There have been many a sermon wrapped around this passage yet I have to be honest and say I just never made sense of it. Whatever was being conveyed was lost to me. I always walked away asking, “Who are the violent ones? Are the Christians taking what’s rightfully bestowed upon them by God through Jesus? Or are the members of God’s Kingdom suffering violence inflicted by the devil?”
I’d like to share that all the years of my heart sincerely seeking understanding of this have paid off. And now I’m eager to pass on the amazing simplicity of what this verse actually means. You may already know but for those out there who are beating their heads against the wall over this like I did for more than twenty years, here’s the deal…
Matthew 11:12 in Greek (in red) says:
“apo From de yet tOn the hEmerOn days iOannou of John tou the baptistou baptist heOs til arti at-present hE the basileia Kingdom tOn of the ouranOn heavens biazetai is forcefully crowded into* kai and biastai forceful ones harpazousin are snatching autEn her”
“From yet the days of John the Baptist til present the Kingdom of heaven is forcefully crowded into* and forceful ones are snatching her.”
*βιάζω biázō, bee-ad’-zo; from G979; to force, i.e. (reflexively) to crowd oneself (into), or (passively) to be seized:—press, suffer violence.
Seeing it in the original translation drastically simplifies things for me! There’s no longer any question who the forceful ones are.
As always, we really need to engage with the entire passage to perceive the overarching meaning of any single verse. Well, the passage begins with John the Baptist questioning if Jesus truly is the Messiah. Jesus told John’s disciples to go report back to him that Jesus was, in fact, the one prophesied about in Isaiah 61. He additionally told them to encourage John not to be offended with Him.
Then Jesus begins talking about John to the people. The gist of it was to report that John, too, was one who was foretold to come by the prophets. And for what they just witnessed (the news of John doubting) Jesus took the opportunity to reveal why. He explained that ever since John began preaching about Christ’s Kingdom the very message of this good news had been invaded by the enemy to interfere with its success. Jesus was showing that even the sanctified, great baptist himself was suffering at the hands of the devil, luring him to doubt and take offense with Jesus. It was a prime example for Jesus to show that this is how things go for His Kingdom. That the enemy isn’t going to sit back and relax while Christ’s Kingdom is being preached right smack dab in the center Satan’s! This was a war and Jesus was warning us – that no matter how strong we are, even for one as great as John, there’s an enemy working hard to snatch the kingdom of God from us!
And how could this be possible? Well, we’re supposed to see by John’s situation. John had doubts. What are doubts but… unbelief. Yet, we know Jesus said, “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel (the good news of the Kingdom of God) to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:15-16. Therefore, Satan’s obvious mission was to bring John into unbelief.
And there John was. As sinless as any man other than Christ could possibly be but suddenly he wasn’t so sure of the good news, himself, because the devil was playing him like a fiddle.
Just like all the Jews thought, John was anticipating peace on earth via the King of Glory. I can say this for certain because when John was born his father prophesied…
“And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.” Luke 1:67-75.
Knowing John was raised explicitly according to his father’s words, we know John was told the Messiah would deliver the Jews from all who hate them; deliver them out of the hand of their enemies to be able to serve God without fear of their enemies. We have to realize both Zacharias and John were thinking in physical terms, not spiritual. Meaning, they believed they’d be delivered out of from under Roman rule and all others who hated them. The fear they’d always known would be extinguished when their Messiah finally rescues them. Of course, we now know the prophecy actually meant God was delivering us spiritually from the oppression of our enemies and all (the powers of hell) who hate us. But imagine being John, expecting the Messiah to do bring earth’s chaos to order but not seeing Him do it.
And there he was, in prison with no word of Jesus even speaking up on his behalf. John wasn’t clear anymore as to what really WAS going on with this Messiah. I’m confident this was an open door for Satan to play on John’s lack of understanding to attempt to drive him into doubt. Because, Satan knew, if John would fully succumb to the notion that he screwed up about this Jesus, then even he, the preparer, would in effect be rejecting the truth of the Kingdom of God and its King. And in so doing, he’d be… an unbeliever. And if he could get John to reject the good news, then all of John’s followers would be next!
Jesus knew what Satan was up to, though, which is why He instructed John’s disciples to tell John, essentially, “Blessed are those who aren’t offended with me even when they don’t understand what’s going on.” I’m confident this was enough to snap John out of the trap of unbelief Satan was ushering him into. And though he probably died confused, he died in faith – even without understanding everything – that Jesus truly was the Messiah.
So, my interpretation of this entire passage is:
John is doubting. Jesus says,
“Tell him I am the one who fulfills Isaiah 61 and to not be offended with me for not understanding what’s going on.” Jesus informs people, “John was foretold by the prophets also. But the kingdom of God suffers violence (forceful crowding into) and the violent (dark kingdom) take it (the good news) by force (KJV). Look how even John is being messed with by the enemy who is has been trying to bring doubt to the good news ever since John himself began preaching it!”
What an amazing lesson! Not only to be on guard that the enemy will capitalize on our misunderstandings in attempt to bring us into unbelief and snatch the Kingdom of God from us, but that if it’s okay that John didn’t understand everything this side of heaven until after his death, it’s okay if we don’t either; yet, still believe.