Do we establish the kingdom by power or force?
In our day many wrong things are taught within the Spiritual warfare movement, one of them that is crucial is the aggressiveness the church is to have, like a military army for establishing the kingdom on earth.
Matthew 11:12-13 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
It is this particular scripture that is the basis of this movement.
I have heard a number of explanations on this passage that do not seem to fit the meaning when one takes into account what Jesus himself said about the kingdom and who enters it.
So I want to offer a different view that I hope can give light to a perplexing scripture.
Who was in charge until John the Baptist came on the scene? It was the religious leaders, particularly the Pharisees. When John came to preach repentance, the Pharisees came out to see him and reacted (strongly) against his message.
The kingdom of heaven suffered violence, because Pharisaic Judaism was violent. It lacked compassion, mercy and fairness. John was the beginning of something new. Matt 11:13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John, this was the dispensation of law under Moses old covenant. John was preaching of the Christ who was to come. A new dispensation where a new covenant will be instated.
Matt 3:1-2 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
In other words his answer went against the Pharisaic practices of the day. It was what all of Israel had been anticipating, waiting for, but it was not to come through the Pharisees Judaism.
Luke 7:29-30 And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.
And this is where the antagonism began. For John was challenging their religious order. They had not kept Moses law the way it was intended but added their own laws, called the tradition of the elders. And this prevented them from accepting the messiah.
And they were quite unkind to the challengers For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.(Matt 11:18).
Jesus later said Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him. (Matt 21:31-32)
Jesus said Mark 10:15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.
It is by meekness, humility that one enters the kingdom. It is men of violence who take it by force. But one cannot enter the kingdom of God by being violent, by force.
The Pharisees wanted to control who would be in the kingdom, and it was by their rules.
Jesus corrected them saying But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (Matt 23:11-13)
Jesus addressed much of this in his Sermon on the Mount, comparing Gods way to the pharisaical ways. Jesus said the meek inherit the earth, that God uses the humble not the prideful, not the strong but the weak. Paul also stated a spiritual principle, when I am weak he is strong.
The accompanying passage of Matthew 11:12-13 is Luke 16:14-17. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.
Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, on Matt 11:12 the form can be either middle or passive and either makes sense, though a different sense. The passive idea is that the kingdom is forced, is stormed, is taken by men of violence like "men of violence take it by force" biastai (NT:964 a) harpazousin (NT:720 a) auteen (NT:839) or seize it like a conquered city. The middle voice may mean "experiences violence" or "forces its way" like a rushing mighty wind (so Zahn holds).
Jesus later telling Nicodemus that one must be born again, have a spiritual birth to even see the kingdom of heaven. We read elsewhere that for one to accept the gospel as truth and receive Christ there is humility involved.
Matt 18:3-4 Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Mark 10:24-25 Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is also hard for those who trust in themselves, Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (Matt 16:24). This was repeated in all three gospels more than once.
Matt 5:3-6 Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.
These were given as spiritual principles for living
Luke 11:52-12:1 Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered." And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, lying in wait for Him, and seeking to catch Him in something He might say, that they might accuse Him.
Matt 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."
This is why I see the phrase the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force as not from those who are coming in the way Jesus said.
We enter Christs kingdom by humility, we cannot force our way in nor do we use force after we are in. It may become uncomfortable, it may have risks but His will is never forceful, antagonistic. It is persuasive by His Spirit, who is making us to be like Jesus.
Most importantly we cannot forget what Jesus said to Pilate who was threatened by him and his followers, he assured him "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight (John 18:35-36). Jesus will bring the new order to the world when he returns, and we will serve by peace in his kingdom.