Who are the ones trying to take the Kingdom of Heaven by force in Matthew 11:12? Are these believers trying to enter the Kingdom of God, or are these evil men?
Matthew 11.12 reads, "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11.12 KJV bible).
This is one of Jesus' more difficult statements, and we don't have a lot of context to help understand it. Here Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is under seige, and that violent ones are taking it by force. It also implies that this has been going on since the days of John the Baptist, referring to the start of John's ministry.
The most common interpretation of Matthew 11.12 is that Jesus is describing a violent rush of converts who are swarming to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Upon hearing the gospel, these converts are so fervent to embrace the Kingdom that Jesus likens their efforts to a seige. So the gospel of the Kingdom is causing a rush of converts who are desperate to enter it. It's not the wicked, but the righteous who are trying to seize the Kingdom.
However, this explanation doesn't work well with the overall language and imagery of Matthew 11.12. The verse describes a siege or takeover in which the Kingdom is resisting those who are trying to control it. It doesn't seem appropriate to compare this violent group trying to seize the Kingdom to the hearers of Christ.
Instead of violent aggressors, Jesus compares believers to little children, "...Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 18.3 KJV bible).
Matthew 11.12 describes the Kingdom resisting these violent ones' attempts to lay hold of it. This cannot be referring to the faithful. The faithful have never been trying to seize the Kingdom, but they enter it as little children.
Secondly, there may have been throngs of people that came to hear and see Jesus. However, it can't be said that these crowds understood or believed in him. No one knows how many people were entering the Kingdom, but the gospels don't support the idea of great crowds entering, "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand" (Matthew 13.13 KJV bible).
To understand Matthew 11.12, we need to consider John the Baptist's ministry. We know that John the Baptist's ministry heralded the coming of Christ, and a new covenant in which he would lead his people, "For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee" (Matthew 11.10 KJV bible).
Part of John's ministry was the preaching of the Kingdom of God. John was preparing the way for Christ, and the gospel of the Kingdom, "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached..." (Luke 16.16 KJV bible).
In Matthew 11.12, Jesus is saying that since the beginning of John's preaching, certain individuals had been trying to capture and take control of the Kingdom for themselves. This siege against the Kingdom was taking place among the corrupt priesthood and religious leaders. These individuals sought to take the authority for themselves.
The people considered John a prophet, but the religious leaders rejected him, "And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him" (Luke 7.29-30 KJV bible).
The leaders refused to justify God in the baptism of repentence. They weren't seeking the Kingdom by grace and repentence. They weren't entering the Kingdom, but seeking control over it.
"But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in to enter" (Matthew 23.13 KJV bible). Rather than seeking to enter as little children, they conspired to undermine and steal the Kingdom.
Jesus describes this subversion of him through a certain parable. He describes a householder who builds a vineyard, and then lets a group of farmers watch over it while he is away. In time he sends his servants to the farmers to collect the fruits of the vineyard. However, instead of receiving them, they beat and kill them.
Finally the lord of the vineyard sends his son. However, instead of respecting his son they slay him, thinking they can take over his inheritance, "But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they took him, and cast him forth out of the vineyard, and killed him" (Matthew 21.38-39 KJV bible).
Similar to Matthew 11.12, this parable describes the hypocrites trying to seize what they want through violence. They have no inheritance with Christ, but use murder and conspiracy to take control of the Kingdom. They don't care about serving the Lord, but desire power and use religion as a way to obtain it.
Even today, there are ones who hide behind religion as they subvert God's authority. They don't enter the Kingdom but want to sit in a place of power over it. They use deception and lies to elevate themselves, like the ones who murdered the Heir of the Kingdom.
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