· Matthew 11:11-20 "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear. 16 But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children 17 and say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." 20 Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. (NAS)
The phrase, “…the kingdom of heaven suffers violence,” refers to how religious men have used positions of authority to bully their way into control of the religious institution of Christ’s time, which was the Jewish synagogue, but more particular, the Jewish temple with its wealth, prestige and status as a political establishment.
The original Greek word biázœ (NT: 971) in Matthew 11:12 is translated as suffers violence; biázœ is a compound word originating from a root bías (NT: 970), meaning strength. Biázœ means literally to overpower by rushing forcefully into. In Matthew 11:12 biázetai is used in the present indicative passive but also used with middle voice (for self-interests); present indicative affirms something that is occurring while the speaker (Jesus) is making his statement; passive voice shows the subject (the kingdom of God) as receiving the action (i.e. forceful violence) of the verb; the middle voice indicates the subject as acting in some way upon himself or concerning himself (i.e. the violent force their way into the kingdom for their own interests not God’s).
As you study the context and parallel gospels you discover the Law and the prophets were preached up until the time of John; from then to the time Jesus makes this statement about violent men taking the kingdom of God by force is specifically said to apply to the gospel. Therefore the phrase, “…the kingdom of heaven suffers violence,” connotes the kingdom of God being sought by violent men with impatience and haste. The main point Jesus makes in this context is that from the days of John the Baptist until and including that very moment the kingdom of God suffered “violence.”
As mentioned previously, the Greek word biázœ for violence is derived from a primary root bías or bíos (NT: 979) meaning literally strength or life. Bios is a word for life that differs from the usual Greek word for life, which is zoë (NT: 2222). The word bías (aka bíos) refers to the state or condition of existence, including the duration, means, and manner of life. Zoë on the other hand describes life as the element or principle of the human spirit and soul.
To illustrate the distinction between zoë and bios the word "biography" is derived from bios; biography is the life story of someone; it describes what type of life they actually lived. This is a very important point considering that in the context of Matthew 11:12 Jesus uses the word bías in a word form that expresses more than just the action of violence foisted by impatient men on others. In Matthew 11:12b the words violent men are translated from biastaí (NT: 973) and this word includes men’s violent manner of life and their forceful state of existence. Bios is a primary Greek root that describes two principal ideas:
1. The present state of existence (i.e. how people act, behave, speak, think etc)
2. By implication, bias also refers to a person’s means of livelihood or income.
This is a scary thought when you consider that just as in the days of John the Baptist today there are self-righteous and religious folks “forcing” their own way on others. Pastors, ministers, televangelists, false teachers and false prophets use the church pulpit and ecclesiastical positions to acquire wealth and power. Instead of being shepherds that feed God’s sheep, their very “existence,” as paid ministers is done for a “livelihood.” Woe dude! Watch out if you are one given to obeying the truth! It could cost you your very life, as it did with both John & Jesus!
The violence was the smug and self-righteous attitude of religious men who failed to recognize the day of their visitation and who exercised “violence” towards the kingdom of God (i.e. believers proclaiming the truth). The context reveals first, when John the Baptist arrived on the scene for public ministry, he did not come in finely dressed clothing or with softly spoken words to tickle one’s ears. John was a rough & tumble looking character that came out from the arid Judean wilderness declaring that everyone in every place should repent.
John’s message created quite a stir amongst the hypocritical sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees (the ‘religious’ men of the day). These sects had controlled the minds and money of the masses of Jews for many years under the sanction of Rome and strengthened politically by the recent appointment of Herod, who believed he was a Jew, and the true ruler of the Jews. Herod respected John greatly but he also played the political role to appease the Jewish rulers because they held sway with the people.
Suddenly John the Baptist challenged the influence and status of the Jewish leaders. John spared no one and even Herod himself was told to repent for his adulterous affair with his brother’s wife. Herod was told to repent by John, landing him in prison. The response to John’s message was the “violence” spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 11:12. The Jews had accused John of having a “demon.” This type of verbal accusation was a form of “violence.” It was the wrathful hatred of a sect of jealous hypocrites. They were Satan’s children, and their nature was the same as that of the devil... violent. After John was imprisoned, Herod’s wife demanded that Herod cut off his head and have it publicly displayed on a platter. Therefore, as Jesus said, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence...”
The phrase in the second half of Matthew 11:12 reads, “and violent men take it by force.” The Greek word translated as, “take it by force,” is harpázousin. This Greek verb connotes seizing or grasping something with speed and force. The Jews “forced” their way into the ministry of John the Baptist, but he would have none of their antics. When John publicly rebuked Herod for his adultery Herod’s violent reaction was to have John seized by “force” and imprisoned.
