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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, NKJV)

What does this verse mean?

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migrated from Dec 1 '14 at 8:07

This question came from our site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more.

Why was this question migrated? In the Christian circles I'm in, the verse is mentioned frequently. I'm most definitely not an expert theologian or capable of doing my own Greek interpretation but would very much like to put my understanding on a much more solid basis. Because good answers need not rely at all on knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, I would very much like to see this question moved back to a broader audience. – nickalh Dec 1 '14 at 11:45
"The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in Holy Spirit" is an essential related definition context from Romans 14:17 In my understanding, the sufferring refers to those who press so hard for peace and joy it becomes analogous to violence. I know a man caught in an addiction who moved 8 hours away to connect with a specialty ministry helping people with that particular bondage. Radical sacrifice like this could be is part of "forcing" his way into the kingdom despite any and all circumstances. Likewise, Paul worshipped even when in jail. – nickalh Dec 1 '14 at 12:00
@nickalh This site is the way to address this question to a broad audience. The alternative is that it would be outright closed on C.SE because it does not have any scope. In order to ask this question there it would need to be addressed to a specific theological framework. Without that it is what (for lack of a better term) we call "truth questions" which are off-topic entirely. – Caleb Dec 1 '14 at 12:32
See also What is the meaning of "violence" in Matthew 11:12? for a specific treatment of the work "violence" in this verse. Answers to this question might want to concentrate on the way all the concepts in the verse tie together rather than that specifically. – Caleb Dec 1 '14 at 12:35

In the larger context of the Matthew passage you cite (11:1-20), Jesus' focus is on John the Baptizer and John's ministry as Messiah's forerunner (see also Mark 1 and Luke 3). John's commission from God was to prepare the way for the Lord, and in essence John's message was a message (and baptism) of repentance.

The common people flocked to John, and John had many disciples, some of whom included even tax collectors and soldiers (Luke 3)! Generally speaking, however, the religious leaders within Judaism in John's and Jesus's day were not so enamored with John--and later, Jesus.

Remember the question Jesus asked the chief priests and elders?

"'John's baptism--where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?' They discussed it among themselves and said, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask, 'Then why didn't you believe him?' 'But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet. And answering Jesus, they said, 'We do not know.' He also said to them, 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things'" (Matthew 21:25-27; see also Mark 11:30 and Luke 20:4)

Clearly, the religious rulers held both John and Jesus in low esteem, even contempt. They were loathe to leave their comforts, familiarity, and yes, even their power and influence as elders within Israel for what they perceived to be a radical--blasphemous even--threat to the religious status quo. Rather than conform to the teachings of John and Jesus, they resisted them with passion and zeal. We know, of course, that the crucifixion of Jesus was the ultimate act of violence against the kingdom of heaven and its king, but what of their general resistance combined with their insistence that John and Jesus conform to them and not vice versa?

Here is where the violence of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 11 had its genesis. Those unrepentant leaders in Judaism thought that since they had "the prophets and the Law" (Matthew 11:13), they were in the right, while those "upstarts" John and Jesus were wrong. In other words, from their perspective, "If it ain't broke, don't [try to] fix it!"

Jesus' response to their inability and unwillingness to "get with the program" introduced by John and developed further by Jesus' teaching, revealed their ignorance of John's significance in the grand scheme of things.

"'For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John,'" Jesus said (v.13, my emphasis).

Jesus was in no way derogating the prophets and the Law; rather he was simply drawing attention to the transition taking place with the entrance of John the Baptist (again, "until John") and with his own entrance onto the world stage. Remember, John was the forerunner. He was like the king's point man whose job was to pave the way, so to speak, for the arrival of the king to a town or city. Like a public crier he would shout out, "The king is coming! Make way for the king!"

