The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence — Matthew 11:12

Matthew 11:12 (NKJV)

12 And from the days of John the Baptist UNTIL NOW the kingdom of heaven SUFFERS VIOLENCE, and the VIOLENT take it BY FORCE. 

This text has been used for spiritual warfare. But it has NOTHING to do with that AT ALL. What is Jesus saying here? Just read the antecedent text (what came before);

7 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “WHAT DID YOU GO OUT INTO THE WILDERNESS TO SEE? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 But what did you GO OUT to see? A MAN CLOTHED IN SOFT GARMENTS? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 But what did you GO OUT to see? A PROPHET? Yes, I say to you, and MORE THAN A PROPHET. 10 For this is HE OF WHOM it is written:

‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,

Who will prepare Your way before You.’

11 “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than JOHN THE BAPTIST; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 

Observe the recurrence of the phrase “go out.” He is referring to how the Jews came out in large numbers to hear John preach;

See Matthew 3

Matthew 3:1-3 (NKJV)

1 In those days John the Baptist CAME PREACHING in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.’” (quoting Isaiah 40:3)

4 Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, ALL JUDEA, and ALL THE REGION around the Jordan WENT OUT TO HIM 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 

Mark also records this;

Mark 1:4-5 (NKJV)

4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and PREACHING A BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE for the remission of sins. 5 Then ALL THE LAND of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 

Luke too;

Luke 3:3-4 (NKJV)

3 And he went into ALL THE REGION around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;

Make His paths straight.

5 Every valley shall be filled

And every mountain and hill brought low;

The crooked places shall be made straight

And the rough ways smooth;

6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

7 Then he said to THE MULTITUDES that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 

So the multitudes came to hear John preach the Word of God.

That’s what Matthew 11:12 is saying:

12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 

We admit that the message in this text is lost largely due to the fact that the translation did not bear out the thoughts from the originals.

Going back to the Greek will help:

Now pay close attention. The Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 11:12 refers to John’s PREACHING of the Kingdom of Heaven;

See Matthew 3:1-2 again;

1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is at hand!”  

Do you see that?

So Jesus was referring to what John preached in Matthew 11:12 when He said “the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence.” This is known as a synecdoche (a figure of speech which uses a part for the whole). Jesus summarises John’s teaching as “the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now what does He mean by “suffers violence“?

The phrase “suffers violence” translates the Greek word “biazó.” It means to search for forcefully or violently, with ardent zeal. It is a positive word here.

So the Kingdom of Heaven (John’s preaching) was violently searched for. That is, people were eager to hear God’s Word about His Kingdom. They stormed the wilderness in thousands, like soldiers violently advancing to war. But these ones were going to hear the Word being preached by John. “Violence” describes their attitude. It is positive here. They rushed out in a hurry, pushed each other, to go hear John preach.

Then He says “and the violent take it by force.

The word “violent” used here is “biastés.” It refers to one who is eager in pursuit, still describing the people who went out to hear John preach. They were eager in pursuit for the Word of God and they took it by force.

That phrase “by force” translates the Greek word “harpazó,” which means to seize, snatch, to take using force, to claim for oneself eagerly, describing how they went after the Word. It can be likened to someone snatching something by force. They were violent in how they went after the Word.

So nothing in this text even SUGGESTS spiritual warfare. Rather, it refers to how the influence of John’s teaching ministry grew; how the people sought to understand God’s Word.

Luke’s account of this statement gives a clearer understanding;

Luke 16:16 (NKJV)

16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God HAS BEEN PREACHED, and everyone is PRESSING INTO IT. 

Do you see that now?

That phrase “pressing into it” is that same word “biazó” translated as “suffers violence” in Matthew 11:12. That is, everyone was rushing to hear God’s Word.

The multitude grew larger and larger. And they pressed on themselves into the wilderness to hear the preaching of John, just like Matthew 3:5-6 says.

You would observe that the multitude did the SAME thing to Jesus as well. That’s why He says “until now” (technically, until THEN, the time when He was speaking). That is, the people’s attitude towards John’s teaching ministry continued towards His!

Luke 5:1 (NKJV)

1 So it was, as the MULTITUDE PRESSED ABOUT HIM to HEAR THE WORD OF GOD, that He stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, 

They were pressing, pushing about Him.

Mark 10:1 (NKJV)

1 Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And MULTITUDES GATHERED TO HIM again, and AS HE WAS ACCUSTOMED, He taught them again. 

At some point, He had to hide!

Matthew 14 (NKJV)

13 When Jesus heard it, He DEPARTED from there by boat to A DESERTED PLACE BY HIMSELF. But when the multitudes HEARD IT, they FOLLOWED HIM ON FOOT FROM THE CITIES. 

Still they found Him in the deserts and chased Him! They left civilization into the deserts just to hear God’s Word!

Luke records this as well;

Luke 9:10 (NKJV)

10 And the apostles, when they had returned, told Him all that they had done. Then He took them and went aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. 11 But when THE MULTITUDES KNEW IT, they FOLLOWED Him; and He received them AND SPOKE TO THEM about the kingdom of God, (that is, He taught them) and healed those who had need of healing.

Therefore, Matthew 11:12 describes a positive response/attitude towards John’s teaching ministry, as well as Jesus’. It, in no way, implies spiritual warfare.


© Josh Banks Ministries. 2021. 


  1. Beckley O. J

    Thank you sir. Brief, yet detailed and concise.

  2. Glory

    Thank You, Pastor Sir.
    It was very enlightening.

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