And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.—The Greek verb may be either in the middle voice, “forces its way violently,” or passive, as in the English version, but there is little doubt that the latter is the right rendering. The words describe the eager rush of the crowds of Galilee and Judæa, first to the preaching of the Baptist, and then to that of Jesus. It was, as it were, a city attacked on all sides by those who were eager to take possession of it.
The violent take it by force.—The Greek noun is without the article, “men who are violent or use force.” The meaning is determined by the preceding clause. The “violent” are men of eager, impetuous zeal, who grasp the kingdom of heaven—i.e., its peace, and pardon, and blessedness—with as much eagerness as men would snatch and carry off as their own the spoil of a conquered city. Their new life is, in the prophet’s language, “given them as a prey” (Jeremiah 21:9; Jeremiah 45:5). There is no thought of hostile purpose in the words.Matthew 11:12. And from the days of John the Baptist — That is, from the time he had borne his public testimony to the approach of the Messiah, or from the time when he had fulfilled his ministry, the kingdom of heaven — The dispensation which admits all persons equally, upon their repentance and faith, suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force — The spirits of men are so excited and animated by a desire after this kingdom, that it is, as it were, attacked like a besieged city, men of all sorts pressing to get into it, with a violence like that of men who are taking a place by storm. As if he had said, “Multitudes are flocking around me, to be instructed in the nature of my kingdom; and some, who were formerly of most licentious characters, and looked upon as utterly unfit to be subjects of the Messiah’s kingdom, are resolutely set on enjoying the blessings of it.” He that hath ears to hear, let him hear — A kind of proverbial expression, requiring the deepest attention to what is spoken.Matthew 3:5. So, he says, it has continued. Since "the kingdom of heaven," or "the gospel," has been preached, there has been a "rush" to it. People have been "earnest" about it; they have come "pressing" to obtain the blessing, as if they would take it by violence. There is allusion here to the manner in which cities were taken. Besiegers "pressed" upon them with violence and demolished the walls. With such "earnestness" and "violence," he says, people had pressed around him and John since they began to preach. There is no allusion here to the manner in which individual sinners seek salvation, but it is a simple record of the fact that multitudes had thronged around him and John to hear the gospel.
the works of Christ, he sent, &c.—On the whole passage, see on Lu 7:18-35.
The violent take it by force: they are not lazy wishes or cold endeavours that will bring men to heaven.
the kingdom of heaven, the Gospel, and the ministry of it, first by John, then by Christ and his apostles,
suffereth violence; or "comes with force", and power upon the souls of men: it was attended with the demonstration of the Spirit, and of power; as appeared by its being the means of quickening persons that were dead in trespasses and sins; enlightening the blind; causing the deaf to hear; melting and softening hearts of stone; making, of enemies, friends to God and Christ; turning men from the power of Satan unto God; setting at liberty such as were slaves and vassals to their own corruptions; and, in a word, in being the power of God unto salvation, to many souls: and which was further seen, in the manner it did all this; suddenly, secretly, powerfully, and effectually, and yet not against the wills of men; and by such instruments as the apostles were, poor, sinful, mortal men; despised by the world, and attended with opposition and persecution: or "suffers violence"; which may be understood, either of the vast numbers, that pressed and crowded to hear the Gospel preached: great numbers followed John, when he first began to preach, and baptize: still a greater number followed Christ, some to hear his doctrine, others to see his miracles, others to behold his person, others out of selfish ends; and some behaved rudely and indecently: or of the ardour and fervency of spirit, which appeared in some, to the ministry of John and Christ, and in their desires and expectations of the kingdom of the Messiah: or of the Gospel's suffering violence by the persecutions of its enemies opposing and contradicting it, reproaching it, intimidating the professors of it, and seeking to take away the life of Christ, the great subject of it:
and the violent take it by force; meaning either publicans, and harlots, and Gentile sinners; who might be thought to be a sort of intruders: or rather the same persons, as being powerfully wrought upon under the ministry of the Gospel; who were under violent apprehensions of wrath and vengeance, of their lost and undone state and condition by nature; were violently in love with Christ, and eagerly desirous of salvation by him, and communion with him; and had their affections set upon the things of another world: these having the Gospel preached to them, which is a declaration of God's love to sinners, a proclamation of peace and pardon, and a publication of righteousness and life by Christ, they greedily catched at it, and embraced it.And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 11:12. After the remark in passing that ὁ δὲ μικρότερος, etc., Jesus now continues His testimony regarding John, and, in order to prove what He had just said of him in Matthew 11:10-11, He calls attention to the powerful movement in favour of the Messiah’s kingdom which had taken place since the commencement of the Baptist’s ministry.
ἀπὸ τῶν ἡμερ. Ἰωάνν.] This is not the language of one belonging to a later period, but only such as Jesus could have used at this juncture; for the days when John laboured and flourished were gone by! This in answer to Gfrörer, heil. Sage, II. p. 92, and Hilgenfeld.
