The Violent Take It

Did anyone else have a hard time leaving the Feast this year? Because I sure did.

Maybe it was the way the ocean greeted us every morning as we looked out from the balcony of our high-rise. Maybe it was ordering a steak for dinner without the nagging worry that I should save the money for more practical needs. Maybe it was spending eight days rejoicing with dear friends, or the meaty and inspiring messages we received on a daily basis, or the incredible sense of togetherness that comes when God places His name somewhere.

IMG_8483Or maybe it was what all these individual facets compose as a whole: the briefest of glimpses into the soon-coming Kingdom of God. Our annual sneak-peak of the Millennium and everything it pictures in God’s plan. This year, I felt as if I could almost reach out and touch it—as if that far-off promise was a tangible thing I could wrap my arms around and hold on to forever. Having to pack our suitcases and load up our car and leave all our temporary dwelling in the rearview mirror was almost torture…especially knowing what we would find at the end of our trip.

Satan’s world. The contrast between this present evil age and God’s Kingdom has been painfully stark this year. I’m seeing commercials pop up for this awful Ouija movie, Hollywood’s latest attempt to make the demonic realm a platform for entertainment. Bayonetta 2, a video game sequel about a witch who can summon demons and kill angels, was released today to critical acclaim. Some of the most popular songs on the radio right now are about demonic possession (“Demons” by Imagine Dragons), a school shooting (“Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People), and outright, shameless blasphemy (“Take Me to Church” by Hozier). Oh, and right around the corner lurks All Hallows’ Eve, mainstream Christianity’s horrifically failed attempt to sanitize yet another pagan ritual, this one involving parading door-to-door as ghouls, witches, spirits, and even the devil himself in a bid to fill up sacks of candy.

It’s everywhere. It’s hitting me from every angle and I can’t seem to shut it out. Almost as if Satan were trying to say with a snarl, “Welcome back. I missed you.”

So what now? We’ve had our annual glimpse of the Promised Land and now we’re back to being bombarded by the combined forces of Satan and his demons. What do we do? What can we do? Is it time to hunker down and wait patiently for God to bring the Kingdom to us? To keep our heads down and wait until the nasty conditions of this present life settle down a bit?

Unless we’re eager to follow in the footsteps of the servant who buried his master’s money, that’s not going to cut it. Jesus Christ prescribed a radically different approach to His disciples: “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12, emphasis added).

What’s that? The violent take the Kingdom by force? What about the peacemakers? What about those who suffer for doing good? What about those who turn the other cheek? Surely the violent have no place in God’s utopia—and yet, there’s no mistaking the wording. It’s the violent who take the Kingdom.

The key to the matter is what we need to be violent about. The Greek word translated “violent,” biastēs, implies a sense of forcefulness. “Violence” or biazō likewise means “to use force.” The meaning becomes a little clearer when we consider Christ’s words in Luke’s account, where we read that “the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it” (Luke 16:16). The word “pressing” here is also biazō—using force. People are violently pressing toward God’s Kingdom.

This isn’t the violence of a man with no self-control who flies into a rage at the drop of a hat, nor is it the violence of a heartless gunman who mows down innocent lives in a drive-by. Christ is speaking of the focused, concentrated effort of individuals who see a treasure of incalculable value and who refuse to be halted in their pursuit of it. These are the people who “take it by force”—the Greek work harpazō literally meaning “to seize on, claim for one’s self eagerly.” It’s the same word, interestingly, used to describe Satan’s desire to snatch God’s word from us (cf. Matthew 13:19). Our adversary is eager for any chance to rip away what God has given us; we must be even more eager to lay hold of it—to take it with force.

I should pause here to clarify: entering God’s Kingdom isn’t something we do on our own. It is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that makes that pathway possible through the forgiveness of our sins upon repentance. That being said, though, the pathway has been opened. What we do with it is up to us. We don’t get into the Kingdom by not caring, and being patient is not the same as doing nothing. Christ didn’t say “the apathetic take it by indifference;” He said “the violent take it by force.”

All the spies who came back from scouting out the Promised Land thought it looked fantastic. They all saw a land of rich abundance and plentiful harvests—but they also all saw the fierce inhabitants who called it home (Numbers 13:27-29). Only two of the spies were willing to trust God’s promises and seize the land—the other ten bemoaned, “we saw the giants…and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:33).

The Feast was our opportunity to spy out the land. I doubt there were any of us who caught a glimpse of God’s Kingdom and couldn’t heartily agree that it “truly flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27). But now we’re back on the battlefield, and we’re getting a better look at the swarms of enemies who stand between us and that Kingdom. Just like the ancient Israelites, we have some fearsome giants to face down. Giants of sinful attitudes. Giants of poor choices. Giants of addictions, giants of wrong desires, and giants of pride. These foes and more stand as captains in the army of our adversary, and these are the foes we must fight if we wish to enter the Kingdom of God. These are the foes we must face with violence.

We’re not without the tools we need to do the job. Paul reminds us, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

Do you value the glimpse of the Kingdom you saw this year? Then seize it. Lay hold of it. Put on the whole armor of God and bring into captivity everything that exalts itself above God. This is a fight. It has been since the day you were called, and it will be until the day your human body breathes its last.

The Kingdom of God is real. It is an absolute certainty, where “the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

If that sounds like something we want to be part of, we need to do more than just gawk at it. We need to fasten our armor securely. We need to take up the weapons of our warfare.

And we need to get violent.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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