What Did Jesus Mean in Matthew 11:12?

In the Gospel of Matthew, after John sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah to come, Jesus said something that might be confusing.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.

Matthew 11:12 (NIV)

What did Jesus mean?

We must examine the Scripture in context to understand what Jesus said in Matthew 11:12. 

We know that John sent some disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, NIV). Therefore, in this context, Jesus made his statement about the kingdom of heaven. Let’s examine what happened after Jesus answered John’s disciples. 

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind?”

Matthew 11:7 (NIV)

Jesus goes on to tell the crowd about John and then makes a bold statement about John.

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Matthew 11:11 (NIV)

Now, Jesus makes his statement about the kingdom of heaven. 

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

Matthew 11:12 (NKJV)

Following this statement, he gives us this insight into John’s identity.

For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear (emphasis added).

Matthew 11:13-15 (NIV)

“Whoever has ears, let them hear” indicates that Jesus has been speaking figuratively. Therefore, when we consider what he said, we know that he wasn’t being literal. John the Baptist isn’t literally Elijah, and the kingdom of heaven isn’t literally suffering violence, being raided, or being taken by force.

Instead, Jesus refers to how people responded to the Gospel message. 

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River (emphasis added).

Mark 1:4-5 (NIV)

Large numbers of people responded to John’s message of repentance. Indeed, not only did so many respond to John’s message, but people we might not have otherwise thought responded to it. People like tax collectors, prostitutes, and soldiers. 

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

Luke 3:12-14 (NIV)

For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:32 (NIV)

Wherever John went, enormous crowds of people responded to his message. Once Jesus started his ministry, those crowds followed him. Many people followed John and Jesus because they wanted to hear his message. One might say they were so enthusiastic that it bordered on violence. 

Consider the man whose friends tore a hole through the roof of a house to get to Jesus so he could heal their friend in Luke 5:18-19. Although crowds surrounded the house, this didn’t stop the men from getting to Jesus, no matter what. What about the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5? 

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Mark 5:31 (NIV)

Thus, we can see the fervor in how people responded to Jesus’s teaching. Such fervor represents the “violence” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:12. Therefore, crowds of people, like an army, respond to Jesus’ message. If we think of the kingdom of heaven as a city and the masses of an army besieging that city, trying to break in to get what’s inside, we can see what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 11:12. 

Consider what happened after Jesus fed the five thousand in John.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

John 6:14-15 (NIV)

Now, consider what Jesus said about the kingdom of heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46 (NIV)

Therefore, in Matthew 11:12, Jesus meant that there were so many people eager to be blessed and enter the kingdom of heaven that it was like an army beating on the gates of a city to get in. 


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