“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Is this the correct translation?

This statement by Jesus has been translated differently among the different Bible versions:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (New International Version 2011)
"Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (King James version)
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (New Living Translation)
“Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Christian Standard Bible)
"Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" (Hebrew Names Version)
"Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh." (Darby Translation)
'Reform ye, for come nigh hath the reign of the heavens.' (Young's Literal Translation)
"Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (American Standard Version)
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Revised Standard Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible)
“Change your heart, for the sanctuary of God is readily available.” (Lost Gospels of Jesus)
These are all translated from the same Greek phrase, μετανοεῖτε ἤγγικεν γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Isn't this also what John the Baptist taught?

Regardless of the translation, this teaching was also taught by John the Baptist before Jesus taught it:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:2)
These teachings were only taught by Jesus following his hearing of John the Baptist’s imprisonment:
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. ... From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12-17)
It should be clear from this that this teaching was not solely Jesus' message. Just as Jesus was passing on the same teachings of his own teacher John the Baptist, Jesus also told his own disciples to go out and teach this same message to others:
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'" (Matt. 10:7)
Again, Matthew 3:2 describes clearly that John taught this very same teaching. Then we find from Matthew 10:7 that Jesus told his disciples to pass on this same teaching. What does this mean? It means that this very same teaching was taught by at least three generations of teachers: John, Jesus and Jesus' disciples.

Was this teaching taught before John?

This teaching did not originate with John the Baptist. We find in David's Psalms and other texts of the Bible:
But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73:28)

We praise you, God, we praise you, for Your Name is near (Psalm 75:1)

Yet You are near, LORD, and all your commands are true. (Psalm 119:151)

The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

“In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will have that person come near Him. (Numbers 16:5)

He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near Himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too. (Numbers 16:10)

What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? (Deut. 4:7)

Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” (Deut. 5:27)

And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night (1 Kings 8:59)

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6)

They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. (Isaiah 58:2)

"Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’" (Luke 10:9)

What does 'repent' mean here?

The word "repent" is being translated from the Greek word μετανοέω (metanoeō). It means "to change" or "to change one's mind" according to the lexicon. It means to have a change of heart. It means to make a serious change in one's life.

In other words, "repent" in this context would be to divert from those activities focused upon our own selves - exercised by our seeking satisfaction within materialism. To "repent" from these activities would mean to refocus towards regaining our relationship with the Supreme Being.

Yes, to "repent" means to have a change of heart. Which is a change of consciousness. Which directly affects our decisions and actions.

What does 'kingdom of heaven' mean here?

The word "kingdom" here is being translated from the Greek word βασιλεία (basileia). The lexicon describes this word to mean, "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule: not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."

From this, we know that Jesus and John were speaking of accepting the Supreme Being's dominion - His ultimate authority. So the kingdom of heaven relates to the consciousness of accepting the ultimate authority of the Supreme Being. This is describing the refuge, the shelter, or the sanctuary, of God.

The use of "kingdom" here comes from a time when there were many different kings - who were basically tribal rulers - in different regions. Using their armies, these kings protected the people of the kingdom. As such, the people revered the king and took shelter or refuge under the king's protection. Using their assembled armies and barriers, the king would protect the populace from invading armies. As such the "kingdom" was the name given to that place of refuge, shelter or sanctuary.

Having a change of heart and taking refuge or shelter or taking sanctuary of God requires humility. It means accepting that we don't know it all. It means accepting that we don't have the means to protect ourselves. It means accepting that the Supreme Being is my only real protector and salvation.

The Supreme Being is a person, and each of us has an innate relationship with God. We have forgotten this loving service relationship as we seek our own satisfaction away from God. In order to regain our lost relationship with God, our approach must come with humility, because we were the ones who decided to leave Him.

This runs contrary to the popular connotation of "repenting" as professed by many sectarian institutions and their teachers. Many see repentance as some sort of public proclamation: To proclaim “I repent,” in a public ceremony, or “I surrender to Jesus” is not the same as having a personal change of heart - as Jesus, John and Jesus' disciples were requesting.

A real change of heart does not come with public proclamation or grand-standing. It is rather the opposite: It is an extremely personal and private decision to redirect one's life towards coming to know and love the Supreme Being.

Is this about the end of the world?

Even with this clear meaning, many sectarian institutions and their teachers have interpreted this statement relates to a coming end of the world or some kind of apocalypse. This is despite any evidence, from either the words or the context of Jesus' statement.

Consider first the audience of these teachings. Who was Jesus preaching to? Certainly, he was preaching to those around him at the time. And yet some 2,000 years later, the end of the world still has not come.

