Storm Troopers

There are many references in the New Testament of conditions described as warfare, the need for armour, and appeals to be a Christian soldier. We hear about battles and warnings not to let anyone steal your crown for the coming reward of immortality and rulership. So, some say it’s no wonder Jesus mentioned, “the violent take it [the Kingdom of God] by force” (Matthew 11:12). But, what was it that Jesus really meant by this? Many times we struggle to understand the context of a statement, because we are so far removed from the time and culture in which it was originally spoken. Let’s take, for example, this scripture mentioned above, located in Matthew 11:12:
Storm Troopers

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

What does this mean? Is physical violence being committed against God’s Kingdom? Are we supposed to be like a battalion of ‘storm troopers’ employing all necessary force-even physical violence in order to take the Kingdom?

Jesus originally uttered these words in Hebrew. Therefore let’s look at the text in its original cultural setting. The connecting link is an old rabbinic interpretation of Micah 2:12-13 which reads:

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, 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.”

Micah paints a picture of the ancient Jewish practice of a shepherd building a makeshift rock fence to pen up or coral his sheep.

The next morning, to let the sheep out, he makes a hole or breach in the fence by tossing some of the stones aside. He steps through this ‘gate’ with the sheep following close behind. Because they have been penned up all night, they push and shove, several trying to get through at once, literally breaking through, and further breaching the little gate in their eagerness to get out and into the green pasture. Finally they burst out into the open spaces, rushing headlong after the shepherd.” 1

With this picture, a more accurate rendering of Matthew 11:12 would be:

the kingdom of heaven is breaking forth and every person in it is breaking forth [literally, ‘those who are breaking out break out in it’].” 2

So the Kingdom is bursting out into the world and the citizens of the Kingdom are finding freedom. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, is the breach-maker. Jesus Christ is the Messiah and Kingly Shepherd leading His sheep to freedom and green pastures. Compare the parallel account in Luke 16:16,

The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.” (emphasis mine)

In one sense, the Kingdom of God has and continues to suffer physical violence from the enemy as evidenced by persecution and the martyrdom of saints down through the historical ages. But, on the other hand, what we need is not physical violence against others, but rather, spiritual determination against our sinful carnal nature. And therein lies the distinction between where our ‘break out’ efforts should be directed-to spiritually resolve and be spiritually determined to overcome our carnal nature!

However, Jesus showed His continued awareness of our proclivity to do physical violence when He told Peter to “Put your sword into the sheath” (John 18:11) after the apostle slashed off the high priest servant’s right ear. Later, while being interrogated by Pilate, Jesus emphatically dissociated Himself and His disciples from any form of physical violence when He answered,

My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews…” (John 18:36).

Instead of using physical violence, the Kingdom of God is breaking forth, spiritually, throughout the entire world by the mediums of publishing, preaching, and personal witnessing as the Good News of Jesus Christ’s return with rewards of Eternal Life as an Immortal Spirit Being. Just as the sheep break out through the hole in the fence, we human beings, like hungry pent up sheep must go after the Good News of the Kingdom with zeal and our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). We must “hunger and thirst for [God’s] righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) and make the pursuit of understanding how to aspire to His Kingdom and His righteousness our highest priority (Matthew 6:33).

We must,

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

This Way calls for unusual sacrifices including the willingness to lose our lives for it if necessary (Luke 14:26-27). Jesus issued a stern warning to the religious elite of His day in Matthew 23:13:

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

While they were busy splitting hairs over doctrine and trying to discredit and destroy the King (Jesus Christ) of the Kingdom, sinners (prostitutes, publicans, thieves), sick folks, demoniacs, the hungry and depraved were thronging Him with reckless abandonment to get what they desperately needed: food, hope, healing, and deliverance. They were like the hungry sheep ‘breaking out’ through the small hole in the wall running after their Shepherd to lead them into the green pastures of His Kingdom.

As we reflect on the Hebraic perspective of Matthew 11:12, let us rejoice in the sure promise from the Good Shepherd, our Messiah and King, Jesus Christ:

‘Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.'” (Luke 12:32)

Footnotes:
  1. David Bivin & Roy Blizzard, Jr.: Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, pp. 85-86
  2. Ibid. p. 86

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