Matthew 11:12

Sermon preached on January 14, 2018 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was 3 or 4 years old my grandparents bought an old farm on the Mira River. They bought it as a summer home where they could relax out in the country. They had 100 acres and it was a great spot for hunting and fishing. One of my earliest memories there was of picking potatoes. My grandfather had planted a big potato garden. When it came time to harvest I remember my grandfather, my father, my brother and I gathered there with shovels to dig out the potatoes. I was so young I'm sure I wasn't going to be much help digging and as I remember it was my job to pick up the potatoes after one of the adults dug them up. We had just started when a neighboring farmer went by in his truck. The potato garden wasn't far from the road so he stopped to chat with my grandfather. After a few minutes he left. He didn't tell us what he was going to do but five or ten minutes later he came driving up the road in his tractor. To our surprise he turned up our driveway and drove right up to our garden. He motioned for us to get out of the way and he drove his tractor down the first row of the garden and with the plow he had on the back he overturned that whole row of potatoes so that all the potatoes were lying on top of the ground. He soon did the rest of the rows and in no time at all it was all done. All we had to do was walk up the rows and pick up the exposed potatoes. That little tractor saved us hours of work. What a difference it made.

That's kind of a poor illustration to introduce our text because our text is about something that made all the difference, not over something minor like work, but in the history of redemption. Our text says, (Matthew 11:12)

"From the days of
John the Baptist until now,
the kingdom of heaven
has been forcefully advancing,
and forceful men lay hold of it."

A dramatic change in the history of redemption took place beginning with preparatory ministry of John the Baptist and culminating with the ministry of Jesus. It was a great beginning.

The difference, as stated in our text, is that since then

the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing.

Things changed dramatically with the ministry of John the Baptist because he heralded the coming of the King. It had been approximately 400 years since the last Old Testament prophet. Revelation had ceased. Redemption seemed to be at a standstill. To a great extent darkness and gloom reigned. But then a great thing happened. Light came. When Jesus emerged from the wilderness where He was tempted by the devil, He went to Capernaum. Matthew said it was to fulfill what was predicted in Isaiah 9:1-2, (Matthew 4:15–16)

"Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea,
along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land
of the shadow of death
a light has dawned."

When Jesus arrived His kingdom arrived. He came with power—to establish His kingdom. John the Baptist was the herald of this. John began his ministry with the words, (Matthew 3:2)

"Repent, for the kingdom
of heaven is near."

He spoke about judgment, about the ax being at the root of the trees, of Jesus baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire. The kingdom of heaven arrived with the coming of Jesus. Geerhardus Vos tells us that Jesus' statement in our text, (The Kingdom of God and the Church, p. 34)

"clearly teaches the actual presence of the kingdom and its spiritual form of existence… 'the law and prophets' are said to extend until John, that is to say, the prophetic looking-forward dispensation of the old covenant reaches its close in John: for there onward begins a dispensation in which the kingdom of God is the theme no longer of prophecy, but of gospel-preaching, therefore is not longer future but present."

Beginning with John the Baptist and especially with the ministry of Jesus—the kingdom of heaven forcefully came to this earth.

Before I go any further I should note that there are two ways of understanding our passage. Both of them are legitimate. The NIV says that the kingdom of heaven has been,

"forcefully advancing,"

The idea is that since the time of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven has come with power and is advancing with power against Satan and his forces.

The other way to understand it is as the HCSB translates,

"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."

In other words, since the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven is being attacked. Violent opposition has arisen against the gospel, seeking to snuff it out.

Our text can be understood either way. Both translations are in line with Biblical truth. We are told in other places of Scripture that violent men are opposed to the gospel and it's spread. We see that all through the New Testament. The New Testament also tells us that the gospel goes forth with power and that those who embrace in do so with the force of the Holy Spirit.

I lean toward the interpretation that the kingdom of heaven has been advancing forcefully since the time of John the Baptist. Although both interpretations fit the larger context, in my opinion, the context seems to better fit the concept that the kingdom is forcefully advancing. The previous chapters emphasize that. Jesus has been preaching the good news of the kingdom, healing the sick, raised a girl from the dead, and cast out demons. He sends out the twelve with power and challenges people to follow Him boldly, unwaveringly. In the next chapter, this theme continues. Jesus' opponents accuse Him of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus said to them, (Matthew 12:28)

"But if I drive out demons
by the Spirit of God,
then the kingdom of God
has come upon you."

Jesus went on to ask how one could enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions, (Matthew 12:29)

"unless he first ties up
the strong man?
Then he can rob his house."

Jesus' teaching is that He had bound Satan. The kingdom of God has come.

If you're an amillennial like me you see the teaching of the first part of Revelation 20 as referring to the first coming of Jesus. (verses 1–3)

"And I saw an angel
coming down out of heaven,
having the key to the Abyss
and holding in his hand a great chain.
He seized the dragon,
that ancient serpent,
who is the devil, or Satan,
and bound him for a thousand years.
He threw him into the Abyss,
and locked and sealed it over him,
to keep him from deceiving the nations
anymore until the thousand years
were ended.
After that,
he must be set free
for a short time."

Satan has been bound by the work of Jesus. Jesus has triumphed through His crucifixion and resurrection. Geehardus Vos tells us that the signs of the kingdom that Jesus did are, (The Kingdom of God and the Church, p. 55)

"exhibitions of God's royal power. This power, therefore, has two sides: so far as the enemies of God are concerned, it is a conquering, destructive, judging power; so far as man is concerned, it is a liberating, healing, saving power."

