Christ’s Condemnation of the Jewish Nation. Matthew
The Nation did not accept John the Baptist’s Ministry.
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."
This verse has been interpreted in various ways, depending
to some extent on how the words "suffereth violence"
are meant to be taken. The Greek word is biazetai
and the spelling is the same whether it is taken as middle
voice or passive voice. If it is middle voice, then the
translation could be that the kingdom "has been
forcefully advancing" (NIV), and the rest of the
verse would be "and forceful men take hold of it."
The interpretation then refers to the
spreading of the Gospel by John and Jesus, and only
courageous believers are entering in. This is essentially
the view of the so-called lordship salvation advocates.
John MacArthur, for example, prefers this view though he
allows for another: "Following the Lord demands earnest
endeavor, untiring energy, and the utmost exertion…. Those
who enter the kingdom of grace through faith in Christ, do
so with great effort, through the sovereign power of the
convicting and converting Holy Spirit" (Matthew, Vol. 2,
pp. 256-257). This theory though common, falls upon it own
weight; how can salvation be "through faith" and with
"great effort" at the same time?
An intermediate position is offered by D.A. Carson (Matthew,
in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, pp.
267-268) who takes the first part of the verse as middle
voice, that the kingdom "has been forcefully
advancing" but then understands the noun
biastes in a negative sense, referring to "violent
or rapacious men" attacking the kingdom. He
remarks, "Simultaneous with the kingdom advance have been
the attacks of violent men on it. That is the very point
John could not grasp. Now Jesus affirms it…. It includes
Herod’s imprisonment of John… the attack by Jewish leaders
With due consideration to the context, both parts of the
statement can and should be taken as quoted from the King
James Version, that at this point, though the Messianic
earthly kingdom is still being offered by Christ and the
Twelve, there is growing opposition to it. The official
leaders of Judaism are attempting to force the common
people away from accepting Christ as Messiah/King and His
miracles as proofs that the kingdom is "at hand."
Three things support this approach: First,
according to the Theological Dictionary of the New
Testament (edited by Gerhard Kittle. Grand Rapids, Wm.
B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1965. Vol. 1 pp. 609-614),
the word biaesthai "is not used for laudable
striving, but for hostile acts of force" (p. 601). This in
itself rules out the idea of striving to enter salvation.
Second, this same source, on
page 611, says, "The second part of the saying can be
construed in the same sense as an elucidation of this
hostile biazesthai, namely, that it is taken from
men by the violent. The surest key to what is meant by
harpazein is given by Mt. himself in the only other
place in his Gospel in which this word occurs." The
reference is to Matthew 13:19 where "the
wicked one comes and catcheth away that which was
sown in his heart."
Third, in Matthew 23:13 Jesus
pronounces woe upon the scribes and Pharisees as
hypocrites: "For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven
against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither
permit them that are entering to go in." This
agrees with the opposition of Matthew 11:12 as well as the
imprisonment of John the Baptist, who was preaching about
the King and His kingdom as "at hand."
But "in the fulness of time," when the Lord
Jesus returns and sets up His earthly, messianic kingdom,
every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that He
is God, to the glory of the Father!