Just over a week ago at The Well I shared briefly on the topic of spiritual violence. It was just enough to evoke a few questions and comments, so I’d like to elaborate a bit on the topic.
The verse I quoted to begin the discussion was Matthew 11:12: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (NKJV). Interesting, don’t you think? Here we find Jesus isolating something about John the Baptist that caught Jesus’ attention enough to merit His commentary. What was it that Jesus was saying here?
Just before He says what He does in verse 12, He says something that is so incredible that it’s hardly imaginable. Jesus says in verse 11, “Among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” In other words, of all the humans that have ever lived (except Himself, of course), John is the greatest of them all.
What made John the Baptist so great? Why did heaven “suffer violence” because of him? What does it mean to suffer violence anyway?
The first thing we can rule out is that heaven can be somehow injured because something humans can do. This isn’t suffering that we ordinarily think of. It’s more like “undergoes” or “puts up with.” Heaven is affected, for sure, but not in a negative way.
Next, the violence done isn’t physical violence. We don’t have a record of John hurting anyone. In fact, all the hurtin’ was put on him, in the end. So, “violence” is referring to a forceful act, but no animals have been harmed in its production.
What we’re left with is a picture of John the Baptist in the wilderness, fasting and praying, living a simple lifestyle, waiting on the voice of God. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets whose job it was to proclaim the coming of the Messiah. And, in all that, he got the attention of heaven. John the Baptist was a force to be reckoned with because of his faithful lifestyle and his obedience that ran right up until the end of his life. He said that he was a friend of the Bridegroom and because he heard the voice of the Bridegroom, he was full of joy (John 3:29). And he knew that as Jesus’ life and ministry increased, his job would be to fade to the background to put a brighter spotlight on Him (John 3:30). He is a picture of those who are completely sold out to the kingdom and its King and would do anything to bring honor and glory to Him. And that’s something that gets heaven’s attention.
Next, we’ll develop this a bit more and talk about others in Scriptures who embodied this reality along with John the Baptist.