Published by Greater Emmanuel International, December, 2000
SEIZING THE KINGDOM
BY: JOHN R. GAVAZZONI
Recently, Brother Gary Amirault invited those of us on his e-mail list to contribute any thoughts we might have as to the meaning of Jesus’ statement in Matt. 11:12, “And from the days of John the Baptist until the present time, the kingdom of heaven has endured violent assault, and violent men seize it by force…” (Amplified Version minus comments not actually expressed in the original text). I’ve chosen the Amplified Version feeling that it best sums up various translations when the commentators addition in brackets is excluded. When Gary sent out his invitation I was immediately stimulated to give the matter serious thought since I believe it contains an important element in understanding the unfolding of the kingdom of heaven on earth. First of all, allow me to explain in the context of how Gary presented the question, that I do understand that many of us have had times when, under great duress, under extremely threatening circumstances, or affliction, or some sort of intense testing, we have gone to the Lord in prayer and without our usual polite and religiously correct posturing have, as it were, demanded that He answer us and show Himself to be mighty in our circumstances. At such times we have discovered that our God is not offended by our importunity and in fact takes delight in our impassioned approach to Him. Not infrequently we have gotten an immediate response whereby the Lord acts to deliver us or the one for whom we have come or else He speaks such a powerful word of promise and comfort that we know that all is well and safely in His control. The Lord much prefers to really hear from us in those times “that test men’s soul’s” rather than see us groveling around His throne trying to put together a “scriptural prayer” so as not to offend Him and in fact part of the reason for some of the things we must endure is to break down our artificial religiosity in approaching our Father. Yet I do not think this is what the Lord was talking about in this statement about the relationship of violence to the kingdom. And here, while acknowledging that the ultimate factor in understanding scripture is the indwelling Spirit of Truth, nevertheless it is helpful to remember that whatever we find to be obscure in the Bible must be interpreted in the light of what is clear. We never interpret the clear from the obscure. With that in mind, we must bring to bear on the question of the meaning of this verse some very clear statements of scripture having to do with how God brings men into the communion/participation of His kingdom. Some of them are as follows:
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom.“ (Lk: 12:32 NAS) “But the saints of the Highest One will receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, for all ages to come.“ (Dan. 7:18 NAS) These precious promises contain an extremely important principle, that is, that we shall possess the kingdom because we have received it and that we have received it because it has been GIVEN to us, not paid as a reward, and it is given to us as sheep, not lions. If we read the Matthew passage again we see clearly that the issue there is not the exercise of kingdom authority by passionate disciples but that assault that the kingdom endures (permits, suffers) upon itself. Remember that the Lord Jesus is portrayed in the Book of Revelation as a Lamb upon the throne.
There is a Lamb-like quality to the kingdom of heaven. He (the embodiment, constitution and personification of the kingdom) suffers evil, violent and self-serving men to assault Him and His kingdom and in this way He wins them over as subjects. Please note that the context of this verse has to do with the imprisonment of John the Baptist who personifies the kingdom in annunciation as Jesus was the kingdom in manifestation and each of them was violently seized and assaulted. This is the scandal of the gospel to the worldly mind, that the greatest announcer of the kingdom and much more that the King Himself and His kingdom, the King of kings, and the kingdom which towers over all other kingdoms should willingly suffer the indignity of violent assault and do so meekly and without protest. Oh God, Oh God.
Is this to say that the kingdom of God will continue to suffer the indignity of assault upon itself indefinitely. Of course not. This is the kingdom that does now rule even as it, in sovereign self-restraint, refuses to call forth legions of angels to its defense. But this is unto a day, a day when it shall spread its canopy of love over all people, nations and tongues and draw them to the heart of the Father. This principle must become clear to all the saints who are learning to exercise kingdom authority, and that is that our Lord said that the drawing (literal Greek: dragging) of men to Himself would occur because He would be lifted up upon the cross of shame and suffering, What manner of King is this? It is a King whose kingdom rules in and from men’s hearts and whose hearts are won by the love that issued forth from the cross where He permitted and endured the violent assault that is the result of the hate-filled alienation toward Himself and His Father. But here is the glory and the wonder of it; in accepting their violence upon Him, He accepted them. When we are truly operating in kingdom authority there will always be that quality of Christ in us. As the apostles of old, we will rejoice that we are found worthy to suffer for His name.
