“the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” Matthew 11:12
Suffers Violence – What in the world is Jesus talking about? How is it possible for God’s grace in the kingdom to be associated with violent force? And who can force God to do anything?
You can hardly find a more difficult passage to translate. No matter what your Bible says, there are at least one or two other possibilities. Better to know them all than be left with a committee’s opinion.
Bear with me; it will be worth it. The problem is that this verb (biazetai) is ambiguous. It can either be passive (“taken by force” or “suffers violence”) or it can be in the middle voice (“exercises force or violence”). If that weren’t bad enough, the noun violent men is based on this verb, so its meaning is also affected by the verb. Furthermore, these particular words only occur in one other place, so we can’t determine the meaning from references. Most of the time, these words outside the New Testament always have a bad connotation. Even in the New Testament, one other occurrence (Matthew 13:19) is about the devil.
This leaves us with all the following:
- the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and violent men take it
- the kingdom of heaven comes with force and forceful men lay hold of it
- the kingdom of heaven is taken by storm and men are pressing toward it
- the kingdom of heaven has been subject to violence and forceful men have tried to take it
When A. W. Tozer says that we must forcefully engage the kingdom if we are going to claim it as our own, he is opting for translation number 2. But it is more likely (although not certain) that Jesus was speaking about those who thought they could bring God’s kingdom to this world through violent acts (for example, the Zealots). Just how the kingdom is related to violence is the big question. Unfortunately, what Jesus meant will never be entirely clear.
But this much we do know. The kingdom of heaven is intense. It doesn’t come through comfort and cautiousness. Jesus calls for radical action. He calls for breaking old bonds and upsetting old ways. No man can force God’s hand, but every man must give himself totally to God’s rule and reign if he is to follow the King. Perhaps there is a corollary to this odd verse that we need to keep in mind: “Without me, you can do nothing.”
Are you ready to rumble? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to see God’s kingdom rule in your life? Then you are the right material for righteous violence. Be prepared for a fight!