How can the Kingdom of God “suffer violence”?

In Matthew 11:12, we read an interesting aspect of the Kingdom of God:

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.

How is the kingdom taken by violence?

“Violence” may not be the best translation of the word, as it can have unintended inferences. For instance, violence implies ugly weapons, gruesome images of slaughter, and scary images of out-of-control anger, and rage that can’t be reasoned with. “Force” would be a better rendering. You can see that alternate meaning of the Greek word here: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G971&t=KJV

How do you take the kingdom by force? It helps to know what the kingdom is. In the future, it will be a physically realized kingdom where Jesus rules over all. But now it is not so visible. The kingdom of God now is the rule of God over you, personally — over your passions, ego, strength, thinking, words, actions, plans, and so on. When Jesus rules over these aspects of our lives, then we live according to kingdom values. You can read of Jesus’ teachings of the present inner kingdom life in Matthew chapters 5-7.

So you know yourself in the kingdom when you read the Bible and follow the directions given — especially when it takes you in directions you would never have thought of on your own. When you obey it, then it can be said that Jesus rules over you in that instance. In many cases, you’ll need to overrule something in yourself to follow the instruction. Will you apply force and trust God, or will you go the easy way and follow your baser inclinations?

There is no way to get this kingdom character of obedience except to fight against personal sinful tendencies and bad habits and acknowledge the uncomfortable lies we’ve lived with for so long.

Due to the sin nature within, we don’t readily give up doing things on our own. That’s where force comes in. We have a firm grip on our scepters, and we won’t give up our thrones readily. Paul the apostle expressed that force as “reckoning yourself dead indeed to sin” in Romans 6:11, and not obeying the sin inside (Romans 6:12), which means we must use force against those passions and habits to keep them at bay. Those who are Christ’s — those who are ruled by Jesus and not sin — have “crucified” the fleshly passions (Galatians 5:24). These are strong phrases expressing the violence or force applied against ourselves when we are in agreement with God that they need to go.

So if you encounter a Christian hymn talking about “war” or “Christian soldiers” (which is very rare nowadays), then this is the battle it is referring to. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12a), but against demonic forces working hard to hinder our kingdom gains. How much force will you need to assert to regularly pray for your family?

In 1 Corinthians 9, you’ll see a pattern of self-denial in Paul; he cut off his right to do things he could have done, but chose to go the hard way to present the gospel in a clear manner — by living it. By his will, he applied force against indulging himself. He clarifies this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, where Paul says that he disciplines himself lest he should be disqualified from receiving the prize at the judgment seat. Then in the very next chapter he  gives us an example from Israel’s past to give us a cautionary tale. He goes over the sad end of those who did not discipline themselves — they did not enter the Promised Land. The kingdom is taken by violence in the sense that those who have a strong desire to overcome their personal issues to live in a way that pleases God and not themselves will strive to enter it. Armchair church-goers need not apply.

So don’t take the word “violence” as someone who is crazy, yelling, and brandishing weapons out of control. That meaning doesn’t fit the context. Olympic team athletes must apply “force” (self-discipline) against their own bad habits and the pull of culture so that they may become the best they can be, and they are not crazy out of control. They apply dedicated force in specific ways to attain their ends. We are commanded to do likewise.

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, and iced coffee. He has written several books and ebooks, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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