If there were obstacles in the road (e.g., fallen tree limbs, huge potholes, or other impediments) or possible dangers (e.g., protesters, an angry mob, or even potential assassins), the forerunner would address these issues and, presumably, either take care of them himself or assign others to do so. The primary obstacle in John's day was a plethora of sins and a dearth of repentance, especially from those who should have known better.

John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, was just such a forerunner. In a sense, his job was to prepare citizens for the coming of the king. When the king finally arrived, the forerunner would fade into the background. John said, quite perceptively,

"He [i.e., Jesus] must become more important, while I become less important" (John 3:30 CJB).

Unfortunately, both John and Jesus met with only resistance from many (if not most) of the leaders, elders, priests, scribes, and rabbis of their day. And herein was the violence revealed. The resistors claimed the kingdom of heaven for themselves, wresting it from "those radical upstarts, John and Jesus," and ultimately killing the more-important of the two.

These naysayers acted like a group of children playing games, with one sub-group playing "funeral" and another sub-group playing "wedding feast." One sub-group would try to get the other sub-group to play their game, to no avail. In similar fashion the naysayers would criticize both John ("He was a fasting demon") and Jesus ("He was a gluttonous drunk and party animal who hung out with ne'er-do-wells") and attempt to force both forerunner and king to fit their mold of how things should be.

That kind of behavior may not qualify in our minds today as violence, but we mustn't be too literal in interpreting a metaphor--a trope, all the while forgetting Jesus knew that one day soon the figurative (i.e., the metaphor) would become the literal, thus fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah:

"By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who [among them] considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke [was due]?" (53:8 ASV)

In satisfying their blood lust, Jesus' harshest critics and haters oppressed and judged him, not for a moment thinking that by doing so they were heaping the punishment they deserved on one who deserved not punishment, but worship.

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It would first be useful to define what the "Kingdom of Heaven" is. In this verse, "Kingdom of Heaven" refers the the ecclesiastical government of the church, which is the kingdom of heaven on earth[1].

If you examine the Greek: καὶ βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν. (kai biastai harpazousin autēn) "and [the] violent (violent men) seize (take it by force) it ("her") " This verse is communicating that "violent" men are seizing control of the church, or plundering it.

This verse refers to the corruption of the Jewish Elders in the governance of the Church.

1 Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

"In this verse, "Kingdom of Heaven" refers the the ecclesiastical government of the church" I've never heard that idea before! Got any support to back it up? – curiousdannii Dec 2 '14 at 0:09
This doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. – Dan Dec 2 '14 at 5:08
@majnemɪzdæn - I see and I understand. It's past the witching hour in my part of the world, I shall return to this answer on the morrow with some edits. – ShemSeger Dec 2 '14 at 5:42

I believe the 'kingdom of heaven' here means the astral heaven, the 'heavenlies' as Paul calls it. Some people take it by force/violence, means some people actually do the sorcery to 'capture' astral zones. This is something like taking over the atmosphere of a meeting, or a home even, simply by forcefully barging in and filling the place with strong overwhelming sound or subtler vibrations, killing and suppressing everything gentle and natural to that zone, while taking advantage of everything it offers without being invited to.

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I've looked at this before. If I recall correctly, analysis of the source text helps.

Even without source analysis, it's not too hard to get a reasonable interpretation.

  1. suffers violence The wicked are oppressing the righteous.

  2. the violent take it by force The wicked have overtaken the righteous. E.g. the elders of the people are hypocritical Pharisees, money changers have invaded the temple.

This has been the case since the time of John the Baptist, who is the subject of this passage. Jesus will end this. (This part should be interpreted spiritually.)

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. This doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it. – Dan Dec 2 '14 at 5:08
@majnemɪzdæn, I'm not on Biblical Hermeneutics! Well, I guess now I am...I had to sign up just now to reply to your comment. I answered on a different site, and didn't know I'd have to go clean up messes from some shmuck moving my answer... no wonder it doesn't fit well on this site! Kindly take your canned comment elsewhere. – Paul Draper Dec 2 '14 at 22:26

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