βιάζεται] Hesychius: βιαίως κρατεῖται—it is taken possession of by force, is conquered (not magna vi praedicatur, according to the idea imported into the words by Loesner and Fritzsche); Xen. H. G. v. 2. 15 : πόλεις … τὰς βεβιασμένας; Thuc. iv. 10. 5 : βιάζοιτο, it would be forced; Dem. 84. 24; Zosimus, v. 29; 2Ma 14:41; Elwert, Quaestion. ad philol. sacr. N. T., 1860, p. 19, who, however, would take the present indicative as meaning vult expugnari, which is not required by the context. In this way is described that eager, irresistible striving and struggling after the approaching Messianic kingdom (Chrysostom: πάντες οἱ μετὰ σπουδῆς προσιόντες) which has prevailed since the Baptist began to preach; it is as though it were being taken by storm. Comp. the neuter usage in Luke 16:16 : πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται; and further, Xen. Cyr. iii. 3. 69: βιάσαιντο εἴσω; likewise Thuc. i. 63, vii. 69; Ael. V. H. xiii. 32; Herodian, vii. 10. 13; Polyb. i. 74. 5, ii. 67. 2, iv. 71. 5. If others have adopted the idea of a hostile violence with which the Messianic kingdom is persecuted (Lightfoot, Schneckenburger, Beitr. p. 49), or violently (Hilgenfeld) crushed and arrested (by the Pharisees and scribes), their view is partly an anachronism, and partly forbidden by the connection with Matthew 11:13 and with what goes before. Finally, to take the verb in a middle sense, and as describing the breaking in of the kingdom which makes its way in spite of all resistance (Melanchthon, Bengel, Baur, Zyro in the Stud. u. Krit. 1860, p. 401), is certainly not contrary to usage (Dem. 779. 2; Lucian, Herm. 70), but inconsistent with the context in which βιασταί follows.
καὶ βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν] and those who use violent efforts drag it to themselves. The anarthrous βιασταί is not intended to be emphatic; such is now the character of the times, that those of whom the βιάζεται holds true achieve a speedy success, in that, while they press forward to join the ranks of my followers, they clutch at the approaching kingdom as though they were seizing spoils, and make it their own. So eager and energetic (no longer calm and expectant) is the interest in regard to the kingdom. The βιασταί are, accordingly, believers struggling hard for its possession. Jesus Himself (this in answer to Zyro) cannot be included among those who are here in view. Those who interpret βιάζεται in a hostile sense, render ἁρπάζουσιν: they snatch it away from men (according to Schneckenburger, they bar the way to it), in allusion to the conduct of the scribes and Pharisees. For βιαστής, comp. Pind. Ol. ix. 114; Pyth. i. 18. 82, iv. 420, vi. 28; Nem. ix. 122; Duncan, Lex., ed. Rost, p. 209. In Pindar also it is always used in a good sense. For ἁρπάζ., comp. Xen. Anab. iv. 6. 11, vi. 5. 18; Herodian, ii. 6. 10, ii. 3. 23.Matthew 11:12. The statement just commented on had to be made in the interests of truth and the Kingdom of God, but having made it Jesus reverts with pleasure to a tone of eulogy. This verse has created much diversity of opinion, which it would take long to recount. I find in it two thoughts: one expressed, the other implied. (1) There has been a powerful movement since John’s time towards the Kingdom of God. (2) The movement derived its initial impetus from John. The latter thought is latent in ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν ἡμ. Ιωάν. The movement dates from John; he has the credit of starting it. This thought is essential to the connection. It is the ultimate justification of the περισσότερον (Matthew 11:9). The apostle Paul adduced as one argument for his apostleship, called in question by Judaists, success, which in his view was not an accident but God-given, and due to fitness for the work (2 Corinthians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:1-18). So Christ here in effect proves John’s fitness for the position of forerunner by the success of his ministry. He had actually made the kingdom come. That was the true basis of his title to the honourable appellation, “preparer of the way”; without that it had been an empty title, though based on any number of prophecies. That success proved fitness, adequate endowment with moral force, and power to impress and move men. This being seen to be Christ’s meaning, there is no room for doubt as to the animus of the words βιάζεται, βιασταὶ. They contain a favourable, benignant estimate of the movement going on not an unfavourable, as, among others, Weiss thinks, taking the words to point to a premature attempt to bring in the kingdom by a false way as a political creation (Weiss-Meyer). Of course there were many defects, obvious, glaring, in the movement, as there always are. Jesus knew them well, but He was not in the mood just then to remark on them, but rather, taking a broad, generous view, to point to the movement as a whole as convincing proof of John’s moral force and high prophetic endowment. The two words βιαζ., βιασ. signalise the vigour of the movement. The kingdom was being seized, captured by a storming party. The verb might be middle voice, and is so taken by Beng., “sese vi quasi obtrudit,” true to fact, but the passive is demanded by the noun following. The kingdom is forcefully taken (βιαίως κρατεῖται, Hesychius) by the βιασταὶ. There is probably a tacit reference to the kind of people who were storming the kingdom, from the point of view, not so much of Jesus, as of those who deemed themselves the rightful citizens of the kingdom. “Publicans and sinners” (Matthew 9:9-12), the ignorant (Matthew 11:25). What a rabble! thought Scribes and Pharisees. Cause of profound satisfaction to Jesus (Matthew 11:25).12. And from] Translate but from: another point shewing the greatness of John, and also the beginning of the Kingdom: it was from the time of John’s preaching that men began to press into the kingdom, and the earnest won their way in. For the preaching of John was the epoch to which all prophecy tended.
