08.05.05 Lk. 7:24-28; Mt. 11:12-15; Lk. 7:29-30
JESUS PRAISES JOHN
Lk. 24 After John’s messengers left, He began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft robes? Look, those who are splendidly dressed and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. 27 This is the one it is written about:
Look, I am sending My messenger
ahead of You;
he will prepare Your way before You. (Mal. 3:1)
28 I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Mt. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John; 14 if you’re willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who is to come. 15 Anyone who has ears should listen!
Lk 29(And when all the people, including the tax collectors, heard this, they acknowledged God’s way of righteousness, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 But since the Pharisees and experts in the law had not been baptized by him, they rejected the plan of God for themselves.)
These passages also demonstrate that John was a historical, transitional figure, who had a foot in both the old and new ages. It is his proclamation of the coming king and kingdom that served as a bridge between the Old Testament Period of salvation history and the fulfillment inaugurated by the Christ event. Yet one of the difficulties in the passages of Matthew 11:13-14 and Mark 9:13 pertains to his identity because he clearly said that he was not Elijah (Jn. 1:21). The explanation of this apparent conflict is explained in 05.03.01.Q1.
“The kingdom of heaven has been suffering violence, and the violent have been seizing it by force.” It seems difficult to believe that men of violence would conquer the peaceful message of Christ and His kingdom. But the phrase “seizing it by force” literally means, to snatch away (Gk. harpazo 726) or to carry off by force. This passage is one that undoubtedly has challenged scholars for centuries and three interpretations are presented.
- It has been suggested these men of violence are identified as such in their absolute determination to rid themselves of sin, satanic powers, and influences of the pagan culture.
- Another suggestion is that now is the time for courageous souls to be forceful and take
hold of the Kingdom of God.
- Yet another interpretation is based upon an old rabbinic interpretation of Micah 2:12-13 in
the Midrash. Note the following,
I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob;
I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel.
I will bring them together like sheep in a pen;
like a flock in its pasture,
the place will throng with people.
One who breaks open the way will go up before them;
They will break through the gate and go out.
Their king will pass through before them,
the Lord at their head.
Midrash on Micah 2:12-13
In this Midrash, the House of Israel was “gathered” when the Jews returned to Israel after the Babylonian exile, a return that lingered in duration for several centuries. In the second stanza, the shepherd leads the sheep out in the morning, but after being penned up all night, they forcefully escape to freedom to enjoy the green grass with the morning dew.
- However, the most likely interpretation is that the leading Pharisees, elders, and all the Sadducees were opposing the message of John the Baptist and Jesus. In fact, the message of John and Jesus would not be accepted and violent men within Israel would assault it.  St. John Cassian (360-435) and St. Augustine (354-430) made the following comments concerning this:
The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force….Who then are the violent? Surely, they are those who show splendid violence not to others, but to their own soul, who by a laudable force deprive it of all delights in the things present, and are declared by the Lord’s mouth to be splendid plunderers, and by rapine of this kind, violently seize upon the Kingdom of Heaven.
John Cassian, Conference of Abbot Abraham
The publicans and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you. They go before because they do violence; they push their way by faith, and to faith a way is made or can any resist, since they who are violent take it by force.
Embrace the love of God and by love embrace God.
Augustine, On the Trinity
All attempts to block the Jewish people from believing in Jesus were failing. Consequently, the religious leaders increased their level of violence and planned the death of Jesus.
An explanation from a cultural context is this: the sheep were gathered in a sheepfold for the night, as explained previously in the Midrash on Micah 2:12-13. It was a common practice that many herds of sheep were sheltered in a community pen overnight. Pens consisted of walls made with mud bricks or stones that often faced a cliff or cave as this provided added protection. Large barns did not exist at this time. Today, as in centuries past, when the shepherds come in the morning, the sheep anticipate freedom to graze in the grassy fields. Knowing this, they gather tightly in front of the pen door waiting for their shepherd to open it. As the gate opens they jump forth and “break through the gate and go out” to freedom. The Hebrew word for “break through” has the same parallel meaning as “forcefully advancing” in Matthew’s gospel. Likewise, when Jesus said that forceful men laying hold on it take the Kingdom of God, He was referring to a military term, but referred to the sheep jumping out the gate to acquire all the blessings that await them.
“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” Everything the prophets and the Law prophesied in centuries past was future and distant. However, those divine words from the past were now being fulfilled beginning with John and culminating with Jesus.
08.05.05.Q1 In Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28, what is meant by the question, “There is none greater than John?”
What would appear to be a problem with this phrase is actually easily resolved, when placed into perspective in relation to the ministries of John and Jesus. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was making the declaration of the coming Messiah and the new age in history which was about to dawn. Regardless of John’s stature and importance in his generation, he would be among the least significant, when compared to the New Testament believers who would be the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27, 32).
. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament. 1:64; Vine, “Force.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:248.
. Dake, Footnote on Mt. 11:12.
. Carson, “Matthew.” 8:267.
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. 199.
. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 154.
. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 154-55.
. Thomas, The Golden Treasury of Patristic Quotations: From 50 – 750 A.D. 163.
. Tenney, The Gospel of John. 108-09.
. Bivin and Blizzard, authors of Understanding the Difficult Words (85-87) credit the late Professor David Flusser of Hebrew University for this interpretation.