· “violent men” – (NT:973 ) biastês; from (NT:971 ); a forcer, i.e. (figuratively) energetic:
· “take by force” - (NT:726 ) harpazo; from a derivative of (NT:138 ); to seize (in various applications): Harpazo comes from a root Greek word, haireomai (NT:138) which means, “to take for oneself, i.e. to prefer.”
Using the Greek definitions above, Matthew 11:12 could be translated as follows, “and men who act as forcers seize them by force.” This is EXACTLY what happened to John the Baptist and Jesus Christ; they were both seized and taken by force. John was seized and thrown into prison, only to be beheaded later. Jesus was seized in the garden of Gethsemane and tried and crucified.
In Christian ‘churches’ today many ministers and pastors are guilty of lording it over the flock. They rule the roost with severity and domination. They want to control the logical and thinking people among their church members by not allowing any public discussion or disagreement with their teaching. In this manner self-made ecclesiastical despots are causing “violence” to the kingdom of God (i.e. God’s flock). With force, they seize upon the minds and wallets of the members of their congregations.
The Concordant Literal New Testament (below) provides a much more accurate translation of Matthew 11:12 and the parallel context in Luke 16:16.
The parallel gospel in Luke 16:13-17 proves my interpretation concerning the violent is correct:
· Luke 16:13-17 “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” 14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him. 15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. 16 The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing (biazo - forcing into for self-interests) his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.” (NAS)
In Luke 16:13-17 Jesus is talking TO the Pharisees, not to those who truly seek the truth. The Pharisees prided themselves on the Law and the Prophets, but now that the “kingdom of God” is preached (first by John, then by Jesus), the Jews want to “force” their way into it. One method they frequently used to exercise violence against Jesus was by scoffing at him. They did this in an attempt to discredit him through ridicule.
Two facts stand out most in this text; first the Pharisees were “lovers of money” and this helps define Jesus’ use of biazo to describe the bías means of life they were living. Second, the Pharisees were those who justified themselves in the sight of men; this shows HOW they were forcing their way into the kingdom. Seeking to please men by outward show of righteousness the Pharisees operated like a pack of wolves in sheep’s clothing using their position as spiritual leaders to capitalize on the naïve and ignorant.
Jesus illustrates how the Pharisees used their power to accumulate wealth with a parable that compares the rich man (symbolic of the Pharisees) and Lazarus, a poor man (symbolic of the kingdom of God). As you read the parable (below) keep in mind how the rich man treats poor Lazarus while they are both alive upon the earth. Then afterward when they both die take note of how the forceful tactics used by the rich man to force and push his way into the kingdom of God are of no avail when he pleads his case. This is the whole reason Jesus tells the parable after he teaches about the violent that are forcing their way into the kingdom. Poor Lazarus is a truth seeker and the rich man symbolic of the Pharisees is destitute in the sight of God.
· Luke 16:19-31 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. 20 And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' 27 And he said, 'Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father's house—28 for I have five brothers-- that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' 29 But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' 30 But he said, 'No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' 31 But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.'" (NAS)
Notice Luke 16:31 and then compare it with Luke 16:16. In Luke 16:16 Jesus says, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed UNTIL John (the Baptist); SINCE THEN the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is forcing (biazo - forcing into for self-interests) his way into it.” Jesus IS the fulfillment of ALL the Law and Prophets taught and declared and bore witness to; that is, the Law was given because of disobedience and the Prophets foretold of God’s redemption thru one of David’s descendents who would ascend to the throne of Israel and reign forever in the eternal kingdom of God. Here before these Pharisees stood the Blessed hope of Israel. But they were blinded and unable to perceive who Jesus was because of their violent manner of life. They were so accustomed to using force and severity to dominate God’s children, when the kingdom of God was preached to them they tried unsuccessfully to use their same old forceful tactics.
These self-righteous Pharisees were the ones who had foremost knowledge of the Law and the Prophets but because they were always forcing their way on others by pushing, crowding and using whatever means necessary to obtain wealth, status and power, they were blinded and could not hear the gospel of the KINGDOM of God (read John 1:6-34).
· John 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. NAS
The Christian church and its many greedy ministers would do well to heed the warnings given here. Greed and over-controlling pastoral leadership is rampant and getting worse! Churches rob the people under the guise of “tithes” and “offerings.” The money collected by so-called Christian ministries and churches does very little to help the needy. Much of the tithes and offerings collected either lines the pockets of ministers or goes into supporting manmade structures and funding the 501C-3 tax-exempt organization. This is simply a fact. Very little percentage of the money given to Christian ministries and churches actually goes to helping those in need. Thank God the needy are like old brother Lazarus and they will be the ones who enter the kingdom of God. But woe to those who have neglected them!
Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century the majority of Christian preachers and teachers have assumed the “violent men” who take the “kingdom by force” refers to mighty men of faith who fight the devil victoriously. As I have already explained the context of Matthew 11:12 is Jesus addressing the Pharisees, a sect of evil men who attacked the kingdom of God through various means.
All the people revered John the Baptist and held him to be a true prophet of the Most High. The Pharisees first attempt at forcing their way into the kingdom of God was via John the Baptists’ ministry; they did this by seeking to be “baptized” by him; they did this in order to ‘save face’ in the eyes of the people. John the Baptist rebuked them, and so they plotted against him. The following narratives of John the Baptist’s ministry show how both the Jews, and Herod, acted as “violent men” attempting to take the kingdom by “force.”
· Matthew 3:1-17 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!’” 4 Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 And the ax is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 And after being baptized, Jesus went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (NAS)
John the Baptist was dressed in rough clothing, proclaiming a simple message of the kingdom...”Repent!” Multitudes came to him, being baptized, and confessing their sins. However, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John, he refused to baptize them calling them, “ You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
John knew they were not in keeping the kingdom of God; they were there just to further their own empire and the kingdom of darkness. As in the other gospel accounts John told them that without true repentance, “And the ax is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching in Luke chapter 16 and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man; the rich man was thrown into eternal fire, as would the Jews.
· Mark 1:1-11 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare your way; 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’” 4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. 7 And he was preaching, and saying, “After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. 8 I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 And it came about in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.” (NAS)
· Luke 3:1-20 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. 3 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. 5 Every ravine shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough roads smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” 7 He therefore began saying to the multitudes who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 And also the ax is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." 10 And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" 11 And he would answer and say to them, "Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise." 12 And some tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." 14 And some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." 15 Now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered and said to them all, "As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." 18 So with many other exhortations also he preached the gospel to the people. 19 But when Herod the tetrarch was reproved by him on account of Herodias, his brother's wife, and on account of all the wicked things which Herod had done, 20 he added this also to them all, that he locked John up in prison. (NAS)
John the Baptist marked the beginning of the preaching of the kingdom of God. Until then, as Jesus said in Luke chapter 16, only the Law and the Prophets had been spoken. That is, until John’s time, only the Law, and the future prophecies of Jesus the Messiah had been pronounced. Now that Jesus was alive and his public ministry, “the kingdom of God” was being preached. Finally after 4000 years of the earth’s history mankind would have true redemption, which could only come through Jesus, God’s only begotten son. John affirmed this by becoming, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” John knew that at long last Yahweh was revealing Himself and His character accurately through the life of His only begotten son Jesus. John said of Jesus, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
· John 3:23-4:3 And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized. 24 For John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John's disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have borne witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. And so this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness; and no man receives His witness. 33 He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” 4:1 When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. (NAS)
This passage of scripture reaffirms BOTH John the Baptist AND Jesus were proclaiming the kingdom of God and that “violent men” (i.e. the Pharisees) were trying to, “force,” their way into the kingdom of God through cunning and violence. The typical presupposition by teachers and ministers in Christendom does not hold any water here because neither John nor Jesus took the kingdom by “force.” When Jesus heard the Pharisees were coming, he departed and went to a different region. That cannot be construed as taking the kingdom by force.
John the Baptist concedes that he is not the Christ and that he must decrease so that Jesus’ role as Messiah can increase. This is not taking the kingdom by “force” in any way, shape, or form. In fact John said to those who claimed to be his disciples, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him,’” and again, “He must increase, but I must decrease... He who comes from heaven is above all... For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
How did the Jewish leaders as the “violent men” attempt to force their way into the kingdom of God? John answers this question saying of the violent men, “and no man receives His witness.” This statement refers primarily to the unbelieving amongst the Jewish religious leaders. We know this is true because later in the context it reads, “When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.”
Ironically, this is similar to what we see happening in Christianity today. Any time a man of God begins to proclaim God’s truth, the leadership of the religious machine known as “Christianity” begins to muscle in on the kingdom of God, often forcing God’s true prophets into obscurity.
· Acts 5:26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned. KJV
· Acts 21:35 And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people. KJV
· Acts 24:7 But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands. KJV
· Acts 27:411 And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmovable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves. KJV
· Luke 16:16 Until John came, there were the Law and the Prophets; since then the good news (the Gospel) of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone strives violently to go in [would force his own way rather than God's way into it]. AMP
· Matthew 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force. ASV
1 Peter 5:1-3 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (NAS)
Ezekiel 34:1-4, 31 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them… 31 As for you, My sheep, the sheep of My pasture, you are men, and I am your God," declares the Lord GOD.”