by Brad Scott
It is more than noteworthy that some of the first words coming from Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptizer) and Yeshua‘ were very similar. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." From all four narratives we also see that these words were spoken to the same group of people, the religious systems of the day commonly known as the Pharisees and Sadducees. Please do not think of them as Jews, but rather representing what man notoriously does with the Word of YHVH over time. It is also notable that this particular religious system was given the commandments of YHVH in the beginning.
The key word in Yeshua‘‘s first exhortation is repent. The Greek word used here is used throughout the New Testament and translated as repent. The word is metanoeo (μετανοεω). This word is a combinatin of meta, which means to be behind or after and the word noieo or what one sets their mind towards. This one Greek word is generally interpreted as to change one's mind leaving something behind. Theologically, that which we leave behind when we repent is sin. Here is where a big difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking begins to manifest. In Hebrew, this concept is seen in context with other words. Hebrew is a much more contextual language, that is, it requires understanding from more than what one single word can express.
The one on one equivilant word in Hebrew is nacham (נחם), which means something very similar. Nacham adds the nuiance of being self comforted because of a change in circumstances and dynamics. This word is used of man and God.
Yonah (Jonah) 3:10And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
Mark 1:4Yochanan (John) did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Expressing a change in attitude is the beginning of what biblical repentance is all about. One must turn away from a direction they are going in order to return to what a righteous life is all about. This is why, for example, the Brown, Driver, Briggs and Gensenius lexicons and others add the words towards God and holiness to their definitions. They understand that you cannot practically live out this concept based upon the definition of a single word. This is how many people study, however. The renowned 1828 American Heritage Dictionary by Noah Webster adds the following insight to the English word repent:
In theology, to sorrow or be pained for sin, as a violation of God's Holy law, a dishonor to His character and government, and the foulest ingraditude to a Being of infinite benevolence.
These added nuances of this word stem from the Hebraic concept of repentance from the beginning. It is found in the word shuv (שוב) or to return or restore something. This was understood in the text of the Tanakh that did indeed carry over into the New Testament. To simply turn away from something is NOT biblical repentance. If someone was about to walk off a steep cliff and they turn away from that cliff, what is to keep them from walking off another cliff. But if they return from whence they came they are not likely to walk off a cliff. The first occurrence of shuv in our Bibles is in the very beginning.
Bere’shiyt (Genesis) 3:19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
Here we see an abstract thought or concept from its concrete and natural beginning. Man came from the dust and to the dust he will shuv or return. When Yochanan and Yeshua' were speaking to the religious system of the day they were not contextually telling them to just turn from the direction they were going but to return to the ways of their Creator, given to them in the beginning.
The word shuv is made up of a shin (ש) (to destroy), vav (ו) (that which connects) and a bet (ב) (the house). The Scriptures begin with a house, it is the very first letter in the beginning, and to this house our Father pleads with us to return. Our Father never left this house. Although our Father can have a change of mind due to a change in circumstances, He never left His ways or His house. In this way He is not like man that He should repent.
Bemidebar (Numbers) 23:19God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?
If there was ever a moment in time in which the followers of Yeshua' desparately need to comprehend the fullness of repentance, it is now. We need to know what and who to return to. So many people wander aimlessly from one religious system or denomination to another. Our Father is pleading with us to repent and return to Him.
Divre-Hayamim Bet (2Chronicles) 7:14If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn (shuv) from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Shalom Alecheim! ◊(There is a four part teaching on Repentance in the teaching section, beginning here with Repentance Part 1.