The ax was already at the foot of the tree. The time for repentance was now.
In the gospels Jesus picks up right where John left off:
Mark 1.14-15The message of both John the Baptist and Jesus is the same: "the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
But with Jesus a threshold had been crossed. Where John preached a repentance to prepare for the kingdom, Jesus preached that, in his presence and among his followers, the kingdom had already come. Where there was a severity to John's message of repentance for a kingdom about-to-come, Jesus preached that the joy of the kingdom was already available. Unlike the followers of John, Jesus' disciples did not fast. The wedding feast of the kingdom had already begun. The Bridegroom had arrived.
Jesus proclaimed, "the kingdom of God is in your midst." Or, in his Nazareth manifesto, "today the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." And when John the Baptist sent emissaries to determine if Jesus was the long awaited one Jesus responds:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”With Jesus the kingdom of heaven had arrived. The kingdom of heaven wasn't some future state of bliss, but a reality to be grasped today.
The kingdom of heaven is in your midst, here and now.
So when Jesus sends out his followers that is the message he commissions them to take:
"Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.'"But where in any of this are we to find the fiery judgment, the Day of the Lord prophesied by Malachi and John the Baptist?
Well, that judgment runs all through the gospels. With the coming of the kingdom the sorting of Israel had begun. Jesus' tells his followers to proclaim that the kingdom was at hand, but not all would heed the call:
"But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.As foretold by John, the Great Winnowing had begun.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”