In the Fulness of Time/Part 71

By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2007
Dr. Figart suggests that this passage indicates a growing opposition to the “kingdom of heaven,” which brings about Christ’s Condemnation of the Jewish Nation.

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Christ’s Condemnation of the Jewish Nation. Matthew 11:12-19

The Nation did not accept John the Baptist’s Ministry. 11:12-15

Mt. 11:12 “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

This verse has been interpreted in various ways, depending to some extent on how the words “suffereth violence” are meant to be taken. The Greek word is biazetai and the spelling is the same whether it is taken as middle voice or passive voice. If it is middle voice, then the translation could be that the kingdom “has been forcefully advancing” (NIV), and the rest of the verse would be “and forceful men take hold of it.” The interpretation then refers to the spreading of the Gospel by John and Jesus, and only courageous believers are entering in. This is essentially the view of the so-called lordship salvation advocates. John MacArthur, for example, prefers this view though he allows for another: “Following the Lord demands earnest endeavor, untiring energy, and the utmost exertion…. Those who enter the kingdom of grace through faith in Christ, do so with great effort, through the sovereign power of the convicting and converting Holy Spirit” (Matthew, Vol. 2, pp. 256-257). This theory though common, falls upon it own weight; how can salvation be “through faith” and with “great effort” at the same time?

An intermediate position is offered by D.A. Carson (Matthew, in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, pp. 267-268) who takes the first part of the verse as middle voice, that the kingdom “has been forcefully advancing” but then understands the noun biastes in a negative sense, referring to “violent or rapacious men” attacking the kingdom. He remarks, “Simultaneous with the kingdom advance have been the attacks of violent men on it. That is the very point John could not grasp. Now Jesus affirms it…. It includes Herod’s imprisonment of John… the attack by Jewish leaders now intensifying.”

With due consideration to the context, both parts of the statement can and should be taken as quoted from the King James Version, that at this point, though the Messianic earthly kingdom is still being offered by Christ and the Twelve, there is growing opposition to it. The official leaders of Judaism are attempting to force the common people away from accepting Christ as Messiah/King and His miracles as proofs that the kingdom is “at hand.”

Three things support this approach:

First, according to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (edited by Gerhard Kittle. Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1965. Vol. 1 pp. 609-614), the word biaesthai “is not used for laudable striving, but for hostile acts of force” (p. 601). This in itself rules out the idea of striving to enter salvation.

Second, this same source, on page 611, says, “The second part of the saying can be construed in the same sense as an elucidation of this hostile biazesthai, namely, that it is taken from men by the violent. The surest key to what is meant by harpazein is given by Mt. himself in the only other place in his Gospel in which this word occurs.” The reference is to Matthew 13:19 where “the wicked one comes and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart.”

Third, in Matthew 23:13 Jesus pronounces woe upon the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites: “For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither permit them that are entering to go in.” This agrees with the opposition of Matthew 11:12 as well as the imprisonment of John the Baptist, who was preaching about the King and His kingdom as “at hand.”

But “in the fulness of time,” when the Lord Jesus returns and sets up His earthly, messianic kingdom, every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that He is God, to the glory of the Father!

Read Part 72

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