In discussing the ministry of his cousin, Jesus reported that ‘from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force’ (Matthew 11:12).
From the time the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, because the kingdom was at hand, multitudes strained to gain entry, much like a destitute hoard which learns that the riches of a fortified city may be theirs if only they scale the walls.
In the eyes of the religious, their precious stronghold was being overrun by undesirables.
In another sense, the kingdom does not come without violence: it separates those who would be in from those who wish to remain out; it pits those who welcome the reign it represents from those who continue to rebel against its Lord.
And, further, the kingdom does violence within each man who wishes to enter, for entry into Christ’s kingdom requires the mortification of the flesh — putting to death the deeds of the worldly desires that continue to rise up within us. This violence requires us to pluck out our proverbial eye, to cut off our metaphorical hand, if such is necessary to secure our entry.
Of course, the world, the flesh, the devil do not want any to enter Christ’s kingdom, and themselves strive and strain to preserve their grip on the souls of men. Only the violent — those regenerated and empowered by the Spirit — can resist with the violence necessary to escape their clutches.
Of this violent kingdom-taking Thomas Watson writes: ‘the flesh is a sly enemy; at first dulce venenum (a beautiful charm or potion); afterward, scorpio pungens (a fighting scorpion); it kills by embracing’ and ‘the movement of the soul towards sins is natural, but its movement towards heaven is violent'(Heaven Taken by Storm).
Does our faith resemble this sort of violence? Does our walk with Christ require this sort of effort, this continual homicide of our own man?
Or is the most striving and straining we muster in relation to our favorites sports teams? Do we take heaven by storm — with zeal — or do we attempt to ride in, ‘easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy’?