Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 11:12 (Holman) “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the
kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the
violent have been seizing it by force.
Our text, one of the Bible’s most difficult to interpret, means either those willing to violently fight evil powers are able to enter the kingdom, or those in the kingdom have to endure violence. I’m not dogmatic, but lean to the latter view.
John started the Jesus movement, generating its initial momentum. Christ’s kingdom was new to the point of being radical, disrupting the status quo. It was born in a time of revival and resistance. John turned many to righteousness, and many to anger. Violence against his rough preaching to repent was immediate and persistent. John’s preaching career lasted less than two years. During his whole tenure he stirred up a hornet’s nest with the religious leaders and with King Herod.
Sinners being welcomed wholesale into Christ’s kingdom was scandalous to respectable, self-righteous religious leaders. Sanctimonious priests held up their pious hands and screamed, “You call this a kingdom of God? Blasphemy!”
Wicked King Herod was outraged. He stole his brother’s wife, Herodias, a foul deed John trumpeted against. The king and queen, suffering the paranoia that often accompanies the isolation of the rich and royal, felt they were unsafe as long as John was free. They imprisoned him. This satisfied Herod, but not Herodias, who heinously used her daughter Salome to seduce “Herod, who was excited with the meeting of the two strong passions (alcohol and lust), which have destroyed more victims than have fallen on all the battlefields of the world” (Meyer).
She danced, he told her to ask, she requested John’s head, he was ashamed to say no in front of guests, she took the head to Mother, Josephus says the body was thrown over the castle wall. John’s disciples retrieved the body for burial.
Marvelous, isn’t it? One who had no problem committing adultery, incest, and murder was scrupulous about violating an oath he never should have sworn.
It reminds us of the religious leaders who, while executing Christ’s murder, would not enter Pilate’s court because it would have made them ritually unclean.
Let us be careful, lest we commit this sin way too common to the religious, this perverse flip-flop of priorities. It is easy for church members to be guilty of straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24).
Some are scrupulous about church attendance, yet curse, commit adultery, never share their faith with the lost, are mean to family, students, and employee.
Somehow the mechanics of religiosity often surpass in importance the actual deeds of holiness themselves. Keep your spiritual p’s and q’s in the right order. Remember what’s pints–the rites and rituals–and what’s quarts–the actual working out of our faith in practical deeds in the presence of others.
John was the first to suffer violence in Christ’s kingdom. Jesus was second. We’re next, following their model, ever working a tough crowd. Jesus said, “You will have suffering in this world” (JN 16:33). Paul said all “who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (1 TM 3:12). Prepare to hurt.
We need to clear from our heads misleading delights. No smooth paths lead to Heaven. Alice of Wonderland and Pollyanna are not our tour guides.
We’re not going to Heaven on a feather bed. Every inch of the way is contested. “The way to heaven is uphill and downhill; uphill with difficulty, downhill with trials” (Spurgeon).
We don’t have to go out of our way to find trouble. It finds us. We wrestle against enemies inside us, a sinister fifth column within our own natures.
We fight detractors outside us. Jesus said He came to bring a sword, not peace (MT 10:34). Satan stalks us as a roaring lion, discouraging acquaintances try to drag us down, and even governments align against us. Prisons have often been the home of believers. Some of earth’s noblest characters have suffered from powers that be–Joseph, Jeremiah, John, Jesus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Knox, etc.
From the kingdom’s first day until this day, people have tried to destroy the work of God. The kingdom’s enemies hate it primarily because it condemns a life they want to live. Violence against the kingdom of Christ began with John, continued with Jesus, and will not end with us. Trouble is our lot.
Matt. 11:13 (Holman) “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until
“The law and the prophets” was the name Jews gave to the Old Testament. The ultimate theme of law and prophets was simple to state, “Messiah will come.” The Old Testament held “the ancient people in suspense by predictions” (Calvin).
Prophets used verbal predictions to tell in advance where Messiah would be born, what He would do and be like. Law and its rites were nonverbal predictors, symbols, using types and rituals to foreshadow, because the reality was absent.
The law and the prophets were fulfilled, Jesus said, in John. The Baptist was the one ordained to lead Heaven’s parade past the thunder of Sinai. The critical hour had arrived, the one that would make or break, bless or doom, Israel.
Our text is a huge validation by Jesus regarding the authority of God’s Holy writings. Four hundred years had passed since the last prophet. During this quiet interim period Scripture continued to speak with authority, long after the writers were silent in the dust. Jesus viewed Scripture, though four hundred years old and older, as authoritative as if the writers were still alive and speaking themselves.
Here we see a cardinal tenet of our faith. The Bible authors, even after they are long gone, remain our ultimate authority in all matters of belief and behavior. Writers die, but what they write, the word of the Lord, endures forever (1 P 1:25).
A written record is Christianity’s safeguard, keeping our faith genuine and unchanged, maintaining it as the religion of Jesus Christ, not the religion of any and every one’s whim and fancy. Holy Writ provides us our ballast, our anchor.
Surprisingly, six of the Old Testament’s greatest revivals–under Joshua (8:32), Asa (2 CH 14:4), Jehoshaphat (2 CH 17:9), Hezekiah (2 K 18:6), Josiah (2 K 22:8), and Ezra (7:10)–began, not primarily in prayer, but in response to God’s written word.
In these Bible Revivals, God’s conviction fell as people rediscovered Holy Writ, His sharp, two-edged sword, His comfort, His guiding gift for a nation.
Few yearnings are burned more deeply into my soul than a desire to see a Bible Revival in the USA. It is our only hope to be “the city on a hill” our early settlers dreamed we would be. We need the Bible Revival Israel repeatedly found.
In Joshua and Ezra’s times, social underpinnings had been undone. All had fallen into chaos. The people, having lost their way, had to decide what kind of God the nation would serve. We face a similar dilemma. Will it be the Bible’s God, who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for it? Will it be a god who okays women as property, four wives per husband, or a god who lets children starve while cows are deemed sacred, or a namby-pamby sissified god like Santa Claus, who lets people sin to their delight and drown in their misery?
Asa and Hezekiah had to undo the sex cults of their eras. Immorality had taken over and held sway. We too are awash in sexual filth. We forget that sex laws protecting marriage, the sanctity of one man with one woman in wedlock, were enacted to save Europe from venereal disease epidemics that early explorers brought home from the New World. They were laws of kindness, not strictness. The more freedom we grant in this area, the more sickness and death we allow.
Jehoshaphat and Josiah faced the dilemma of a dearth of knowledge about Holy Writ. People forgot the Bible, were ignorant of, and had lost, it. The temple was repaired, writings rediscovered, and teachers sent through the land. Be sure our children and teens are drilled to understand they are to obey a written Book. We are not at liberty to sit in judgment over it. It judges us. There is no revival in liberalism. Liberalism is what we need revival from. Jesus, send a Bible Revival.