Question: Greetings Priest Isaiah White. Help me understand Matthew 11:12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” Nyaole
Response: Thank you brother for the question.
This verse and a few others in the Bible have raised concerns since they tend to be difficult to understand.
People ask; what does it mean for the Kingdom of Heaven to suffer violence? Is the Kingdom of Heaven the believers and, therefore, them being persecuted in some way is the violence that it suffers?
Who are the violent that take it by force? Are these the persecutors who capture the believers or the believers who believe against all odds?
Some interpretations of this verse are under the school of thought that suggests John the Baptist was preaching national repentance so they could overthrow their political oppressors (the Romans).
While it is true that violence against the kingdom agenda can be defended in Herod’s arrest of John the Baptist who had rebuked his adultery, it is not sufficient to conclude that this is what Jesus meant in His statement.
According to John’s understanding, the arrest of the Kingdom preacher was a violent attack against the Kingdom. John, his disciples and his followers had moved increasingly in a political direction.
The question, “Are you the one or we wait for another one?” (Mathew 11:3) demonstrates that the camp of John either misunderstood the mission of Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven or disagreed with Jesus’ approach.
The reply by Jesus (Matthew 11:4-6) had nothing to do with a political agenda, but with the universal works of the devil and caution to whoever stumbles, finds offence or disagrees with Him.
It is at this angle that we understand John and Jesus do not indirectly agree on three essential things mentioned in Matthew 11:12:
1- the Kingdom of Heaven,
2-the violence against it
3-the violent who take it by force.
The Kingdom of Heaven
To John, the Kingdom was the exclusive Jewish people of God and the proselytes (those ritually initiated) while to Jesus, the Kingdom was inclusive to whosoever took no offence at Him as the King of that Kingdom.
To John, violence against the Kingdom was the heathen political dominance, the Jewish sinning, and the gentile culture fronted in the socio-political policies.
To Jesus, the violence against the Kingdom was unbelief in Him as the King of the Kingdom and disbelief in His word.
It was the demons opposed to the will of God (Matthew 12:26-30), influencing both the oppressed (Jews) and the oppressors (the Romans) against its establishment.
The violent use force
To John, the violent who took God’s Kingdom by force were his disciples, believers and other zealots who subscribed to physically fighting their oppressors in arms and overthrowing them to establish the Jewish rule to replace the heathen dominance.
John’s solution was held even by the disciples of Jesus Christ like Peter who had a sword to fight those who came to capture Him.
The violence to Jesus, however, is His suffering and brutal death on the Cross for the inheritance of the Kingdom by whoever believes Him; be it Jew or Gentile.
To further now understand this verse, one needs to investigate the audience that Jesus was addressing.
Since the verse is in the book of Matthew, and the town is Galilee, the audience was likely largely Jewish (Matthew 11:1-14) and the language was Hebrew.
Majority scholars and commentaries on Matthew 11:1-14 concentrate on the Greek of the text, yet even Greek is a translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic, which were the languages Jesus spoke.
Depending on His audience, Jesus spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic and since in Matthew 11:1-14 the audience was Jewish, these words were in Hebrew.
Matthew 11 is prophecy
In Matthew 11:12, Jesus was quoting for the Jews Micah 2:12-13; “One who breaks open the way will go up before them; they will break through the gate and go out. Their king will pass through before them, the Lord at their head.”
The Hebrew words in Micah 2:13 are translated in Greek (from which our English versions draw) in Matthew 11:12:
These words that Jesus used in this verse are: Poretzet (shuttered or suffers violence), like the violence the mother suffers upon delivery of a child (Genesis 38:29).
Jesus was saying that the divine Kingdom suffered violence at the Cross in His death just to secure us an inheritance which was in Him.
Jesus opens the way in Micah 2:13 so that all of us can experience a breakthrough in the way He broke.
In Micah’s Hebrew, the believers are the Port’zim (Greek: “biastai”- the violent men) who break through the way that Jesus broke Himself to Ohah’zim (Greek: “Harpazo”- seize it) get the inheritance in Him.
Therefore, Matthew 11:12 is a summary of our salvation as a breakthrough to our inheritance in God by the violence that Christ suffered for our sake.
That was and is what Jesus was communicating to them and us.
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