple allusions and connections. At a minimum he declares himself to be unique, from heaven whereas we are from the earth (cf John 8:23), the true fulfilment of the provision God made for the people during the time of Moses. There’s also in the final sentence a clear allusion to his execution to come. And astonishingly, he insists we must ‘eat his flesh’. If you think this is hard teaching which you cannot accept, you’re not alone (see vs 52 and 60)!
 W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Marshall Morgan & Scott, 1981, pp 280.
 A different person from, and not to be confused with, the writer of the New Testament book called John.
 A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Quran: Translation and Commentary, 23:30
 W. E. Vine, p116.
 See https://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/joh3.pdf, verses 16 and 36 – and many others throughout John.