“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
- Matthew 11:12 KJV
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.”
- Matthew 11:12 NIV
“For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God’s kingdom.”
- Matthew 11:12 MSG
Just a few Bible translations from the numerous translations we have been blessed with. The subject being Matthew 11:12, we make a little exegesis on the topic.
Believers have one interpretation of this verse or the other, but we will try to compare these words that Jesus spoke to other words that God has spoken in the scriptures in order for us to draw the greatest light we can.
“The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence”, this is one of the most popular phrases in scriptures; not just in the church, but even outside the church.
The verse opens with Jesus talking about the “greatest prophet”, John the Baptist. In fact, the first about nineteen verses talks about John the Baptist. This was an endorsement on the man who was now in Herod’s prison and would later be killed.
If we look closely at the whole eleventh chapter of Matthew, we will find a central theme of Jesus’ message there; “Come to me all you that are heavy-laden and I will give you rest”.
So, back to our main text, we’ll try to take it one at a time:
“From the days of John the Baptist until now…”
This literally is talking about the life and times of John the Baptist; from the time that he first appeared, to the desert period, and then the baptizing of the repentant and Jesus as well, and now, Jesus’ appearing. John the Baptist was Jesus’ forerunner, and now Jesus’ ministry was been established on the earth, and it was a continuation and a greater ministry than John’s. We see Jesus talk about this in verses 7-8. John’s time on earth were the “days of John the Baptist”.
“…the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence…”
Now these are the parts that begin to confuse us in interpretation, probably due to the translation of the words, or the text looking ambiguous in interpretation.
But we will look at the original Greek text to help us understand:
The Greek verb used here could mean to “force a way violently”, and where this gets us is whether this is the kingdom of God under “violent force” physically and spiritually or is it the sinner gaining “forceful violent” entrance into the kingdom of heaven? The latter is the best possible meaning and this is the agreeable intention if we juxtapose this with the account of Luke 16:16. This is in a manner of speaking saying that the kingdom of heaven is being sort out by zealous people who have come to understand the importance and benefits of the kingdom; attacking it as coming at it with all vigor and enthusiasm.
“…and violent people have been raiding it.”
Now if we agree with the above interpretation to be the correct, then it only makes sense to say that the people raiding it violently are the people who know God, and want to know more of him.
Violently in the same sense as the above – a sense of urgency and committed zeal.
Now if we are still not convinced on correct interpretation of this text, the Message Translation makes it pretty clear where Jesus was heading.
In the Message Translation, it says that “People have tried to force themselves into God’s kingdom”, and not “people have tried to destroy or take away God’s kingdom”. Trying to enter is not the same as trying to destroy.
If we also see the account of Luke:
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”
- Luke 16:16 NIV
Do they look similar? Of course, yes! And in fact, this totally explains the mind of Jesus, since this is a synoptic which explains what Jesus had said from another perspective. We have full understanding here.
If we look further at the succeeding verses of Matthew 11:12, Jesus tries to tell the people that “look, Prophets and the Law have only prophesied until this time, but now is the performance of the kingdom of heaven. There was never a time when people would troop out in large multitudes eagerly searching to hear the word of God and following men of God, and now, the people are most anxious for it.”
Going forward in the same chapter, Jesus begins to spell woes on those cities that he had labored in the most, but they had shown the slightest interest in the kingdom of God; they were not violent about it. Then he calls all those who are in need of help and comfort to take his yoke and his burden; to be desperate and intentional (with godly violence) about seeing the kingdom manifest in their lives.
The whole chapter is a complete word Jesus is trying to tell the people, and by extension the world: Seek the kingdom of God!
It is the same admonition by God in the Revelation, that men should not be lukewarm, but rather hot in seeking the things of God with all godly violence:
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
- Revelation 3:16 KJV