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Why must the violent take it by force?

Submitted: 2/10/2009
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Question: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. What does this mean?

Answer: In Matthew 11:7-19 Jesus says, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’ 11 Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Why should we have to violently take something that has been so freely given to us? To understand what this passage really means, we need to look at the book of the prophet Micah.

Micah 2:12-13
“I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture; they shall make a loud noise because of so many people. 13 The one who breaks open will come up before them; they will break out, pass through the gate, and go out by it; their king will pass before them, with the LORD at their head.”

This passage is rich in Messianic imagery. It pictures a shepherd pinning up his sheep for the night. He builds a sheepfold out of rocks or branches, perhaps up against the side of a mountain. In the morning he lets the sheep out by breaking a hole or making a gap, or breach, in the fence he has made. He then steps through this “gate” with the sheep following close behind.

The sheep have been pinned up all night and can hardly wait to get out of their crowded quarters. In their pushing and shoving, all trying to squeeze through the gate at the same time, they break the gate open even more, causing it to become wider and wider. Finally they break out into the open pastures, rushing head long after their shepherd.

At first reading, it seems at though the one making the breach in the fence and the king are one and the same. But the ancient Rabbis had an interesting interpretation of this verse: They said that the one who breached the fence was Elijah and the king was the Messiah. So let’s go back to Matthew 11:12 and read on...

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. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

What exactly is Jesus saying here? From the time that John the Baptist began preaching unto now (which was at most a couple of years later), the kingdom has suffered violence. In what way? The Greek word translated “suffers violence” is biazo, which means to force, to crowd into, or to press. It is not talking about something being done to the kingdom, but something the kingdom itself is doing: the kingdom is pressing. The NIV says, “The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Old Testament. In it, the Greek word biazo is used to translate the Hebrew word paratz. The word paratz is used in Micah 2:13 where it says, “The one who breaks open [poretz] will come up before them; they will break out [paratz], pass through the gate, and go out by it.” This word means to break out, to make a breach, to burst out, to disperse, or to increase.

So when Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, it’s likely that He was referencing Micah 2:13. He was saying, in essence, “Ever since John started preaching, God’s dominion has been breaking forth and gaining momentum. God’s influence over people’s lives is increasing.”

Jesus went on to say, “The violent take it by force.” The term “the violent” is the Greek word biastes (the noun form of biazo), which means one who is forceful or energetic. In this verse, it refers to the ones who are breaking forth under the influence of God’s kingdom. Jesus is saying, “The kingdom is breaking forth and the breach is getting wider and wider by the energy of those who are coming under its influence.” The phrase “take it by force” it the Greek word harpazo (which is the same word translated “caught away” when talking about the Rapture). This word means to seize, to catch, or to take by force.

So here is what I would say is a good interpretation of what Jesus was saying: “The ones breaking forth are taking hold of the kingdom; they are placing themselves under God’s authority and reaping the great spiritual blessings that God gives to those who submit to Him.” What Jesus was saying is that the kingdom was breaking out and gushing forward and people were finding great power and liberty in it.

John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, was the breach-maker (the poretz or biastes). He opened the gate. He prepared the way. He preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The people were pinned up in the prison of sin, but by responding to John’s message of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, the power of the kingdom of heaven began to be manifested. Then, Jesus, the Messianic King, came along and personally led His sheep out of darkness and into the marvelous light.

In Matthew 12:28 He said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The kingdom of God is the manifestation of the power and presence of God. It is God bringing man under His dominion. In Matthew 6:9-10 Jesus told us to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”