One of the most controversial passages in the New Testament is found in Matthew 11:12. Jesus says, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.” Another translation reads, “From the moment John stepped onto the scene until now, the realm of heaven’s kingdom is bursting forth and passionate people have taken hold of its power.”
Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines “violence” as “urged or driven with force; as of a violent wind or violent stream; forceful; extreme.” The Greek word for violence biastis, means “energetic; forceful.” It is of the same root word as the “mighty wind” ascribed to the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:2.
Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is forcefully moving forward, creating opposition and “suffers violence.” The violent then who “take it by force” are people of keen enthusiasm, commitment and passion who are willing to respond to and proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God with greater urgency and power than those who attend to its demise.
The holy violence of men like Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Wesley and William Wilberforce come to mind. These men moved nations with their unrelenting zeal for righteousness. Women like Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Lottie Moon and Mother Teresa were women of holy violence who helped change the world.
The metaphor of a kingdom suffering violence is a metaphor from a town or castle that holds out in war and is not taken but by storm. So, it is the Kingdom of Heaven will not advance without holy violence. The earth is inherited by the meek (Matt. 5:5), but heaven is inherited by the violent!
Passionate for Him,
Steve Holt M.A., D.D.