Matthew 11:1-19 Part 4

At the beginning of our reading and preaching of chapter eleven, when I first passed out the new translation, I mentioned to you that, more than likely, I would have to change a word or two, or some punctuation, as I got into the exegesis of the passage.  That’s happened more than once, and it’s quite normal due to the complexity of the text and our inability as men to understand all that our Lord said and did.

But little did I know that such a drastic change would have to be made!  I have mistranslated the worlds of Scripture, and we have read the incorrect worlds in worship!  And for that I have to ask your forgiveness.  By God’s grace I see the error and have made the changes in your text before I preached it that way!  If I had done that, we all would have mussed the true meaning of one of the Lord’s great statements, and we would have done violence to the eternal Word of God.

And, as you already know, that isn’t just a little thing!  That’s why I am always asking you to pray for me during the week.  There’s nothing better for you to do for yourselves than that, since life depends on hearing, and hearing is by the Word of God.  We are built and edified and matured by hearing the truth!  And if you pray for me that I might see and preach the truth, then you will have life and have it abundantly.

On the other hand, if you don’t give much thought and prayer to preaching and hearing, and I fall into error - errors of both omission and false teaching, then there falls over the Church a judgment of incompleteness.  Your See, false teaching injures our faith.  And since we live by faith, every incursion of false teaching perverts life!  The more it occurs, the more immaturity and deadness comes about!

God hates it when His ministers preach false doctrine!  And although there’s less culpability on the part of the congregation, the sin which is endemic to the minister is transient!  It seeps into the congregation!  And the judgment which ensues is swift and sure and unpleasant.

But anyway, I thank God that He didn’t let my rushing-to-early-conclusions concerning this verse twelve be magnified by my going ahead and preaching it falsely!  He was gracious enough to jerk me awake and give me a little insight where I was being stupid and negligent.

“Now, hopefully, I can lead you through the process that I went through.  And you can learn not to reach hasty conclusions about what the Word says.”  So, first, let me read verse twelve the way I had it translated before, and, then, I’ll read it with you again the way it ought to be.

Now from the days of John the Baptist henceforth, the Kingdom of the heavens is being pressed forward, and the strong are eagerly seizing it.  And as you now see it in the text, “and from the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of the Heavens is being assaulted, and the predators are violently snatching it!”

Now, while I was translating back at the beginning I was saying to myself, “What is this?  This doesn’t sound like the Kingdom of the Heavens as we’ve seen it so far!  Is Jesus describing some aspect of the Kingdom that we’ve not yet come across?  Where do I find support from the Old Testament for such language?  Why is the Lord using such strange and strong words?  Is attaining to the Kingdom such a turbulent and savage enterprise for His people?  Do we have to assault it and take it rapaciously?”

And with all that running through my mind, and with some preconceived notions about what the verse ought to say, I began to look for words in the history of the language which weren’t so ferocious!  So, rather than the Kingdom being assaulted, I used pressed forward.  And, for the ones who were to assault it, I used the strong.  And for violently snatching it, I used eagerly seizing it.

What I was doing was lessening the violence of the words in order to somehow match what the Lord might have been saying - which was that believers had to be very strong to lay hold on the Kingdom and enter in, and move it along.  And although I was a little nervous about that, I became satisfied enough to go ahead and print it that way.

And - oh I forgot about the first part of the verse.  Where Jesus says, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now…?”  I said, “Well, John is still alive!  He must be speaking about from the days of John the Baptist henceforth! - or from then on!  So that’s the way I wrote it - indicating that believers were to have to, somehow, be this way with the Kingdom from now on!

Well, I’ve been nervous about this verse ever since I translated it.  I was uncomfortable with the idea that I had to preach it that way.  And when I got to the exegesis - the word studies and the grammar and the context - I started to question it again.  And the commentators didn’t help at all!  One of them had come to almost the exact same conclusions that I had come to!  And the rest hadn’t done much with the verse.

But the word studies were so conclusive!  The words were violent words!  And I just had to go back and make a reassessment of the “less forceful” terms which I used.  So I decided to reinsert the fierce language and see where that led me.  And it was beyond question a fact - that the reference is obviously to a powerful hostile action!  Here was my lesson:  first, don’t try to reinterpret the language!  And secondly, don’t bring preconceived notions to the text!

