WORD STUDY –THE KINGDOM OF VIOLENCE – מלכותא שׁמיא הטירא (Aramaic)
Matthew 11:12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
Micah 2:12-13: “I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee; I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make a great noise by reason of the multitude of men. The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it: and their king shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them.”
Yesterday I was listening to interviews of people who attended the Trump Inauguration. One old boy who was a Christian pastor was really fired up and declared that the Bible teaches we are to take the Kingdom of God by violence. Someone from the other side declared that we Christians are no better than the radical Islamics for we too preach violence and the Bible teaches violence ala Matthew 11:12 KJV. In no way do I wish to condemn this brother, he is accomplishing more for the Kingdom of God than I am, but we Christians, and I am chief offender of them all, must look before we leap. Since the Inauguration I have been hearing this more than once that we must take the Kingdom of God buy force and for that I reason I wish to revisit a study I did a couple years ago on this verse.
I believe the Matthew account is really a reflection on Micah 2:12-13 which is very rich in Hebrew imagery. Oral Tradition or the Tradition of the Fathers, which taught in the day of Jesus from which the Talmud was eventually derived, explains that this is a picture of a shepherd penning up his sheep for the night. He quickly builds a barrier by throwing up a makeshift rock fence against the side of a hill. The next morning to let the sheep out, he makes a hole (a break) by tossing some of the stones aside. He steps through the gate with the sheep following close behind. The sheep have been penned up all night in cramped quarters. They will push and shove trying to get through at once and thus will break the gate further in their eagerness to get out and into green pastures. Finally they break through out into the open and rush after the shepherd.
Now when we look at this passage the breaker and the king are one and the same. However, in rabbinic interpretation the breaker is interpreted to be Elijah, and their king is the Messiah.
Keeping this in mind, let us jump to the New Testament. I have always been troubled by the verse in Matthew 11:12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.” What in the blazes does it mean that the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and we are to use violence to take it by force. That sounds just so, well, unchristian to me.
But jumping back to the Old Testament to explain the New Testament we find a common rabbinic teaching on this passage in Micah 2 that Elijah would come first as the breaker, the one who would make the first hole in the rock. He goes before the Messiah to prepare the way for Him. The Messiah is the king who follows Elijah and leads the sheep through the gate to the kingdom of God. The ones following the Messiah will be so anxious to pass through the gate that they will deliberately widen the gate like the sheep anxious to get out of their pen and to green pastures.
The word violent in the Matthew passage in the Greek is biastes which carries the idea of breaking forth. The Aramaic Bible, The Peshitta uses the word hatara which also means breaking forth. As this teaching in Micah was a common teaching in The Tradition of the Fathers, I believe it is highly possible and probable that Jesus was alluding to this passage in the Old Testament when He spoke of taking the kingdom of God by breaking out.
In other words, John the Baptist is the breaker. He makes the breach in the rock gate and goes forth. He has opened the way. He is the Elijah the sages suggest in Micah 2. Jesus now as the King leads the people through only they are so anxious to enter the kingdom, like the sheep they break through the gate rushing to the Messiah and the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus does not directly refer to Himself as the Shepherd, but any Jew of that day listening would know who He was referring to. I have heard sermons and teachings from Christians that we are to take the kingdom of God by force and violence and that Jesus was teaching us in Matthew that it is ok to use violence and force. Doctrines and Christian schools of thought have been built around this interpretation of this passage. Once again we have an example of well-meaning preachers who have built a teaching around a passage of Scripture without really exploring the historical and cultural context of the passage. Jewish literature is a key source to understanding the culture, the history and the mindset from which many of these passages were born.
If Jesus was referring to the teaching in the Tradition of the Fathers, which I believe is very likely here, then He is not talking about taking the kingdom by violence, but is alluding to this Old Testament imagery which every Jew during the time of Jesus knew, that the people or the sheep will be so anxious to break out of their old traditions to follow the Messiah and enter the kingdom of Heaven that they will biastes or hatara that is break down the narrow gate and widen it so that more and more can rush through. You want to use the words force and violence then be my guest, just be a little careful as religious violence is a hot issue today.