“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.” — Matthew 11:12
In recent months the world has been shocked to hear about religious extremists in northern Iraq slaughtering Christians or people of other religions unless they convert. Tens of thousands have fled, some to the mountains.
It’s not the first time extreme violence has been used in the name of religion. In Jesus’ day the Romans and King Herod used force in the name of the state or of religion. An underground Jewish group known as the Zealots carried out attacks against political targets. John the Baptist was imprisoned in an attempt to suppress the small movement resulting from his prophetic words.
When Jesus made the unusual comment: “the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it,” he was saying that the way of the kingdom of God, the way that God actually reigns in the world with the coming of Jesus, is powerful, but not a matter of coercion, manipulation, or violence. God’s reign is all about goodness, liberty, reverence, and respect. God’s role as king in our lives is fatherly protection and provision.
Many groups using violence in the name of God have come and gone. There have been cults and crusades, tyrants and terrorists, who have coerced people for what they claimed was a divine purpose.
Followers of Jesus must understand violence as a way of forcing people into religious compliance as a violation of everything God stands for. And, at a simpler level, followers of Jesus must recognize any tendency in their own hearts to use manipulation or coercion for the cause of Christ. It never works. It always damages people. It corrupts the message of Jesus.