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In Matthew 11:12, Jesus said, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force."

Luke 16:16 is often given as a companion scripture: "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it."

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon on one interpretation of this scripture (as have others), but many have looked at this scripture in different ways. In your answers to this question, please elaborate on the meaning of violence in Matthew 11:12, and how the kingdom was or is taken by force.

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See also What does it mean for the kingdom of heaven to suffer violence? for a broader treatment of this verse, not just the issue of "violence". – Caleb Dec 1 '14 at 12:35

Matthew 11:12-14 NET:

"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John appeared. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, who is to come. The one who has ears had better listen!"

Luke 16:16 NET:

“The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void."

You'll notice in the NET Bible, instead of

". . . the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,"

as it appears in the KJV in the Matthew passage, you have

". . . the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it."

There is not a great difference between the two translations, but the NET does soften violent to forceful, and by force to lay hold of.

Here is what Constable says in his commentary on this passage in the NET Bible:

"Probably Jesus meant that the religious leaders of His day were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own carnal way while refusing to accept God’s way that John and Jesus announced. This view explains satisfactorily Jesus’ reference to the period from the beginning of John’s ministry to when He spoke. Ever since John began his ministry of announcing Messiah the Jewish religious leaders had opposed him."

Clearly, the reception Jesus received up to this point in His public ministry was anything but pleasant. Quite the opposite in fact. We read in Luke 4:29-30 NIV,

"All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way."

What had set His fellow Jews in the synagogue off, to the extent they wanted to kill Him? In context, it was Jesus' words about their failure to believe His message of the kingdom, which was to "proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (ibid., v.19). In His hometown synagogue Jesus spoke of the people to whom He came, and they were not the gatekeepers in Judaism; rather, Jesus came to preach good news to

  • the poor

  • the prisoners

  • the blind

  • the oppressed

Many of the overtly religious people in Jesus' day would hardly identify with the underclass of humanity the way Jesus did. Jesus knew this, which is why in the synagogue He goaded them further by reminding them of the spiritual nadir to which the Israel had sunk in the days of Elijah and Elisha.

"'Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian.'" All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this . . ." (ibid, vv.26-28).

The very suggestion by Jesus that God would rather reach out to the Gentiles with His loving provision for a widow and His healing powers for a leper infuriated Jesus' listeners in the synagogue that day. The inferred correctly what Jesus was implying: the Gentiles of their day who believed his message were worthier of God's news than they were!

All this to say that the religious establishment within Judaism--the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and the experts in the law--were the perpetrators of the violence to which Jesus referred. As Constable put it,

"Moreover in 23:13 Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees of trying to seize the reins of kingdom power from Messiah to lead the kingdom as they wanted it to go. They also snatched the kingdom from the people by rejecting the Messiah. The imprisonment of John was another evidence of violent antagonism against the kingdom, but that opposition came from Herod Antipas. John and Jesus both eventually died at the hands of these violent men" (my emphasis).

Here is Matthew 23:13:

"'But woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You keep locking people out of the kingdom of heaven! For you neither enter nor permit those trying to enter to go in.'"

By failing to accept Jesus' offer of a kingdom within the hearts of people, not only were the hypocritical religionists in Jesus' day not entering that kingdom but they were doing everything in their power to prevent others from entering as well. Obviously, Jesus' enemies were more interested in maintaining their power and influence within Judaism than they were in submitting to the King of the peaceable kingdom, none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

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The meaning of "violence" in Matt. 11:12 depends upon how one understands the Greek verb βιάζεται (a form of βιάζω). Different ideas are expressed by βιάζεται, and how it's understood depends on if the reader interprets it reflexively, passively, or in another manner.

For example:

"So then in Matt. 11:12 the form can be either middle or passive and either makes sense, though a different sense. The passive idea is that the kingdom is forced, is stormed, is taken by men of violence [who] seize it like a conquered city. The middle voice may mean ... 'forces its way' like a rushing mighty wind" (Robertson's Word Pictures in the NT).

"Suffereth violence (βιάζεται). Lit., is forced, overpowered, taken by storm" (Vincent's Word Studies).

You might want to consult the approved biblical commentary of your preferred religious organization to see how they spun βιάζεται.

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5  
Defering to doctrinal frameworks is great in principle, but you seem to dodge the bullet a little early here. Interpretation in not done in a vacuum, but it isn't pure 'spin' either. What are the possibilities and what factors have to be in place to interpret the word one way or another? It seems like there should be more groundwork done in the text itself before layering on doctrinal considerations. – Caleb Feb 21 '14 at 23:14

The verse in question appears in a section of "Matthew" that runs from 11:2 to 11:19. The passage is Jesus' commentary on the ministry of John:

Mat 11:7 As they were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?

