For the kingdom of heaven is at hand (hggiken gar h Basileia twn ouranwn). Note the position of the verb and the present perfect tense. It was a startling word that John thundered over the hills and it re-echoed throughout the land. The Old Testament prophets had said that it would come some day in God's own time. John proclaims as the herald of the new day that it has come, has drawn near. How near he does not say, but he evidently means very near, so near that one could see the signs and the proof. The words "the kingdom of heaven" he does not explain. The other Gospels use "the kingdom of God" as Matthew does a few times, but he has "the kingdom of heaven" over thirty times. He means "the reign of God," not the political or ecclesiastical organization which the Pharisees expected. His words would be understood differently by different groups as is always true of popular preachers. The current Jewish apocalypses had numerous eschatological ideas connected with the kingdom of heaven. It is not clear what sympathy John had with these eschatological features. He employs vivid language at times, but we do not have to confine John's intellectual and theological horizon to that of the rabbis of his day. He has been an original student of the Old Testament in his wilderness environment without any necessary contact with the Essenes who dwelt there. His voice is a new one that strikes terror to the perfunctory theologians of the temple and of the synagogue. It is the fashion of some critics to deny to John any conception of the spiritual content of his words, a wholly gratuitous criticism.
For this is he that was spoken of by Isaiah the prophet (outo gar estin o rhqei dia Esaiou tou prophtou). This is Matthew's way of interpreting the mission and message of the Baptist. He quotes Isaiah 40:3 where "the prophet refers to the return of Israel from the exile, accompanied by their God" (McNeile). He applies it to the work of John as "a voice crying in the wilderness" for the people to make ready the way of the Lord who is now near. He was only a voice, but what a voice he was. He can be heard yet across the centuries.