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John’s preaching centered on repentance and the kingdom of heaven. The word repent means “to change one’s mind and act on that change.” John was not satisfied with regret or remorse; he wanted “fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). There had to be evidence of a changed mind and a changed life.

All kinds of people came to hear John preach and to watch the great baptismal services he conducted. Many publicans and sinners came in sincere humility, but the religious leaders refused to submit. They thought that they were good enough to please God; yet John called them a “generation of vipers.” Jesus used the same language when He dealt with this self-righteous crowd.

The Pharisees were the traditionalists of their day, while the Sadducees were more liberal. The wealthy Sadducees controlled the “temple business” that Jesus cleaned out. These two groups usually fought each other for control of the nation, but when it came to opposing Jesus the Messiah, the Pharisees and Sadducees united forces.

John’s message was one of judgment. Israel had sinned and needed to repent, and the religious leaders ought to lead the way. The ax was lying at the root of the tree; and if the tree (Israel) did not bear good fruit, it would be cut down. If the nation repented, the way would be prepared for the coming of the Messiah.

  • Matthew 3:11 — 11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
  • Isaiah 44:3 — 3 ‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring And My blessing on your descendants;
  • Ezekiel 36:25–26 — 25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

What does it mean to repent from the Greek word mĕtanŏĕō?

μετανοέω; μετάνοια [mĕtanŏĕō],  to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness—‘to repent, to change one’s way, repentance.’

μετανοέω: ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυξαν ἵνα μετανοῶσιν ‘they went out and preached that the people should repent’ Mark 6:12.

μετάνοια: ἀγνοῶν ὅτι τὸ χρηστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς μετάνοιάν σε ἄγει; ‘do you fail to understand that God is kind because he wants to lead you to repent?’ Ro 2:4.

Though in English a focal component of repent is the sorrow or contrition that a person experiences because of sin, the emphasis in μετανοέω and μετάνοια seems to be more specifically the total change, both in thought and behavior, with respect to how one should both think and act. Whether the focus is upon attitude or behavior varies somewhat in different contexts. Compare, for example, Luke 3:8, Hebrews 6:1, and Acts 26:20.

Source: Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 509). New York: United Bible Societies.

And this from Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

REPENTANCE—There are three Greek words used in the New Testament to denote repentance.

          • The verb metamelomai is used of a change of mind, such as to produce regret or even remorse on account of sin, but not necessarily a change of heart. This word is used with reference to the repentance of Judas (Matt. 27:3).
          • Metanoeo, meaning to change one’s mind and purpose, as the result of after knowledge. This verb, with the
          • cognate noun metanoia, is used of true repentance, a change of mind and purpose and life, to which remission of sin is promised.

Evangelical repentance consists of (1) a true sense of one’s own guilt and sinfulness; (2) an apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ; (3) an actual hatred of sin (Ps. 119:128; Job 42:5, 6; 2 Cor. 7:10) and turning from it to God; and (4) a persistent endeavor after a holy life in a walking with God in the way of his commandments.

The true penitent is conscious of guilt (Ps. 51:4, 9), of pollution (51:5, 7, 10), and of helplessness (51:11; 109:21, 22). Thus he apprehends himself to be just what God has always seen him to be and declares him to be. But repentance comprehends not only such a sense of sin, but also an apprehension of mercy, without which there can be no true repentance (Ps. 51:1; 130:4).