The natural response to death is grief, but in some cases, the result of death is repentance. The word repent or nâcham (naw – kham´) in Hebrew can mean comfort as well as comforter. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162).
There are several instances in the Bible where it says that God repented. In Exodus 32:14 it says “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Repentance is necessary for change to occur. There has to be an intentional effort to change and therefore, motivation is a key ingredient in the process. Death is an effective motivator because it stirs up our emotions and causes us to see that things don’t always work out as we expect them to.
The primary message that preceded Jesus’ ministry was delivered by John the Baptist who said, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Many people repented and were baptized by John in the Jordan river, but the real change, the transformation of the world didn’t begin until after Jesus’ death. The death of Jesus brought deep grief to his disciples and most of his followers went into hiding for fear that they might be killed too, until Jesus’ resurrection. When Mary and the others went to the tomb and saw that it was empty, they were comforted, they gained strength and were willing to come out in the open again.
The only instance recorded of God’s people repenting in the Old Testament of the Bible is in Judges 21:13 where it says “And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the LORD had made a breach in the tribes of Israel.” When Jesus died, there was a breach in the family line of the Messiah. Jesus had no descendants and therefore, had no way to pass on his inheritance. The inheritance of the Israelites was intended to be perpetual, so to cut off a tribe or a family line was the equivalent to destroying the title deed to a property, there was no way to transfer or pass along ownership to anyone else.
In order to preserve the tribe of Benjamin, the Israelites took virgins and gave them to 600 men that had fled into the wilderness during a battle that wiped out every other person in the tribe of Benjamin. This act made it possible for the small band of survivors to start over and rebuild their cities. “And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel” (Judges 21:17).
The key to repentance is that some visible action is taken for the purpose of turning from a less desirable course to a more positive course. Many people think of repentance as merely turning away from sin or being sorry for something that you have done. After Jesus’ death, his disciples no doubt felt a tremendous amount of grief and were probably very sorry that they had abandoned him in the Garden of Gethsemane, but there was no actual repentance until they came out of hiding and began to preach the gospel.
The disciples felt that Jesus had abandoned them, that they would never see him again. At the end of the last supper, Jesus said to his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, I will not drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). The disciples knew they would be reunited with Jesus in Heaven, but what they didn’t understand was that the kingdom of God would be established on Earth after Jesus’ resurrection.
Jesus did not have to appear to his disciples to show them evidence of his resurrection. The work of the Holy Spirit was to convict and convince Believers that Jesus was alive. Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with the LORD after he had risen into Heaven. The only reason Jesus could have had for spending 40 days on Earth after his resurrection was to comfort his disciples. Jesus repented by taking action to bring the disciples out of hiding and restore their confidence in him.
If Jesus had died, been resurrected, and gone straight to Heaven, I don’t think God’s kingdom would have been established as God wanted it to. The disciples and others may have made it to Heaven, but It was Jesus’ act of repentance that made it possible for the disciples to continue his work and transform the world. Jesus had to change the course of events for God’s kingdom to be established on Earth as it already was in Heaven.
Repentance does not lead to our salvation, it leads to the salvation of others. God’s kingdom is made up of people that have experienced transformational change in their lives. Many times people claim to be saved and yet there is no evidence of repentance, nothing is different in their lives. Even the disciples went back to their old lives, they were fishing when Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection.
It says in Romans 2:4 that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance and in Romans 2:6 that God will render to every man according to his deeds. I believe the deeds spoken of here are deeds of repentance, the comfort we give to others that results in a change to the course of their lives.
In essence, repentance means to turn things around by doing the opposite of what is expected. Instead of taking a life, you save it, instead of keeping something for yourself, you give it away, instead of punishing someone that has hurt you, you reward him with kindness. Repentance is essential for salvation and must precede it because the turning of events is what makes it possible for there to be a different outcome.
Rather than turning in any direction, repentance focuses on the turning from a less desirable course to a more positive one. It is intended to correct or improve things not to make them worse. Sometimes repentance involves going against the tide in order to reach a destination that would not be arrived at unless an intentional effort was put forth to get there.
I think it is a mistake to assume that we are only responsible for correcting our own mistakes. Jesus died or the sins of others. I believe repentance is meant to correct the mistakes of others. I see Jesus’ death on the cross as an act of repentance to save the world from destruction. His resurrection and return to Earth to fellowship with his disciples was an act of repentance on the part of his Father who would otherwise have welcomed him home immediately after his death on the cross. God’s last act of repentance will be when he welcomes each of us into his kingdom that has sinned against him and his son Jesus.
In the parable of the vinedresser, Jesus tells the story of men who are given the responsibility of caring for another man’s vineyard. When the owner sends his servants to collect the fruit of his vineyard, the men beat the servants and refuse to give the owner the fruit that belongs to him. Finally, the owner sends his son thinking the men will respect him. “But when the husbandmen saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, This is the heir: come let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours” (Luke 20:14). At the end of the story, Jesus asks the question, “What therefore shall the lord of the vineyard do unto them?” (Luke 20:15).
Satan’s intent in putting Jesus to death was to take away his inheritance, but like the Israelites when the children of Benjamin were killed in battle, God made a way for Jesus’ inheritance to be restored to the rightful owners. The kingdom of God is among us. We who have been chosen and adopted into the family of Jesus Christ are joint heirs with him, the evidence of which is that we have the Holy Spirit living inside us.
Jesus told his disciples that his Father would give them another Comforter, “that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). The Holy Spirit gives us divine strength and enables us to transform not only our lives, but the lives of others. Repentance is the method through which that change comes and the first step in the process is to give God what he already rightfully owns, our lives.