Jesus declared the first part of this in John 12:31. He said,

"Now is the judgment of this world.
Now the ruler of this world
will be cast out."

We also see this in Colossians 2:15. Writing about context of the cross of Christ, apostle Paul said of Jesus,

"He disarmed the rulers and authorities
and disgraced them publicly;
He triumphed over them by the cross."

The kingdom of heaven has come to completely overcome the evil powers that are opposed to God. Vos continues, (p. 56)

"the work inaugurated by Jesus aims at nothing less than a supernatural renewal of the world, whereby all evil will be overcome, a renewal of the physical as well of the spiritual world…"

With John the Baptist and Jesus came the great era of salvation. What many prophets and righteous people longed to see and hear came with power and turned the world upside down. Indeed, the kingdom had been advancing because the King Himself had arrived. Herman Ridderbos writes, (The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 25)

"there is a personal connotation in the expression, 'kingdom of heaven.' The manifestation of the kingdom of heaven cannot be conceived as an impersonal metaphysical event, but as the coming of God himself as king."

There's a great lesson for us here. The fact that the kingdom of heaven came with Jesus with great triumphal power means that as you live your life for Jesus,

you should not be discouraged. Rather you should be filled with courage know your Lord is going to triumph.

If you look at the world today, it looks like we're losing. Christianity is being marginalized in our society. Just about everyone knows it. If you do a Google search you'll come up with lots of articles tell you that Christianity is declining. That's what's happening in our world today. Non-Christians are celebrating. Like John Lennon they're predicting the demise of Christianity.

It's like the events of Revelation 13 are fast approaching. The two beasts are leading the world astray. Things look bad.

But we are not losing. The kingdom has come.

Satan has been defeated. I believe it was R.C. Sproul who likened Satan to a chicken which just had its head cut off. That chicken is doomed. It's fate is sealed. But for a few seconds it can fly around, do a lot of damage and wreak havoc. But its end is certain.

That's the way it is with Satan now. Revelation 12 tells us that he has been thrown out of heaven, cast down to earth. He is filled with fury because he knows his time is short.

Christians don't be dismayed by all this. Jesus rules. It's all according to His plan. You're on the winning side. Be bold and courageous. (Joshua 1:6) Vern Poythress notes, (The Returning King, p. 181)

"Even when the demonic forces are ravaging the church, they are only establishing Christians in positions of real and permanent power."

God's kingdom is going forward with power. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said to Peter about his declaration that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. (HCSB)

"on this rock I will build My church,
and the forces of Hades
will not overpower it."

Jesus is building His church. In heaven there is going to be a great multitude which no man can number. Do your part with confidence with boldness.

This leads us to the second thing we see in our text.

Forceful men lay hold of the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing. Then our text says,

"and forceful men lay hold of it."

There is a bit of a parallel in our text to Luke 16:16. Jesus said,

"The Law and the Prophets
were proclaimed until John.
Since that time,
the good news of the kingdom of God
is being preached,
and everyone is forcing
his way into it."

Herman Ridderbos speaks of how it is a question of, (The Coming of the Kingdom, p. 54)

" 'appropriating,' 'taking' the kingdom 'as a booty.' This means striving for the redemption offered by the kingdom without being deterred by anything and by using all one's endeavors and staking everything for its sake."

William Hendriksen adds, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, Baker New Testament Commentary; (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1973), 490.

"What Jesus here emphasizes is that one cannot sleep his way into the kingdom. On the contrary, entrance into the kingdom requires earnest endeavor, untiring energy, utmost exertion." "it takes vigorous men, men who are eager to fight and to conquer, to overcome Satan and thus to take possession of the kingdom, of all the blessings of salvation. The kingdom, then, is not for weaklings, waverers, or compromisers. It is not for Balaam (2 Peter 2:15), the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:22), Pilate (John 19:12, 13), and Demas (2 Tim. 4:10). It is not won by means of deferred prayers, unfulfilled promises, broken resolutions, and hesitant testimonies. It is for strong and sturdy men like Joseph (Gen. 39:9), Nathan (2 Sam. 12:7), Elijah (1 Kings 18:21), Daniel and his three friends (Dan. 1:8; 3:16–18), Mordecai (Esther 3:4), the Peter of Acts 4:20, Stephen (Acts 6:8; 7:51), and Paul (Phil. 3:13, 14). And here let us not forget such valiant women as Ruth (Ruth 1:16–18), Deborah (Judg. 4:9), Esther (Esther 4:16), and Lydia (Acts 16:15, 40)."

James Montgomery Boice writes, (The King and His Kingdom (Matthew 1–17), p. 192)

"The disciples of Jesus must not be like the indecisive persons of Matthew 8:18–22."

That was where one asked to be allowed to first go and bury his father. Another said that he would follow Jesus wherever He went, but Jesus told him that the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. Boice says we must not be indecisive, but,

"Instead they must be bold, resolute, forceful, and determined."

How have your reacted to the coming of the Kingdom of heaven? Have you forced yourself in? Have you taken hold of Jesus such that you will never let Him go? Are you willing to take up your cross and follow Him?

John Calvin writes, (Calvin's Commentaries)

"learn from these words, what is the true nature and operation of faith. It leads men not only to give, cold and indifferent assent when God speaks, but to cherish warm affection towards Him, and to rush forward as it were with a violent struggle."

Have you taken hold of Jesus like that? Herod heard John the Baptist gladly. He perished. Judas heard Jesus. He perished. Ananias and Sapphira heard the apostles, they perished.

In the gospel you are presented with a radical call. The only adequate response is a extreme one, a violent one, one that commits to Jesus 100%. One that loves Him above all others and won't let Him go.