Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. Matt. 11:11-13
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. Luke 16:16
From these verses it is clear that John the Baptist marked the end of something old and Jesus the beginning of something new. John’s entire purpose was to prepare the way of the Lord and announce that he had indeed arrived. Not only did he announce the coming of the Lord, but he announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand (Matt. 3:2). When John saw Jesus (the one whom the Spirit would descend upon like a dove and remain), he cried, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John representing the Old Testament, passed the baton to Jesus who represents and is the New Testament! Concerning the Kingdom of God, Jesus announced, “But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, THEN the kingdom of God is come unto you” (Matt. 12:28). Later he said that the kingdom did not come by observation but “the kingdom of God was within” (Luke 17:21).
There were other distinguishing factors to be learned from John’s message and Jesus’. Although there was no greater than John born among women, he that was least “in the kingdom of heaven” was greater than John. We have to conclude that although John announced the kingdom’s arrival, he was not in it. (This is the same conclusion we arrived at when John explained that he was the “friend of the bridegroom” ant not the bride (John 3:29). This does not mean that John and the Old Testament saints won’t make it in. No, John marks the end of the old dispensation and Jesus marks the beginning of the new dispensation, or this marks a new way that God is dealing with mankind through his Son, Jesus Christ.)
Also from Jesus’ ethical teachings, we see that in order for one to ENTER the kingdom of heaven, their righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). That was a pretty tall order! From this we have two major keys: first the kingdom of God must be entered, and second the criteria for entering had to do with a superior righteousness.
Jesus gives yet another clue for entering the kingdom of God. When the disciples sent away those that sought for Jesus to bless their little ones, he was much displeased. He told them concerning these little ones, that “such was the kingdom of God” and that “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:14-15). So we see that there is something that comes so natural for little children that we older ones must dust off and put back into practice. You don’t have to go far in Scripture to find the two most sought after qualities demonstrated by kids: the first one, mentioned here, deals with childlike faith required to receive the kingdom, and the second is their ability to take an insult or offense and bounce back in no time as if it had never happened (1 Cor. 14:20).
So now we have righteousness, faith, and love as qualities needed to enter the kingdom of God. Here is a good example of how Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom comes back full circle to Paul’s more familiar teaching’s on the new birth and the Church. As one commentator explained, the term “kingdom of God” was Jewish expression, and one that was unfamiliar and possibly misleading to the Gentile. Matthew, Mark, and Luke used the term quite extensively. Paul and John, however, used other terms to express the same concept. In studying the New Testament, it is very helpful to keep in mind who the Gospel or letter was addressed to.
The quality of righteousness will help bridge the gap for those of us who spend the majority of our time in the epistle. First, one must remember that righteousness is a gift from God (Rms. 5:17). It can only be received and never earned by our own merits. Secondly, the righteousness of God is “revealed from faith to faith” (Rms. 1:17). In other words, this righteousness of God is receive only by faith, and it in turn provides the basis for you to relate to God and produce more faith. Righteousness means to be in right relationship with God. Faith is all about our relationship, not about acquiring stuff! Receiving things from God is just a by-product.
That leaves us with the God-quality of love. How does that tie in with righteousness? John distinguishes between the children of God and the devil, “He that commits sin is of the devil,” and “Whoever is born of God doth not commit sin” (1 John 3:8-9). John peels this onion even further. First he says, “Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” Then he adds, “Neither he that loveth not his brother.” These two, righteousness and loving your brother, have been made equal by association.
This again checks with what Jesus taught when he explained what the greatest commandment was. The first and greatest commandment is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matt. 22:37). The second greatest commandment is: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). On these two, Jesus said, “hang all the law and the prophets.” Love is the fulfillment of the law (Rms. 13:8). Jesus met the righteous requirement of the Law by demonstrating greater love (John 15:13, Rms. 8:3-4 ESV). Now we are required by the new commandment to “believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another” (1 John3:23).
Next we will look at what all the violence is about.