...it is no new thing that the kingdom of heaven should be the object of strife and contention.
- Columbanus, Letter to His Disciples (Irish, 7th century)
"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
This is a difficult verse, and we need to understand it as Jesus did if we are to understand it at all.
Immediately after His baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days of fasting and preparation. At that time He faced the greatest struggle He would ever face. By prevailing in this struggle He would be able to complete His work, including the cross. But if He failed here, all bets were off.
Satan acted violently against Jesus in the wilderness, preying on His weakness, appealing to His pedigree and the promise of a Kingdom to come (Matt. 4.1-11). But in order to stay on course for that Kingdom, Jesus would have to fight fire with fire - spiritual violence with spiritual violence.
The Sword of the Spirit proved ample weaponry, coupled with faith and obedience and the ministrations of angels, to vanquish the devil forever. So sound was his defeat and so thorough his overthrowing, that immediately Jesus began to proclaim that the Kingdom of God had come (Matt. 4.17), that He had bound the strong man and was even now plundering his holdings (Matt. 12.22-29), and that nothing would be able to keep the Word of God from taking root in every place and age (Matt. 13.31-33, 36-43).
The war had begun in heaven (Rev. 12). It would be engaged on earth and won in a barren wilderness and out of an empty tomb. "Now is the prince of this world cast out!" Jesus declared, as He readied Himself for the cross. There He sent the devil and his minions scurrying away in shambles and shame (Col. 2.15). And while the final great battle yet remains to be engaged (Rev. 19), the war is won, and the victory is ours.
But Satan, though defeated, is still about his ways. He engages his violent warfare with us every day, and if we are not prepared to respond with spiritual violence - shields, battle gear, swords, helmets (Eph. 6.10-20) - then we will not realize the promise of the Kingdom as Jesus did, and as all do who understand that journeying in the Kingdom is no easy road.
Better get ready for it every day, and slug it out moment by moment, inch by inch, situation by situation.
Slug it out, beloved, or be slapped down by it (Eph. 5.15-17).
T. M. Moore, Principal