As a loyal husband, God leverages His influence to plead with his wife. He names her sins, but also offers an opportunity to forsake them. The same One who disciplines His beloved speaks kindly to her with words of renewal and restoration (2:14ff.). The call to repent is a compassionate plea to return to the joy of a right relationship with Him. It’s a cry of the faithful One longing for reunion with His bride. Repentance is a loving confrontation.
“Repent.” What tone of voice comes to mind when you read that word? What facial expressions do you imagine? What demeanor do you sense?
Some view the message of repentance as harsh or unkind. Perhaps they picture angry men with signs reading Turn or Burn shouting from street corners and university campuses. And sadly, such a reputation isn’t entirely unwarranted. There are modern, self-named street preachers and apocalyptic prophets who wear harshness as a badge of honor. Their tone and volume communicate hatred and condemnation.
But is that the disposition inherent in the word repent?
“Repent” was the message of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2)—a man dressed in camel’s hair, with a brown belt of leather around his waist and a diet of locust and honey for breakfast . . . probably lunch and dinner as well. A rough-around-the-edges kind of guy. A wilderness man. A man’s man. A man whom God sent to prepare the way of the Messiah. He warned of coming wrath. He chastised the religious hypocrites. And he called for the confession of sins. He was bold—unafraid of the confrontation that inevitably accompanies such a ministry. But did he purposefully pursue confrontation?
“Repent” was the message of Jesus Christ when He began His preaching ministry in Galilee (Matt. 4:17). He warned of the wrath of God and the horrors of hell more than any other New Testament messenger. He confronted the religious hypocrites with righteous indignation. And He even flipped tables and snapped a whip of cords. Jesus didn’t lack boldness. But more than any other preacher who utters the word “repent,” Jesus was a gentle and humble man (Matt. 11:29).1 He had compassion on sinners as lost sheep. He desired to gather them, as a hen collects her chicks under her wings. And He was so inclined with kindness toward them that others called him a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). Therefore, the proclamation of repentance must be compatible with the Savior’s tenderness.