As we are being prepared to rule and reign with Him, we are often reminded by scripture that we shall reign with Him if we suffer WITH Him (II Tim. 2:12), that is, in the Spirit of Christ, we suffer in the way that He suffered, willingly and obediently, permitting the attack knowing that it is the way to the throne. How quick we are to call upon the God of power and authority to come and deliver us from our hardships. We do not pause to consider that there is a season of whatever duration where Christ in us will, with majestic sovereignty, yield to the hardship awaiting in faith the precise moment of the Father’s choosing to deliver us. This is the kingdom in action. It’s action does not begin with deliverance, it is in force even before the deliverance. This dimension of our walk with God plays itself out not only in the very obvious high-profile times of testing but also in the everyday relationships with those around us and particularly those closest to us. We are often the object of the anger that issues forth from the hurt of those with whom we rub elbows everyday as they give vent to their frustration that God has left them with unfilled hearts. We are always dealing with one another out of a need to have our needs met and we either passively or aggressively take out our resentments toward God on one another.
Recently, as I became aware once again of this syndrome, I suddenly understood the marvelous opportunity in all of those instances of human interplay, to not refuse the violence directed at me but to patiently endure it with Christ and bear, with Him, the sin that is a result of alienation from His love. You know, dear saint, that you are called upon to bear the sins of others in union with Him and that this is the kingdom of God in action. In each of the moments that seem to be the antithesis of kingdom ruling we are actually being prepared to enter the next level of ruling with Him.
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence …” (NAS) From its annunciation to its manifestation, it is the nature of the kingdom and the nature of those who make up that kingdom to permit assault. The verse goes on to say, “…and violent men take it by force.” We, with violence in our hearts, take matters into our own hands because it seems obvious to us that things are out of control and we must act to save the situation. And though we do it in the guise of prayer and affirmations of kingdom authority we are actually seizing the kingdom by force for our purposes and to make God do our bidding. Those who would be co-deliverers with Christ will know both how to yield and how to attack. We must yield to the Father as it pleases Him to bruise us and when we are perfected by the things that we suffer we will be able to go to the attack mode in our perfected priesthood and exercise the kind of authority and power against which the gates of hell shall not prevail and to declare deliverance to the captives of sin and Hades. But I want to back up here a bit and emphasize again an aspect of violent assault that is very subtle. One of the excellent insights of modern psychology is the understanding concerning passive-aggressive hostility in human relationships. There are loved ones, friends and coworkers who are of a disposition which will not allow them to overtly attack us verbally or otherwise but who will take out their resentment for their own emptiness on us in passive ways, that is in ways whereby they refuse to acknowledge our need for love, warmth, acceptance and at least some degree of supportive affirmation by either emotionally withdrawing from us or consciously or unconsciously doing things that they know grate upon us painfully. AND LET US BE AWARE OF OUR OWN COMPLICITY IN THIS PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE GAME-PLAYING. Sometimes it is not even a matter of directing passive hostility toward us but simply that we must live in a relationship where the other party simply is unable to give us what we need and the effect of that is the same as violent attack upon our psyche. Right here in this low profile dimension of human interaction there exists a powerful opportunity to not react in kind but to willingly endure, not with a martyr complex that makes sure that everyone knows how much we are suffering but with that supernatural joy that can only be ours by the Spirit of Christ. (And if the reader is educated to the existence of codependency in human relationship let he or she realize that this emotionally dysfunctional mindset is the dark counterfeit of the grace of life that we are speaking of here). There are those in the kingdom who rarely ever preach, teach write or prophesy publicly but who excel in this grace of joyfully loving endurance who will surprise many by the exalted place that will be given them in the age to come.
Just this note in closing. The sister passage in Lk 16:16 tells us that “everyone is forcing his way into it.“ (the kingdom) God’s way into His kingdom is by rebirth and that by grace, but in the same sense that Jesus spoke of the thief and robber who enters the sheepfold, not through the door as the true shepherd does, but by climbing up some other way (interesting choice of words by the Lord, “climbing up,” self exertion and assertion for it’s own purposes of theft). So there is a sense in which, paradoxically, though one can only truly enter the kingdom by being born from above there are those who enter the kingdom in its present appearance by their own force and for their own thieving gain. I thank Jan Antonsson for reminding me, when I told her that I was writing this article, that historically, in the Church’s expression of the kingdom, we have the classic example of Emperor Constantine forcing his way into the kingdom, in spite of what some may claim, to seize it for His own purposes and to mix it with heathen religion so as to give himself a firmer base of rule by attempting to unite two forces; the spiritual power of the early church and the superstitious needs of pagan subjects of the Roman Empire. In so forcing himself into the kingdom, to the degree that he was successful, the organism ceased really to be the kingdom and became the spiritual hybrid that still exists today in Christianity. The high priest who asserted the necessity of crucifying Christ did so in order to save the Jewish nation and did so with prophecy on his lips. (Jn. 11:50-51) Judas forced his way into the kingdom for his own purposes by arranging for our Lord’s capture (doing the work of the kingdom at each step) and in all, the kingdom of God ruled and does rule today even as it permitted and permits such acts of perfidy.
May the Lord bless us with the fellowship of His sufferings being made conformable unto His death.
SEIZING THE KINGDOM [John R. Gavazzoni] November 2000 1