Friday, August 21, 2015

Taking the Kingdom of God by Violence

Occasionally I publish posts here reflecting my conversations with Global Media Outreach contacts who are seeking to learn about Jesus or grow in their relationship with Christ. I serve as a volunteer "online missionary" with this great organization that is reaching millions of people with the Gospel, all online. (If you'd like to know more about how to get trained and serve in this way, please let me know.)

One thing I love about my contacts, and particularly those in developing nations, is the astute theological questions that they ask. These questions always force me to study Scripture to find an answer, which always blesses me immensely (and hopefully blesses them as well).

One young man from Nigeria, with whom I have been corresponding extensively, recently asked:
"Please share your understanding or opinion of this verse: 'The kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force.'"
That was a very interesting question, because I had been perplexed by that verse many times but had never received sufficient motivation to truly dig into it. But now I had it! His question spurred me to read a number of evangelical commentaries on Matthew 11:12, and the scholars who wrote them all seem to more or less agree on an interpretation which makes very good sense to me, now that I've studied it through. And I also think it has some incredible applications to things we struggle with here, today, in America ... far, far away from Nigeria! (Where the church obviously struggles with many other issues.)

Here's how I responded to my contact:

Context is always important, but it's extremely important here in this passage in Matthew 11. Jesus has been speaking about his cousin and precursor, John the Baptist, who is now sitting in prison. John "made straight the way" for Jesus by preaching repentance of sin, baptizing, and pointing toward the coming Kingdom.

The sequence (in Matthew 11) really starts in verse 3 when John (from prison) sends his disciples to inquire of Jesus whether He truly is the one to come, or whether they should expect another?

We know that the Jews longed for deliverance from Roman oppression, and expectation was high that the coming Messiah would provide that deliverance. But it didn't seem to be happening. Jesus didn't appear to be in any hurry to raise an army. And so one can understand why John, sitting in a Roman prison, was growing tired of waiting. He essentially asks: "Jesus, are you truly the Messiah? If so, WHEN are you going to bring the promised deliverance?" (I.e., "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?")

Perhaps even John the Baptist, whom Jesus said was the greatest prophet ever born, didn't fully understand the nature of the Kingdom that Christ was ushering in.

In that context, Jesus' words in verse 12 make more sense: "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." In their impatience for deliverance, crowds had thronged to the counter-cultural John. And they were doing the same thing to Jesus, in an even greater way. The New Testament tells us that even His own relatives sought to take Him by force and make Him their king. Why? They were all tired of waiting for military deliverance from the Romans. They wanted to "take matters into their own hands." (Sound familiar?)

I think the message for us, today, is that God's ways are not our ways. He does not bring the Kingdom to us on our terms, He brings it on His terms. In Christ's day, that meant turning the other cheek and laying down your life for those you loved ... not raising up an army.

How Does This Apply To Us, Today?

We may be passionate for the blessings and benefits of God's kingdom, as the hearers of both John and Jesus were. Here in America, we struggle mightily with a false teaching called the "prosperity gospel" (also known as "word of faith"). Some preachers teach that God does not want you to be poor, he wants you to be wealthy. All you need to do is name it and claim it. These preachers are ravenous wolves who fleece gullible people who are tired of living in a cycle of poverty and want to have nice things.

This false Gospel is (in a sense) an attempt by violent (passionately greedy) men to "take the Kingdom of God by force" -- to make it after their own image, to define it to be what they in their own flesh want it to be and not what God wants it to be.

But Christ will never allow that to happen. Ultimately, He is the head of the Body and the Body exists to serve Him and His plan. He is the one who decides what the Kingdom is and will become. That is why we must commit ourselves to following His lead (which is completely different than thronging Him and seeking to misuse His name to get what WE want).


Steve Finnell said...


Those who claim they were saved by "faith alone" like to quote Hebrews 11:7 to prove they were by "faith only," just like Noah.

