A Question I Was Asked:

What Does Matthew 11:12 (and from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.) mean?

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What does Matthew 11:12 (and from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.) mean?

Okay, we have to understand that John the Baptist was enormously popular in the holy land shortly before the ministry of Jesus. Huge multitudes flocked to hear his preaching in which he testified that The Christ was about to appear. Probably several hundred were baptized but the Jewish religious leaders, that is the Scribes, Pharisees and Saduceees, refused to be swayed by him or to be baptized by him; so here we see a trend and reaction which would be repeated a little later when Jesus came along.

So this is saying that John's ministry was in a sense violent, hard and traumatic for some. The orthodox religiosity of the time largely rejected him and his message though how much they actively opposed him we don't know; these religionists were especially upset when 'outsiders,' that is sinners, tax collectors and seemingly undesirable characters were being attracted to his ministry; for these religious elitists there was something seriously wrong with a ministry attracting such "sinners"; would God really welcome such sinners into His kingdom? So - in this sense - the Kingdom was "suffering violence" and being taken "by force."

In contrast to the elitist and exclusivist approach of the religious leaders of that day, the approach of Jesus was very different, it was inclusive:

30. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 31. Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:30-32).

Albert Barnes - very accurately - wrote this:

"Since 'the kingdom of heaven,' or 'the gospel,' has been preached, there has been a 'rush' to it. People have been 'earnest' about it; they have come 'pressing' to obtain the blessing, as if they would take it by violence. There is allusion here to the manner in which cities were taken. Besiegers 'pressed' upon them with violence and demolished the walls. With such earnestness and violence, he says, people had pressed around him and John since they began to preach. There is no allusion here to the manner in which individual sinners seek salvation, but it is a simple record of the fact that multitudes had thronged around him and John to hear the gospel." (Albert Barnes Bible Commentary).

And Adam Clarke wrote this:

"The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence - The tax-gatherers and heathens, whom the scribes and Pharisees think have no right to the kingdom of the Messiah, filled with holy zeal and earnestness, seize at once on the proffered mercy of the Gospel, and so take the kingdom as by force from those learned doctors who claimed for themselves the chiefest places in that kingdom. Christ himself said, The tax-gatherers and harlots go before you into the kingdom of God." (Adam Clarke Bible Commentary).

Robin A. Brace. June 28th, 2019.