Forcing the Kingdom

Jesus declared that “violent men are seizing the Kingdom of God.” Was he referring to malevolent men from the outside who attempt to take control of the Kingdom through force? Should his disciples “forcefully seize” the promises of God and otherwise vigorously “press into” the Kingdom and the “spirit realm”? Or must it advance in the world through forceful action? In the passage, Jesus is discussing the ministry of John the Baptist, and how he was rejected and abused by the leaders of the Jewish nation.

Church Ruins - Photo by Robert Levonyan on Unsplash
[Photo by Robert Levonyan on Unsplash]

Jesus spoke highly of John, not only calling him a great “
prophet” but also identifying him as the very forerunner foretold in the Book of Isaiah. Nonetheless, even the “least” disciple in the Kingdom is “greater than John.”

This declaration leads directly to his statement about the realm of God “suffering violence”:

  • And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” - (Matthew 11:12 – N.I.V.).

John heard about the deeds of Jesus while he was in prison. Perplexed, he sent his disciples to inquire whether he was the “Coming One.” Apparently, doubt had set in when Jesus did not fit comfortably into his expectations about the Messiah and his mission.

JESUS RESPONDS


Jesus gave a parable highlighting how the leaders of Israel treated John and the Messiah. John arrived as an ascetic and prophet of old, yet they charged him with having a demon. In contrast, Jesus came “eating and drinking,” but he was rejected as “a gluttonous man, a drinker of wine, a friend of tax–collectors, and sinners.”

The issue is how the Jewish nation treated and rejected John and Jesus, the Messiah of Israel for whom John prepared the way. “Yet from the days of John the Baptist until even now, the kingdom of the heavens is suffering violence and violent men are seizing it.” The timeframe under discussion is the period beginning with the ministry of John until the ministry of Jesus.

The Kingdom of God did experience violence beginning with John, violence that continued throughout the ministry of Jesus until he was rejected by the nation of Israel, culminating in his death.

The Kingdom is suffering “violence.” This rendering translates the Greek verb biazomai. It means to “use force.” Here, it is in the passive voice and the present tense, signifying that violence is being done TO the Kingdom. It is the victim, not the perpetrator of the violence.

If Jesus meant to say the Kingdom is forcefully advancing on the Earth, it would necessitate a verb in the active voice. That is not the case in the passage. The Greek present tense indicates violence as an ongoing activity. This fits the context. Jesus is describing how the Jewish nation received and rejected John.

VIOLENT MEN


He next refers to “violent men.” In Matthew, this translates the Greek noun baistés, which is related to the verb biazomai. It is a strong word used for a violent person who USES FORCE to accomplish his purpose. Here, it is in the masculine gender and the plural number; hence, “violent men.”

The verb is used with harpazō, another strong Greek term that means to “seize, snatch, plunder, steal, take away, forcibly seize.” In Greek literature, it refers to taking something by force. It is plural and in the active voice and the present tense. The subject of the verb is the “violent men.” It is the “violent men” who are attempting to “seize” something – (Matthew 12:29, 13:19, John 6:15, Acts 23:10).

The object of their action is “it,” a pronoun that is in the accusative case, hence the direct object of the verb. The pronoun is singular and feminine, and in this sentence, it can only refer to the “Kingdom” (singular, feminine). In other words, the thing the “violent men” are “seizing” is the “Kingdom of God.”

Grammatically, the statement can only mean that the “Kingdom” is “suffering violence,” it is the victim. The men who are inflicting it are the “violent men” in the verse, not the disciples who belong to the Kingdom.

Contextually, this understanding fits the discussion about John being mistreated by his countrymen. Beginning with his ministry, the Kingdom began to suffer violent assaults at the hands of its opponents. This is demonstrated by how they mistreated, rejected, and otherwise abused Jesus and John, the representatives of the Kingdom.

The point is not the need for persistence in prayer or advancing the cause of the Kingdom through forceful action. Ever since John and Jesus, both of whom died violently at the hands of their opponents, the enemies of the Kingdom have sought to misdirect and even destroy it both from within and without the Assembly.


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