2001-10-09 - The Kingdom of Heaven
Hebrews 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
The Question: " I have been studying the Bible for several decades, and even teach it in my church -- but this passage has always confused me: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12) If the Kingdom of Heaven is ultimately a Kingdom of peace and love, and can come only from God, how can it be taken by force?
First, may I say that it is really wonderful that God has given you the opportunity to study and know His Word for such a long time. Some never have that chance and all of us ought to thank God for the days previous and remaining that He grants us to serve Him and learn better how to be pleasing to Him in our lives.
I think that this question need not trouble or perplex you. But let me make sure that I am clear that I have no special wisdom or knowledge that means I can handle this question or any question better than anyone. If you have been studying the Bible for 20 years or 20 minutes you might have insight I could only long for. God gives His wisdom and grace liberally and as He sees fit.
As I have thought about this question I have concluded that there are two ways to view the kingdom of heaven. One is the way I commonly view it and I think many others do also. I will call it "pie in the sky" heaven. This means that heaven is the, "when I die" reality. It is that safe harbor. It is like Zoar in Genesis 19, a place where we can flee and be safe. With this view of the kingdom of heaven the verse you are asking about will make no sense because if we think of heaven in this way and this verse is true, then heaven is not a safe place. We know that heaven is a safe place and thus we must think of this phrase, "kingdom of heaven" in a different manner.
The second way to view the kingdom of heaven is to think of it as everything under God's reign and rule. God, in all the fullness of his creation, rules everything. The kingdom of heaven is everything under God's sovereignty. This means that everything is part of God's kingdom.
Now if you are astute you will note that I pulled a switch-a-rue on you here. I went from speaking of the kingdom of heaven to speaking of the kingdom of God because it suited my use of language better. But I have changed nothing. Remember that the book of Matthew was targeted to a Jewish audience. The phrase "kingdom of God" would have been considered blasphemous to Jews because the name of God could not be uttered or written. Hence, YHWH in Exodus 3:14, a name so unique and exclusive that it could not be pronounced. So when we see in Matthew, "kingdom of heaven," we can understand, "kingdom of God," and since God's kingdom is all His creation, we know it is all under His authority.
With that background, we come to the question, "How can it be taken by force?" It happens all the time. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4 where we learn that Satan even tries to secure the worship of men. Satan is our adversary and afflicter and he is not yet bound and cast into hell. He has been given some time and some authority and with both he seeks to assault the kingdom of heaven by pathetic attempts and efforts which in the end will fail.
Satan has victories and that is why he is said to take it by force. Have you ever seen strife or division in your church or in the body of Christ? Whose hand do you think is leading this assault? You know the answer. Have you ever been confused about issues relating to doctrine or practical Christian experience? Satan is the author of confusion. He started with Adam and Eve and he continues today. Yes, the violent one seeks to take what parts of the kingdom of heaven he can by force, but to no significant avail. Christ has risen and He is coming quickly. We all know a little about the book of Revelation, God wins, or as one of my former professors said about the book in summation, "God is Lord of history and He is bringing it to consummation in Christ."
"The devil, that great peripatetic." John Trapp
Soli Deo Gloria,