In Matthew 11:12, Jesus said: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” What did Jesus mean by this enigmatical statement?
For one thing, the “kingdom of heaven” is the same as the “Kingdom of God.” Compare Matthew 13:11 with Luke 8:10. Both refer to the coming Kingdom of God that will be established on this earth when Christ returns (Dan. 7:13-14, 26-27, Rev. 19:11-16). John the Baptist was the harbinger of Christ. He actually ushered in the New Testament Dispensation. He preached a message about the coming Kingdom of God. He introduced the nation to the coming Messiah (Matt. 3:1-2,11, John 10:41; 5:36). As a result of his work, the Jewish people were eager to hear what Christ had to say. From the time of John until the moment Jesus made the statement in Matthew 11:12, the Kingdom of God “suffered violence.” What does this mean?
A clue is provided by what Jesus said in Luke 16:16. “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.” John introduced an entirely new message-the message of the Kingdom of God. And Jesus said, ” . . . every man presseth into it.” What Jesus meant was that masses readily accepted what He had to say, and were making an effort to enter into that kingdom. Notice the marginal reference (Matt. 11:12). It says the Kingdom of God “is gotten by men of force . . . . ” An even better translation would be “is gotten by men of driving force.” These were the men and women who appreciated the message of Jesus and were intent upon gaining salvation. They recognized that the Kingdom of God was not the Jewish nation, but a future kingdom that would be established upon the earth for all eternity.
The Bible tells us ” . . . we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Notice what Jesus stated elsewhere: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). When we consider how many believers remained faithful to the Truth after the crucifixion of Christ, we can certainly see what He meant by the above statements. Thousands had heard Christ during His public ministry, yet out of the total population only a small minority truly believed and remained faithful to the message He brought. The religious leaders were instrumental in this rejection. This new teaching flew in the face of these religious leaders and their political allies. They thought that when the Messiah would come, the Romans would be removed and the Jewish nation would be restored to its rightful place. The religious and political leaders were the ones who vigorously opposed Christ and His message. He was regarded as a threat to their status and position.
Consider the significance of Jesus’ words above: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13). Jesus did not say it would be easy to gain salvation. He said it would be difficult. He said we must labor for it (John 6:27). The Apostle Paul admonished the Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Does that sound as though we merely need to believe in the name of Christ and we will be saved? The fact is: Believing in the name of Christ entails believing in everything He stood for, including His message. What was one of the first things Jesus preached in His public ministry? Notice it: ” . . . The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The vast majority of professing Christians do not comprehend the meaning of these words. They do not realize that repentance means turning from sin. They do not know what sin is.
According to the Bible sin is not altogether what most churches teach-such things as drinking, swearing, wearing shorts, dancing, etc., although those things can be sin. Sin involves much more. The Bible says: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). This is clearly a reference to the Ten Commandments. “But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are [convicted] of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law” (Jas. 2:9-11). It never dawns on most people that the fourth and seventh commandments are included in the definition of sin. See Exodus 20:8, 14, and Deuteronomy 5:12-15, 18. These are the commands to keep the Sabbath (the seventh day of the week) and not to commit adultery. Jesus said divorce and remarriage could constitute adultery (Matt. 19:9). So, when it becomes apparent what must be done in order to truly be a Christian, we are told “few there be that find it.” Only those who are willing to give up all can be Christ’s disciples. “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and [does not love less by comparison] his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple . . . . So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:25-27, 33). Those who do these things are the ones Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:12. They are the men and women “of driving force.”
The next “hard saying” is found in Luke 12:49. It states: “I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” This text really confuses people. Many cannot conceive of Christ as the One who will bring judgment upon the earth. They believe the God of the Old Testament would do this, but not the loving Christ of the New. Does Luke 12:49 contradict John 1:29, where Christ is depicted as the Lamb of God? Most Bible commentators “spiritualize away” the meaning of Luke 12:49 by saying it refers to division, persecution, etc. They cannot imagine a “lamb” bringing fire upon the earth. The problem is that many are unable to distinguish the difference between Christ’s first and second comings. During His first coming, He came as the sacrificial Lamb who gave His life for the sins of the world. When He comes the second time, He will come as the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:11-16).
John the Baptist described this second coming in Matthew 3:11-12. John said: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy [Spirit], and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” What precipitated John’s statement? “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:7-8). These religious leaders were there to “check him out” as a competitor; they were not there because they were interested in truly obeying God. John warned them what lay ahead if they did not change. But who is going to administer this fire? Christ, of course!
This event is described in several places in the Bible. Notice Isaiah 66:15-16: “For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the LORD plead with all flesh: and the slain of the LORD shall be many.”
Also notice what Malachi prophesied:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap . . . . For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch . . . . And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts (Mal. 3:1-2; 4:1, 3).
Jesus said He wished this fire was already kindled. What did He mean? Jesus knew that God’s plan would be culminated by the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-14). When John the Baptist preached, he exhorted, or earnestly cautioned the people (Luke 3:18). He knew what was coming and warned them accordingly.
The Apostle Peter described this certainty:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet. 3:10-13).
Before this momentous occurence could happen, Jesus knew that He had to lay down His life-to be crucified for the sins of the world. He did not look forward to this terrible event (Matt. 26:39, 42). This is why in Luke 12:49, He said, “. . . what will I, if it be already kindled?” He was wishing God’s plan was finished, so that what He soon had to face would be behind Him. In the following verse He referred to His coming death. “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I [pained] till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). Jesus knew the ordeal He would have to face would be horrendous.
To ease the shock to His disciples, He eventually told them what was going to happen, but He gave them hope, also telling of His resurrection.
And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again (Mark 10:32-34).
The final “hard saying” to be covered in this article is found in Matthew 10:34. It reads: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The popular idea today is that Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. Indeed He did, but not in the way people imagine. The world will have peace when Jesus returns as the conquering King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but not before. Jesus did not come to bring peace in the hearts of men now. A misunderstood text that has led to this belief is Luke 2:14. It states: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The proper translation should be, ” . . . peace among men of good will.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). In this present dispensation, men must determine to make peace among themselves before they can have peace. Peace does not automatically come upon accepting Christ.
In fact, Christ said:
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:35-38).
Some respond to the Truth of God in joyful acceptance. Others are incensed and repelled. Often antagonism develops between believers and those who reject God’s Way. This sometimes results in persecution and martyrdom. This is what Jesus meant when He said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). The very message that Jesus brought, a message that most have never really heard, lends itself to that antagonism. Eventually, though, peace will come to the entire earth, but only after Christ returns and takes a strong hand in the affairs of men (Isa. 2:4).