“The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”
-Matthew 11:12 (ESV)
I’ve always loved this verse, while at the same time been confused about what exactly it means. I like it because it’s edgy. Jesus is a little abrasive here, and you can be certain this kingdom of heaven stuff is only for tough guys.
In the chapter before this one, Jesus the Messiah is instructing his disciples about how to take the message of grace and renewal to Israel. However, Jesus’ advice to his disciples isn’t exactly rosy. They were to take no provisions. They would be rejected. They would find that their own households were divided. And they would need to lose their lives before they could find the true life that the Messiah offers.
The immediate context of the verse is in reference to John the Baptist, who Jesus describes as a man not dressed in fine clothes, a man who wasn’t “swayed by the wind.” John was a rough man who ushered in the Messiah with truthful preaching and frank words. (He called the religious hypocrites of his day “a brood of vipers,” and he rebuked Herod–the king–for marital misconduct.) The kingdom of heaven was and is “forcefully advancing” (the NIV translation of “suffered violence”), and God uses men like John the Baptist to do the dirty work.
Incidentally, the only reward John the Baptist ever received was a beheading.
So when I think about all of this, I can’t help but wonder if I’m just a little too comfortable and complacent in this temporary life. Now that I’ve written this post, I can’t help but wonder if perhaps I understood that verse before, but was afraid to consider the implications. Maybe I need to be more bold in doing good, in declaring to others that Jesus can save them from their sins and imperfections, and in taking up my cross to follow the Messiah.