Taking The Kingdom By Violence

   by Jeannette Haley

We are taught, concerning the establishment of the “kingdom,” that the “violent take it by force.” This teaching is based on Matthew 11:12 which reads, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

According to David Bivin, Director of the Hebrew Language Division of the American Ulpan, Israel’s largest privately owned language school, and Dr. Roy B.Blizzard Jr., a specialist on Israel and the Middle East, the interpretation of this difficult verse comes from the rabbinic midrash.

As these two authors point out, violence does not agree very well with the rest of the teaching of Jesus. The key to understanding this passage of scripture is in the rabbinic interpretation of Micah 2:13 discovered by Professor Flusser. Micah 2:12-13 reads:

“I will gather all of you, Jacob; I will collect the remnant of Israel. I will put them all together like sheep in a fold, like a flock inside its pen. It will be noisy and crowded with people. The breach-maker (poretz) goes through before them. Then they break out. Passing through the gate, they leave by it. Their king passes through before them, their LORD at their head.”

To quote Mr. Bivin and Dr. Blizzard, “These verses are full of rich imagery. It is the picture of a shepherd penning up his sheep for the night. He quickly builds a fold 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 or a breach in the fence by tossing some of the stones aside. He steps through his ‘gate’ with the sheep following close behind. They have been penned up all night and can hardly wait to get out of their cramped quarters. Of course they push and shove, several trying to get through at once, literally breaking through, further breaching the little gate in their eagerness to get out and into the green pasture. Finally they burst out into the open spaces, rushing headlong after the shepherd.”

Professor Flusser discovered that in the rabbinic interpretation of Micah 2:13 the “breach-maker” and the king are two different persons: the “breach-maker” is interpreted as being Elijah, and “their king” as the Messiah, the Branch of the Son of David.

Jesus was hinting at Micah 2:13 and the well-known rabbinic interpretation of it. What He was really saying was, “the Kingdom of Heaven is breaking forth [not suffering violence], and every person in it is breaking forth [literally, ‘those who are breaking out break out in it, or by means of it,’ not “the violent take it by force”]” (Compare Luke 16:16, the parallel to Matthew 11:12).

According to these Hebrew scholars, “In Matthew 11:12 and in the midrash, Elijah, or John the Baptist, is the Breach-Maker, the Poretz. He makes the breach in the rock fence and goes through first. He has opened the way. He is the Elijah of Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6, who goes before the LORD to prepare His way. As in the midrash, Jesus, the King, follows John. Jesus is the LORD himself, who leads the sheep through the gate. It is a powerful image.”

Jesus’ kingdom started when He began calling disciples, during John’s active ministry. Since then, the kingdom of Heaven has been “breaking out.” This is further proof that the kingdom is not futuristic. Jesus’ kingdom has been in existence since the time of John the Baptist.

The kingdom is breaking out, and members of the kingdom are breaking out. In Micah and also in the midrash, it is the LORD and his sheep who are breaking out. Jesus alters that figure slightly so that it is the Kingdom and its sheep who are breaking out. Though Jesus does not refer directly to His own role as the shepherd leading the sheep out, no listener could possibly misunderstand Jesus’ stunning assertion–I am the LORD. Elijah had come and opened the way, and the LORD himself was leading a noisy multitude out to freedom.”

(Excerpts taken from Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin and Roy B. Blizzard).