Matthew 11:12-13 “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. “ (KJV)
What is meant by the phrase that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force? It has nothing to do with a violent, military style, taking or forcing the good news on people around the world. We are never asked to spread the good news of Messiah by force, but by love. The Crusades and other Holy Roman Empire acts of brutality were never sanctioned by God. People can never be forced into serving God. A forced Christianity is a false Christianity. Yeshua will be served only by love that comes from the heart. Yeshua never forced His disciples to follow Him. They followed Him by choice.
In order to understand this phrase we must first have a little background for clarity.
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.” (KJV)
All of the Torah and the Prophets prophesied of the coming of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. This prophecy came true with the coming of John the Baptist, for at his coming (preaching) the Kingdom of Heaven was here. Yeshua the Messiah had come and with Him the Kingdom was established on earth. When He was baptized by John the message of “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven (synonymous with the Kingdom of God) is at hand” came to earth.
Yeshua expected His kingdom to be a vibrant, active force upon the earth, and thereby instructed His disciples on how they were to carry out kingdom principles upon His departure. They were to proclaim to the world that Messiah and the kingdom had come. They were to follow and teach others to follow in His footsteps. In Luke 4:17-19 Yeshua quotes from the scroll of Isaiah 61:1, 2. The disciples of Yeshua were to carry on in these areas and make new disciples; who in turn made more disciples, unto the present day. His disciples then as well as today were to make a difference on the earth and to be a vibrant life-force, light to the world, and the salt of the earth.
All Hebrews, due to scripture, believed that before the Messiah came to establish his kingdom on earth, that Elijah must come first. Yeshua tells us, in fact, that John the Baptist was indeed bearing the Spirit of Elijah and he was the fulfillment of the prophetic understanding. See Matthew 11:10, 14; Matthew 17:11-12, Luke 1:13-17. John was not Elijah re-incarnated or Elijah coming back to earth in bodily form again, but John had the Spirit of Elijah and thus represented his coming.
During the Passover Seder, Jews still set a place for Elijah at the table to welcome his returning before the coming of the Messiah.
John the Baptist was not the last prophet, there are prophets today, but he was the last prophet who had to proclaim that the Messiah and His kingdom was coming, because the Messiah was now here. John pointed his disciples to Yeshua as the one who was to come.
So, there are three players in understanding the scripture in Matthew 11:12-13: John the Baptist, The Messiah Yeshua, and the sheep.
From Micah 2:12-13 we read, “I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah (sheepfold), as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men. The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the LORD on the head of them.” (KJV)
Also Malachi 4:5-6, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
From these verses we glean the true interpretation of Matthew 11:12-13.
John the Baptist is the initial breacher/breaker. His coming put a breach, or hole in the sheep pen, by His announcement that the kingdom had come. The King, Yeshua, shepherd of the fold, stands outside the fold and when the breach is made with a tiny hole, the sheep, upon hearing their shepherd's voice break out of the fold, widening the door (breach that was made) because of their large numbers and they break out following their King (Yeshua) who goes before them. They are now “pressing into” the Kingdom and the “gates of Hell” (death and the grave) shall not prevail (have dominion ) over them.
The whole thing could be pictured like a stampede – cattle breaking out of a little enclosure, and eventually trampling down a huge opening from the multitude of cattle. This is how the Greek usage in Matthew translates it as” violent taking it by force.” A violent breach has occurred as the sheep go after their shepherd.
Indeed, a better translation of Matthew 11:12-13 could have been something along these lines if they had understood the Micah prophecy: And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of Heaven is breaking out and the breakers (those who breach) are possessing it with all of their might (everything within them). For all the prophets and the Torah prophesied until John about its coming.
It is very clear that the imagery here is that of a shepherd and sheep. The sheep were protected by the shepherd. At night, or other times, the sheep were put in a sheep-fold for safe keeping. Many times, the shepherd himself was the door of the sheep-fold, barring the sheep in. Hence, Yeshua's reference to Himself as the door of the sheep.
Death and the grave have been the wages of our sin and the fear of all humanity since its inception in the garden. Man cannot conquer this enemy, but thanks be to Yahweh, that by sending His Son, Yeshua, to take back the keys to death and the grave, we are now taking back what the enemy took from us. Death and the grave are not encroaching on us but we are encroaching on their territory, because they (death and the grave) no longer have a hold over us, for we shall prevail against them at the return of our Messiah, we shall conquer the grave and death; bearing eternal life given to us by our Messiah.
We are now following the lead of our King Messiah, as we follow His teachings and instructions , we are taking the kingdom of heaven by force. Not a violent force, killing and destroying if you don’t convert, but a force of love and forgiveness through the blood of the Messiah, conquering every enemy, giving sight to the blind, opening deaf ears, preaching to the captives and preaching to the poor. While this certainly could be physical things it most certainly means spiritual blindness, deafness and captivity.
Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Bliz- zard. Arcadia, CA: Makor Publishing, 1983.
Jesus The Jewish Theologian, by Brad H. Young. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI:2011