This hasn't stopped the unsupported interpretation. Here is a short list of the many teachers who have claimed to represent Jesus, teaching that Jesus was predicting the end of the world on a certain date. The date they predicted to be the end of the world follows their name:

Hilary of Poitiers: 365 AD (the date the end of the world was predicted)
Saint Martin of Tours: 375 to 400 AD
Sextus Julius Africanus: 500 AD
Gerard of Poehlde: 1147 AD
John of Toledo: 1179 AD
Joachim of Fiore: 1205 AD
Pope Innocent III: 1284 AD
Melchior Hoffman: 1533 AD
Benjamin Keach (Baptist): 1689 AD
William Whitson: 1736 AD
The Shakers (Ann Lee): 1792 AD
Charles Wesley (Methodist): 1794 AD
Margaret McDonald: 1830 AD
Joseph Smith (Mormon): 1832 and 1891 AD
William Miller (Millerites): 1843 and 1844 AD
Ellen White (Seven Day Adventists): 1850, 1856 and "early 1900s" AD
Mother Shipton: 1881 AD
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses): 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994 and others more recent.

Were Jesus and John deceiving their students?

Since the end of the world hasn't come, were John and Jesus teaching an untruth? What would be the purpose of threatening the end of the world to them - as "near" - since it would not happen during their lifetimes or even within the lifetimes of their children - or even in the next 2,000 years? Does more than 2,000 years later mean "near"?

Furthermore, would Jesus falsely threaten people about the coming end of the world in order to convert them? Or was Jesus predicting an event that might occur thousands of years later? And if so, what would that event have to do with his audience, since they would be long dead by then?

And why, if John and Jesus were predicting an event that will take place more than 2,000 years later, would they use the word "near"?

The reality is, this statement has been mistranslated and misinterpreted.

What does 'near' or 'at hand' mean?

The word "near" (or in the case of other translations "at hand") is being translated from the Greek word ἐγγίζω (eggizō), which means, according to the lexicon:

1) to bring near, to join one thing to another
2) to draw or come near to, to approach

Thus it is clear that the interpretation of the word relating to time is incorrect. The word ἐγγίζω (eggizō) indicates "closeness" relative to distance - not time.

Therefore, Jesus is speaking of the kingdom of heaven - the sanctuary of God or the refuge of God - being close: Readily available.

The true meaning of “for the kingdom of heaven has come near” is that each of us can gain the refuge or sanctuary of God - the shelter of God - immediately by simply turning to the Supreme Being - by worshiping Him and relying upon Him - and dismissing ourselves ("repenting") from our search for happiness in a materialistic world of emptiness and physical gratification.

In other words, Jesus is speaking of surrendering to the Supreme Being - giving one's life to God - and thus taking shelter in the Supreme Being.

Is this about our consciousness?

Jesus is not speaking of a physical place being nearby. He is speaking of the fact that taking refuge in the Supreme Being can be accomplished immediately: Because He is nearby. He is available to each of us.

Certainly, if we accept that God created this world, we can also accept that He has the ability to be here. Nearby. Available. Jesus confirmed this in another statement:
"The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21 NKJV)
The Supreme Being designed the physical body in such a way so that our physical eyes cannot see Him. This is in order to give each of us the freedom to ignore God if we choose. It also gives us the freedom to love God - or not.

Therefore, we have to open our hearts in order to see Him from within. If God is with us - near - and we can refocus ourselves upon Him with humility and love, then we have the ability for our consciousness to enter the kingdom of God where ever we are. This translates to becoming focused on doing His will rather than our own will.

But Jesus also indicates that this consciousness does have a place: Not a physical place, but a context - this is the spiritual realm - evidenced by Jesus' use of the word οὐρανός (ouranos) in this verse - mistranslated to "heaven."

Yes, since Jesus is indicating that this consciousness related to giving one's life to the Supreme Being is available - Jesus is obviously not speaking of a location called "heaven" - as this is far removed from the physical world where Jesus was speaking from.

This is the element of sanctuary: God's sanctuary - or heaven - is not a faraway place. The Greek word οὐρανός (ouranos) indicates the consciousness of the spiritual realm, which can be accessed from any location - because after all, everywhere is part of God's creation. Thus, the use of οὐρανός (ouranos) indicates that consciousness where the Supreme Being is loved and worshiped.

This great teaching is suggesting that we can immediately reject our self-centered chase for happiness within materialism and give ourselves to the Supreme Being. We can decide to dedicate our lives to coming to know and love the Supreme Person and learning to do His will (what pleases Him). This will immediately transport us to the sanctuary (or kingdom) of God, even as our physical bodies might remain here in the physical world.

Yes, according to Jesus' teachings, God and His sanctuary are near. God is available to us, and we can surrender our lives to Him and take refuge in Him at any time. We each have that choice.