Matthew prefaces his record of the Sermon on the Mount with this summary statement of Christ’s prophetic message, a call to repentance. But, we might rightly ask, “Repent of what?”
The temptation narrative that precedes this quote is instructive. Satan’s inquiry in Matthew 4.3 is often translated, “If you are the Son of God…”. But the text may also be understood differently. An equally plausible translation is, “Since you are the Son of God…”. I prefer this reading; the reader of the Gospel is already aware of Jesus’ identity as Immanuel / son of David / the fulfillment of Scripture. Moreover, Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus confirms his role as beloved Son of God (3.17). Additionally, such a reading acknowledges that the adversary surely understands Jesus’ identity, too. The question is no longer whether Jesus is the Son of God; the matter has already been settled in Matthew’s Gospel. Rather, the temptation is more about determining the kind of Messiah Jesus will become. Will he be a welfare king? A religious reformer? An imperial tyrant?
In these temptations, Jesus chooses the way of faithfulness. He emerges as a faithful Messiah, anointed by YHWH to fulfill all righteousness. As such, Jesus is uniquely qualified to issue the call of repentance. He calls us to repent of a “what God can do for you” religion. He calls us to repent of the faith that demands signs and wonders from a genie-in-a-bottle Deity. Perhaps most importantly, Jesus calls us to repent of our imperialism that elevates the power structures that feed on coercion and oppression and conquest. In the SOM, Jesus — the faithful Messiah, the fulfillment of Torah –calls us to a better way of living, one that is a more faithful representation of the will of God, one that fulfills God’s desire for righteousness to be demonstrated among His people.
Through repentance, the reality of the Kingdom of God comes near to us.