From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.
Matthew 11:12 (NIV)
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (ESV)
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men [otake it by force. (NASB)
Have you ever wondered ‘what does this verse mean?’
Well, you are not alone.
First, we need to remember that every single time we open the Bible we are reading a translation of the Bible. The Bible was not originally written in English. You can appreciate the difficulties when you realize sometimes the translators are going through 3 different languages. For some passages of Scripture they were originally written, or spoken, in Hebrew, translated to Greek and then into English. Sometimes you can add Latin in there as well.
The translators are constantly trying to figure out which English word to use in place of the Greek word. For instance, let’s say I write the sentence “I went to the grocery store.” No big deal, easy to translate. But what if I said “I flew to the grocery store,” or “I raced to the grocery store.”
That’s a bit harder to translate.
In the context you all know exactly what I mean. I got in my car and quickly drove to the store. But if you remove it from the our cultural context you might think I got in a jet and actually flew there, or that I could fly. Or that I was running against a bunch of other people trying to get to the grocery store.
Translating can be an incredibly tricky thing and the fact that different translations throughout the centuries harmonize as well as they do, just show how amazing and consistent this book is. It also shows God’s protection on Scripture.
So when translating, the translators sometimes have to decide do they go with the actual word used “I flew to the grocery store”? Or do they go with the idea being expressed “I went quickly to the store”?
So what about the verse above?
“Jesus viewed the Kingdom of heaven as an active force in the world that was energized by God’s power.”(1) It was dynamic, expanding, even a bit explosive.
The verse in Matthew above, depending on your translation, can state “Suffers violence,” or “forcefully advancing.” Or something else. The commentaries and books I studied took Jesus’ statement back to an Old Testament passage, Micah 2:13-14 which states:
“I will surely assemble all of you, Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel.
I will put them together like sheep in the fold;
Like a flock in the midst of its pasture
They will be noisy with men.
13 “The breaker goes up before them;
They break out, pass through the gate and go out by it.
So their king goes on before them,
And the Lord at their head.”
The picture Micah is using is of a makeshift sheep pen the shepherd has made for the night where the sheep can sleep in safety. In the morning to let the sheep out the shepherd knocks a hole in the pen and, in their excitement at being free, as the sheep “break out” they make the hole bigger.
It would appear Jesus is taking the Hebrew word for “breaking out” to describe what’s happening to His generation. Remember, so well did the Jewish people know their Bible that you could state one or two words and bring a whole verse to mind, or even chapter.
Probably a better translation would be the “… Kingdom of heaven breaks forth.” Jesus is calling Micah 2 to mind and in essence saying “John is the breaker. He opens the breach.”(2) The listeners are the sheep in the pen and John the Baptist has come along and has broken open the sheep pen.
But to what purpose?
And we can’t forget there’s a third person mentioned in Micah’s prophecy. “The king goes on before them.” The king is also in mind here. And the one one who comes after “the breaker” is the King. He’s the one who leads the sheep.
Who came after John the Baptist?
Don’t ever let someone tell you that Jesus never claimed to be God! He did, just in “Jewish” ways that we so often miss. Right here, Jesus is claiming to be “The King” who comes after to lead His people.
Perhaps a better translation of that verse in Matthew would be “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of heaven breaks forth, and those breaking forth are pursuing it.” (3)
Jesus was such an amazing teacher that He makes one statement that is jam-packed with meaning.
Jesus does not waste words.
In one simple statement Jesus is acknowledging the fulfillment of an Old Testament Prophecy. He’s showing how John the Baptist is part of God’s plan and has been since the beginning. And He’s acknowledging His own Messianic claims – He’s the King who’s leading the way!
But to what purpose?
Why did John the Baptist break open the pen?
What’s the pen and where are the sheep going?
We’ll find out 🙂
1 – Young, Brad. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. 49
2 – Young, Brad, 51
3 – Young, Brad, 55