The "teachable moment" occurred because John had sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus to confirm that he intended to fulfill John's expectations for the Anointed of God, including, we are led to infer, the violent expulsion of Roman rule from Jerusalem.

Mat 11:2 Now when John in prison heard about the activities of the Messiah, he sent a message by his disciples Mat 11:3 and asked him, "Are you the Coming One, or should we wait for someone else?"

We know that a revolutionary fervor was in the air and John announced that Jesus would right the wrong of the oppression of the Jews:

Luk 3:15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all of them were wondering if John was perhaps the Messiah. Luk 3:16 John replied to all of them, "I am baptizing you with water, but one is coming who is more powerful than I, and I'm not worthy to untie his sandal straps. It is he who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Luk 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clean up his threshing floor. He will gather the grain into his barn, but he will burn the chaff with inextinguishable fire."

Joh 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God who [violently] takes away the sin of the world!

Jesus' response was to show that he was fulfilling the Messianic mission but in peaceful ways:

Mat 11:4 Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and observe: Mat 11:5 the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the destitute hear the good news. Mat 11:6 How blessed is anyone who is not offended by me!"

Jesus gives a speech about John that portrays him as not being just another "stuffed suit" but rather the mightiest of the prophets of the closing age and the civil engineer of the Messianic age:

Mat 11:7 As they were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? Mat 11:8 Really, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fancy clothes? See, those who wear fancy clothes live in kings' houses. Mat 11:9 Really, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and even more than a prophet! Mat 11:10 This is the man about whom it is written, 'See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' Mat 11:11 I tell you with certainty, among those born of women no one has appeared who is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least important person in the kingdom from heaven is greater than he.

It is at this juncture that Jesus speaks of the violent nature of John's ministry saying that the time of John's violent image of salvation was being superseded by the kinder and gentler new order:

Mat 11:12 "From the days of John the Baptist until the present, the kingdom from heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people have been attacking it, Mat 11:13 because the Law and all the Prophets prophesied up to the time of John.

"Matthew", ever anxious to see the new build exponentially on the old suggests that the Jewish anticipation of the arrival of Elijah is misguided and they need no further than to John who came in the "spirit [speech] and power of Elijah":

http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/appen08.htm

Luk 1:13 But the angel told him, "Stop being afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to name him John. Luk 1:14 You will have great joy, and many people will rejoice at his birth, Luk 1:15 because he will be great in the Lord's presence. He will never drink wine or any strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. Luk 1:16 He will bring many of Israel's descendants back to the Lord their God. Luk 1:17 He is the one who will go before the Lord with the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, and to prepare the people to be ready for the Lord."

Mat 11:14 If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Mat 11:15 Let the person who has ears listen!

Mat 17:10 So the disciples asked him, "Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Mat 17:11 He answered them, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things. Mat 17:12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, yet people did not recognize him and treated him just as they pleased. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Mat 17:13 Then the disciples understood that he had been speaking to them about John the Baptist.

So the key to understanding Jesus' words about "violence" here it is important to consider the context which is clearly about the ministry of John. John, like all before him hoped for the arrival of the Messiah who would rid the holy People, city and temple of their oppressors and set up a Davidic throne and rule all nations with a rod of iron:

Rev_19:15 And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.

The "mystery of the kingdom" and the scandal is that Messiah arrives but does NOT assemble an army, evict Rome and glorify a holy Jerusalem. At least not yet.

Jesus then goes on to criticize "this generation" (his contemporaries, not the Jews) because they rejected John for his "uncultured ways" and call to grieving for sin and then rejected Jesus because of he announced a festive wedding:

Mat 11:16 "To what can I compare the people living today? They're like little children who sit in the marketplaces and shout to each other, Mat 11:17 'A wedding song we played for you, the dance you simply scorned. A woeful dirge we chanted, too, but then you would not mourn.' Mat 11:18 Because John didn't come eating or drinking, yet people say, 'He has a demon!' Mat 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Absolved from every act of sin, is wisdom by her kith and kin."

Miscellaneous

I read an Anchor Bible Commentary on Revelation by, I think, Ford who said that she thought Revelation was written by John the Baptist. She reasoned that John was called "the greatest prophet" and yet he is generally eclipsed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. if he didn't write anything. And the author of the Revelation is said to be named "John". I found it interesting but it seems the author has since abandoned the view though I don't know why.

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