suffereth violence] is forced, broken into, as a ship enters a harbour by breaking the boom stretched across the harbour’s mouth. John’s preaching was the signal for men to press into the kingdom—to adopt eagerly the new rule and life heralded by John and set forth by Christ.
the violent take it by force] The eager and enthusiastic followers of Christ seize the kingdom—win it as a prize of war.Matthew 11:12. Δὲ, but) Used antithetically in this sense—viz., although John is less than the least in the kingdom of heaven, yet even from the beginning of the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven exercises force. The kingdom of heaven came not in John, but immediately after John.—βιάζεται, pushes itself forward as it were by violence) Consider attentively ch. Matthew 13:32-33, and Luke 14:23. The LXX. frequently use βιάζομαι, to signify, to employ force. John calls in a mournful, Jesus in a joyful strain. And there is a metonymy of kingdom for King, i.e. the Messiah. See Gnomon on ch. Matthew 4:17.—βιασταὶ, they who employ force) See Luke 13:24. There is no complaint here of hostile force, for the complaint begins at Matthew 11:16. βιάζεται and ΒΙΑΣΤΑῚ are correlative.—ἉΡΠΆΖΟΥΣΙΝ, seize) in order that by seizing it with swift force, all obstacles having been broken through, they may obtain the blessing which is offered them. See Luke 7:29.
 In the original, “Johannes lamentatur; Jesus canit,”—lit. “John laments; Jesus sings.”—(I. B.)
 It is in this way that the work goes on briskly, and advances as successfully as one could wish.—V. g.
 Just as happens in the case of wares exposed for sale in public.—V. g.Verse 12. - It is curious that in St. Luke's account of this speech of our Lord's he should omit our vers. 12-14 (on ver. 15, see note there), thus leaving out all Christ's plainer and more direct teaching about the relation of John to himself. St. Luke places (Luke 16:16) our vers. 12 and 13 in what appears to be merely a cento of sayings. Possibly the original occasion has been recorded by neither evangelist, but in Matthew the passage certainly brings out the thought upon which our Lord was insisting on this occasion. And. Slightly adversative (δέ), for there is a change of subject. Christ urges his hearers to more definitely range themselves under his banner. From the days of John the Baptist until now. Yet this was not more than a few months! Possibly the sentence had become modified in oral teaching, so as to include many years, say up to A.D. or 60. St. Luke's ἀπὸ τότε is easy enough. Observe the implied success of John's work as herald. He so prepared the way that men were eager to enter the kingdom which he had said was at hand. The kingdom of heaven. The realm ruled over by Messiah, of which the then community of believers was the earnest (vide Introduction, p. 25.). Suffereth violence (βιάζεται). In Luke it is middle, "Every man entereth violently into it;" and though it is certainly passive here, St. Luke's phrase compels us to understand the reason of the violence to be entrance into the kingdom. The kingdom is not ill treated, but it is as it were taken by storm (Meyer). Nosgen strangely understands the phrase to mean that the kingdom is set forward with power, and he would apparently see in "the violent" a special reference to our Lord and John. And the violent; and men of violence (Revised Version); καὶ βιασταί: only they; men whose mind is made up and who care not what force and power they employ to attain their object. Take it by force; ἁρπάζζουσιν αὐτήν, "grasp it for themselves," like rough and violent bandits seizing their prey. Weiss sees in this verse blame of the politico-Messianic endeavours to hasten the completion of the kingdom. This explanation is good in itself (cf. John 6:15), but disconnects the verse from its context. Our Lord is describing the energy with which some souls are pressing in, and urging the need of such energy if salvation is to be obtained.
Lit., is forced, overpowered, taken by storm. Christ thus graphically portrays the intense excitement which followed John's ministry; the eager waiting, striving, and struggling of the multitude for the promised king.
The violent take it by force (βιασταὶ ἁρπάζουσιν αὐτήν)
This was proved by the multitudes who followed Christ and thronged the doors where he was, and would have taken him by force (the same word) and made him a king (John 6:15). The word take by force means literally to snatch away, carry off. It is often used in the classics of plundering. Meyer renders, Those who use violent efforts, drag it to themselves. So Tynd., They that make violence pull it unto them. Christ speaks of believers. They seize upon the kingdom and make it their own. The Rev., men of violence, is too strong, since it describes a class of habitually and characteristically violent men; whereas the violence in this case is the result of a special and exceptional impulse. The passage recalls the old Greek proverb quoted by Plato against the Sophists, who had corrupted the Athenian youth by promising the easy attainment of wisdom: Good things are hard. Dante has seized the idea:
"Regnum coelorum (the kingdom of heaven) suffereth violence
From fervent love, and from that living hope
That overcometh the divine volition;
Not in the guise that man o'ercometh man,
But conquers it because it will be conquered,
And conquered, conquers by benignity."
Parad., xx., 94-99.
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