Hebrews 11:7 By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of righteousness which is according to faith.(NKJV)

Hebrews 11:7By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.(NASB)

Noah was not saved the minute he had faith, he was saved and became an heir of righteousness after faith plus preparing the ark.

Noah was saved by faith plus obedience, not by faith alone.
He was obedient by preparing the ark for saving his household. If Noah had tried being saved by "faith alone" he would have drown just like the rest of the world.

1 Peter 3:20.....God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.(NKJV)

Noah was not saved on dry land by "faith alone." He was saved by faith plus obedience.

Without faith Noah and his household would not have been saved.

Without Noah building the ark, Noah and his household would not have been saved.

Faith plus obedience saved Noah and his household.

Faith only advocates claim they are saved by "faith only." They reject being immersed in water in order to be saved.

Jesus said faith plus obedience saves. Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved....(NKJV)

Noah was not saved until he built the ark and men today are not saved until they are immersed in water.

Noah would have drown without the ark

Men today will drown in their sins without being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38. Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, John 3:5, Romans 6:3-7, Ephesians 5:25-27, Colossians 2:12-13 and Galatians 3:27.


Larry Short said...

Steve, thank you for your post. However, I disagree to a certain extent with some of the points you have made (if I'm hearing you correctly). Namely:

1) Scripture is very clear that we are saved by God's grace (through faith), not by works or anything else. Ephesians 2:8-9 ... "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

2) To say we are saved by "faith plus obedience" is in my opinion muddying the waters a bit. Scripture makes it clear that obedience (and works) is a desired result of true faith. As James says in chapter 2, "Faith apart from works is dead." If you're not inclined to obey God, then what you call faith in all likelihood isn't really faith.

By saying you are saved by "faith plus obedience," you could be saying one of two things: 1) faith really isn't faith without obedience; or 2) obedience saves you. If you mean the first, you are being scriptural. If you mean the second, technically, you are not.

To say water baptism is a requirement for salvation is clearly unscriptural, and a misinterpretation of Mark 16:16. Water baptism understood correctly is a sign that we have already been saved. If water baptism were required for salvation, the thief on the cross would have been doomed, and Jesus a liar.

Also, on such an important matter, Paul would have told the Ephesians in chapter 2: "By grace -- and water baptism -- you are saved, and that not of yourselves ..."

3) Finally, to say that Noah was saved by building the Ark (rather than by faith) is also muddying the waters. Did building the Ark save him and his family? Yes, physically speaking. Also, it created a metaphor for what Jesus does for us on the Cross (He is our Ark). However, I don't think you can jump easily from this act of faithful obedience to the statement that it was his obedience, his works (building the Ark) that saved Noah, at least in the spiritual sense. If you could do that, then Noah could boast: "Hey, I built the Ark with my own hands. Therefore I was saved." But that would be a clear violation of the grace principle in Ephesians 2.

Noah had faith in God, a faith that saved him. Because of that faith, he obeyed unquestioningly when God asked him to do something crazy (build the Ark).

One time I was at a tenant's house, preparing to back down their driveway in my truck. As I was about to step on the gas, I heard a voice say "No!" (You can read more about this elsewhere on my blog.) It was clearly the voice of God: I hadn't heard it with my ears, but it still rang in my head. Very hard to explain. So I obeyed, not knowing why I should stop. I put the truck into park and climbed out.

I walked to the back and there on my rear bumper, I found a 3-year-old child sitting and smiling.

You could say, "That child was saved by your obedience, by the good works you did in obeying God." But in truth, I can't claim any credit. If I didn't have faith in God, I would have ignored that voice (or probably not even heard it in the first place) and gone ahead and backed down the driveway. It was by faith (and that itself from God, not from me) that that little boy was saved.

Does that make sense?

Scripture is very clear about grace. It's the whole point of Jesus coming and dying for our sins. Many people fall into error when they start saying "Grace plus this" or "Grace plus that" based on an erroneous scriptural interpretation.

Thanks again for the chance to dialogue, and my apologies in advance if I am misunderstanding you!

Blessings on you,

- Larry