By Benjamin H. Liles
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. ~ Matthew 11:12
When it comes to understanding what Jesus is saying here, it's real hard to imagine exactly what He's getting at. On the one hand Jesus has been talking to and about John the Baptist, His cousin, and on the other he's giving this word picture that John has laid hold on Heaven ("and the violent take it by force"). But what does Jesus mean?
If we go back several verses before this we can get an idea of what Jesus is getting at. So, let's look. In the previous chapter Jesus had been teaching in cities and villages in their synagogues, telling them about the Kingdom of God. He has compassion on the people He's teaching as they have no proper teacher, explaining to them or even giving them what they truly need.
Can a teacher of the Laws of Moses adequately understand the message of mercy and grace? Not if the same teacher doesn't have faith that the words of God, given to Moses, points to One greater than even Moses (that is Jesus Christ). When Jesus says early on in His minstry that He has not "come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17, Berean Study) meaning He has come to fulfill the very word of God, for which He was appointed to do.
Remember, Jesus is about to lay His life down at the cross. What does scripture say? "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father" (John 10:17, 18, New American Standard). How does this go back to the point I'm going to make in regards to Matthew 11:12?
The word for violence and violent in Matthew 11:12 is the same word Luke uses in Luke 16:16 for "forcing his way into it" or rather "pressing into it" depending on the version you read. Why is this important? If we look back, prior to Matthew 11, we see Jesus being moved by compassion and we read, "because they were weary (harassed) and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd." Then Jesus tells his disciples, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Matthew 9:36-38, New King James).
Now we're getting to where Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven suffering violence. The people that Jesus is dealing with, those who are disenfranchised, harassed, scattered, blind, lame, mute, etc. are so tired of the old way that they are literally starving for something new. They see what Jesus is doing and they are "pressing him" or "becoming violent" for this kingdom Jesus is preaching about.
Have you ever been so hungry that you make the comment, "I am so hungry I can eat..." however you end that sentence for yourself? You have waited all week, or the past two weeks for a paycheck and your cupboard has been so bare that your constant thought is "I gotta have something and soon?" That's what these people who are being healed by Jesus are doing. They are tired of simply talking about God's Laws, which are the Laws of Moses, while being ignored of their rightful needs.
So, let's come back to Matthew 11, and see Jesus's response to a weary laden John the Baptist. We read, "And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, 'Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?'" (Matthew 11:2-3). Jesus replies, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me" (vs. 4-6). Jesus has to give John the Baptist this report to help braid his faith up that indeed He, Jesus the Messiah, is the man for the hour.
At this point Jesus launches into a bit of an exposition of who John the Baptist is, and we read the words, "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 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" (Matthew 11:9-11).
The whole purpose God intended by sending John the Baptist ahead of Jesus our Messiah was to quicken the hearts and lives of people who were suffering and wasting away under the effects of the law. The only thing the law of God can do is to show us how utterly sinful we are before God. Paul says it this way, "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18, New American Standard). He uses the words "foolishness to those who are perishing." Now look immediately after these words: "to us being saved it is the power of God."
Paul said of the law and what it does for a man: "But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust" (1 Timothy 1:8-11).
So, when it comes to the word of God, and showing people the way to Christ it takes our words. We point the way to Jesus the Messiah, and He does the rest. If the power of God, which manifested itself in the person of Jesus the Messiah, can heal people to their rightful place, why wouldn't anyone who had been without Him want anything less than Him? In other words, your pantry was so bare of food, and He is the food of life, you wouldn't want to go without again, right? You would press in. You would do what you can to have God's kingdom. You would take it, literally, by force. That's what Jesus is getting at. And this is what He was saying in Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16.
Now, how do you go about obtaining God's Kingdom for yourself? Do you feel absolutely led to desiring more of the Messiah for yourself? If you do then that's God working on you. Not me, not Mary, Joseph or Paul. That's God working out within you and your heart that desire to obtain more there is in this life for Him. It means putting off sin, those actions and characteristics that normally hold you back from God's presence in your life. It means you can have God, through Jesus the Messiah. All it takes is a simple prayer from you, renouncing your former way and life, laying hold of Him. Be free from your past. Become more. Do God's will in your life, being a new creation, and keep pressing in.