Christ’s comment about violence taking the kingdom refers to violent men who attempt to seize the work of God – Matthew 11:12.
In Matthew, Jesus declares that “violent men are seizing the kingdom of God.” Is he referring to malevolent men outside the church who attempt to seize control of the kingdom? Or does he mean Christians must aggressively pray and otherwise press into it? Are disciples to “forcefully seize” the promises from God, and does his kingdom advance through forceful action?
In the passage, Jesus is discussing the ministry of John the Baptist, and how he was received by the Jewish people. He speaks highly of John, not only calling him a “prophet” but also identifying him as the very forerunner foretold in the book of Isaiah and a great prophet.
Nonetheless, even the “least” of men in the Kingdom of God is “greater than John.” This declaration leads directly to his statement about the kingdom “suffering violence.”
- (Matthew 11:12 – N.I.V.), “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.”
John heard about the deeds of Jesus while he was in prison. Perplexed, he sent his disciples to inquire of him whether he was the “coming one.” Apparently, doubt set in when Jesus did not fit all his expectations.
Jesus gives a parable highlighting how the leaders of Israel treated John and the nation’s Messiah.
John arrived on the scene as an ascetic and prophet of old, yet they charged him with having a demon. In contrast, Jesus came “eating and drinking,” yet 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 subsequently Jesus, the Messiah of Israel for whom John prepared the way.
The verse reads – “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 arrival of Jesus.
The kingdom of God did experience violence beginning with John, violence that continued throughout the ministry of Christ until his own rejection by the nation of Israel which culminated in his death.
The kingdom is suffering “violence.” This rendering translates the Greek verb biazomai, which 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. It is not the perpetrator of the violence.
If Jesus meant to say that the kingdom was forcefully advancing on the earth, it would necessitate a verb in the active voice, and this is not the case in the passage.
The present tense indicates violence is an ongoing activity. This fits a context in which Jesus is describing how the multitudes receive and reject the ministries of John and his own as well.
Jesus 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 to refer to violent persons – violators that use force (found only here in the Greek New Testament). And in the passage, it is in the masculine gender and the plural number; hence, it refers to “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 as plunder, by force, and so also in the New Testament – (Matthew 12:29, 13:19, John 6:15, Acts 23:10).
In the passage in Matthew, the verb harpazō is plural, in the active voice, and in the present tense. The subject of the verb is “violent men.” Since the verb is in the active voice, it is the “violent men” who are attempting to “seize” something.
The object of their action is “it,” a pronoun that is in the accusative case, and therefore, is the direct object of the verb. The pronoun is singular and feminine, which in this sentence can only refer to the “kingdom” – (singular, feminine). In other words, the thing the “violent men” are forcefully “seizing” or attempting to do so is the “kingdom of God.”
Grammatically, the statement can only mean the “Kingdom” is “suffering violence” – It is the recipient of this violence. The men who are inflicting violence are the “violent men” referred to 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, and this point is demonstrated by how they mistreated, rejected, and otherwise abused the representatives of the Kingdom – John and Jesus.
This is not to say that other New Testament verses do not teach Christians to exercise importunity in prayer, and “spiritual warfare” is discussed in several passages.
But the point of this passage is not about persistence in prayer, spiritual warfare, or advancing the cause of the kingdom through forceful actions. And ever since John and Jesus, both of whom died violently at the hands of their opponents, the enemies of the kingdom of God have sought to misdirect and even derail it both from within and without the church.