And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
— The Lord Jesus, Matthew 11:12
By David Tulis
Christ’s life on earth occasioned the most ferocious spiritual conflict in history, as evidenced by the many instances of demonic activity among the people of Israel. Satan knows he’s lost, but he wasn’t going to go down in defeat without at least giving upon the earth a demonstration of his power via the demons Christ exorcised.
With Christ’s resurrection, the promise of God’s law and salvation is given to all the nations of the earth, over whom it has steadily gained foothold. The breadth of the new covenant is something we understand better if we compare it to the narrowness of the old. When Israel was the people of God, no other people on the earth were given God’s grace to repent and make themselves right with Him. Since Christ’s death and resurrection, the promise of salvation extends to every nation and tribe, all those previously excluded by his sovereign will. Israel, succumbing to idolatry, rejected God the Father and the Son; in fulfillment of its people’s self-maledictory oath when they clamored for Christ’s crucifixion, they were destroyed in 70 AD at the hands of the Roman army.
But already the church was dispersing, and tongues that God rejected earlier came to wag with professions of faith. In these last days following the greatest event in human history, the door of salvation joyously is thrown open to every tribe. The church oversees a mopping-up, a long-term consolidation of the instruments of worship and grace; the nations, we are promised, will bow to Christ the king.
Tumultuous crowd seeks entry
The Lord Jesus pointed out in numerous parables that Israel was going to be judged and that the kingdom was going to be given to strangers, to non-Israelites, or Gentiles. The old testament provides a trickle of souls the body of citizens of Israel, that church in training. Rahab the whore of Jericho who hides the spies. Uriah the Hittite, a faithful servant of King David by conversion, not by the loins of Jacob. The widow of Zarephath who feeds Elijah. Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria, is cleansed of leprosy by washing at the prophet’s orders in the river Jordan. The Roman centurion, whose faith in Jesus said was not equaled among the sons of Israel.
As the kingdom of God is preached “every man presseth into it” (Luke 16:16). Foreigners, strangers, aliens are shoving their way into the kingdom. That’s the picture. “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force,” the Lord says in Matthew 11:12.
This violent crossing from Gentiledom into Israel is by people who “seemed to be intruders, and to make a tortuous entry, as our law calls it, a wrongful and forcible one,” as Matthew Henry tells it in his commentary. “When the children of the kingdom are excluded out of it, and many come into it from the east and the west, then it suffers violence.”
The scribes and pharisees rejected the kingdom of God and persecuted God’s people, and publicans and harlots went in before their betters. The great ones, the proud, the righteous Christ turned away. The cripple, the poor, the hated, the wretched he invited.
Triflers need not apply
Henry points out that souls in the light of gospel of grace are ferocious and aggressive in their work to be a part of the kingdom of God.
“This violence denotes a strength, and vigour, and earnestness of desire and endeavour, in those who followed John’s ministry, else they would not have come so far to attend upon it. It shows us also, what fervency and zeal are required of all those who design to make heaven of their religion.”
He goes on:
They who would enter into the kingdom of heaven must strive to enter; that kingdom suffers a holy violence; self must be denied, the bent and bias, the frame and temper, of the mind must be altered; there are hard sufferings to be undergone, a force to be put upon the corrupt nature; we must run, and wrestle, and fight, and be in an agony, and all little enough to win such a prize, and to get over such opposition from without and from within. The violent take it by force. They who will have an interest in the great salvation are carried out towards it with a strong desire, will have it upon any terms, and not think them hard, nor quit their hold without a blessing, Gen. 32:26 . They who will make their calling and election sure must give diligence. The kingdom of heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers, but to be the rest of them that labour. It is a blessed sight; Oh that we could see a greater number, not with an angry contention thrusting others out of the kingdom of heaven, but with a holy contention thrusting themselves into it!
Christianity and reformation
According to the passage in Matthew, God’s people are to see the kingdom and not let it pass. By faithful labor they make the kingdom happen within their spheres of influence, in their places, in their companies, their clubs, in their associations and groupings and friendly societies. By your work in your family, your church, your business and your politicking, you are involved in a holy contention “thrusting yourself into” the kingdom of heaven.
Christ speaks of John’s ministry and Elijah and recites the accusations of his critics who called him “a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” He condemns cities such as Bethsaida and Chorazin whose people saw His mighty works but did not repent.
“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. *** Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:15,28-30). ‡
The faithful life of Christians in my city and yours will have a long-term salting effect, testifying of God’s goodness and bringing benefits to man amid trials and tribulation. Christ gives rest to souls committed to Him. We find, as we live in service to God and neighbor, that His burden is light.
‡ This passage is of interest in light of the conflict among Christianity, Mohammedanism and secularism. Mohammedanism relies on violence to destroy Christians and other infidels, or to spare their destruction if they pay the Muslim tax for being filthy and unfaithful. Christianity defies the strong religion of Mohammed with a weak thing indeed, namely God’s grace and conversion by witnessing and faithful living.