Now, here are the possibilities for interpretation of it: 

First, we can say that the rule of God breaks in with power and force.  And it can’t be denied that the Anointed King is described as One Who goes forth with the Sword to conquer all the kingdoms of the earth!  But if you use that interpretation, then the Rule of God itself is the One that does the assaulting!  And the language and grammar doesn’t support that - it says that the Kingdom is assaulted violently - passive - rather than the other way around!

The second possible interpretation is that somehow the Kingdom compels people to be ferocious and assault it in order to get in!  But when considering the whole of Scripture concerning the Kingdom, there’s no place even close to describing the actions of the Kingdom in that way or the actions of Kingdom participants!

The third possible interpretation is that God is the One Who advances the Kingdom powerfully in its dominion.  And there’s no doubt in my mind that that occurs.  But that still leaves the second part of this verse with no explanation at all, because it says that the ferocious assault the Kingdom! 

Fourthly, and it would seem to be the only one left, the explanation is that believers somehow must savagely attack the Kingdom in order to get in!  That they must somehow take on the demeanor of a predator and rapaciously attack the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But, you see, nothing in the Bible supports that!  It’s just inconceivable that Jesus would have said that men after John the Baptist would have to ravage the Kingdom in a hostile manner, and snatch it away for themselves!  In fact, Jesus has said just the opposite!  He said it was the mikroteros - the least little ones - who would gain the Kingdom; that it was they who mourned, who were poor in spirit, and meek who would enter in!  That’s so very opposite the nature of a predator, isn’t it?  So that doesn’t work.

But - I said the fourth one would seem to be the only one left, didn’t I?  But it isn’t.  The fact is that it’s not inflamed believers attacking the Kingdom that Jesus speaks about at all!  I found myself fretting about this thing for hours, when I was looking in the wrong place!  (There’s the preconceived notion again!)  Jesus is speaking about the forces of unbelief - the rapacious wolves - assaulting the Kingdom to snatch it away from the seed!  “Now from the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of the Heavens is being assaulted, and the predators are violently snatching it!”  Violent enemies of the Kingdom keep trying to snatch it away!

And what set me free for all of this is the first statement in the verse:  “Now from the days of John the Baptist until now….”  We learned last Lord’s Day that John the Baptist represented the Law and the Prophets!  His days” doesn’t mean his personal lifetime or even his personal ministry - it means the days of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets which foreshadowed and prepared the way of the Lord!  John is the “representative” of the Old Testament Law and Prophets!  That’s what verse thirteen means when Jesus says, “for all of the prophets and the Law did prophesy until John.”

Even since the Law and the Prophets, the Kingdom is being assaulted by predators who want to violently snatch it away!

And, now I can freely go to the only other place in Matthew where Jesus uses this word “snatching away” and gather strength, understanding, and support from it!  It’s found in the thirteenth chapter, verse nineteen, in the parable of the sower and the seed.  Listen:  “When any one hears the Word of the Kingdom, and understands not, then comes the wicked and catches away that which was sown in his heart.”  The King James uses “catches away” which is the same word He uses here - it is a violent snatching which is implied, and it’s the Gospel of the Kingdom that’s snatched away!

And now, let me bring you all the way up to John the Baptist by reviewing for a few minutes the various assaults on the Kingdom by rapacious wolves who wanted to snatch it away from the Law and the Prophets to John - Old Testament support!

And let’s begin with Revelation twelve where we see the dragon falling and his tail sweeps away a third of the angels in heaven - in rebellion against God.  And it’s this dragon - Satan - who is seen standing before the woman to devour her Child, which is the representation of the Christ. (Revelation twelve, verse four)  The dragon is the animal - predator - and the Child is to be attacked!

And from the first book to the last this rapacious animal is attempting to stop the Child from being born, or to kill Him after He’s born, or to cut off His Word of the Kingdom when it is preached!  In other words the King and His Kingdom (from the standpoint of the predator) must be viciously attacked.  The seed must be snatched away to snatch away the Kingdom!

The attack on Abel was under the inspiration of the dragon, because Abel was the appointed one.  Then Seth came along as the substitute appointed one.  And the dragon’s line of attack was then to corrupt the line of Seth - in order to interrupt the seed.  So, in ten generations from Adam, virtually all of Seth’s descendants apostatized through intermarriage with heathen women, and the whole earth was corrupted except for one righteous man.  The dragon’s mad rage to attack and snatch away the seed was so ferocious that the entire world was destroyed because of its wickedness.  But the seed was preserved in a single man who was left.

The dragon then tried to murder the seed by attacking the family of Abraham.  His attempts to have Sarah raped by a heathen king were interrupted by God Himself.  And then the very same thing happened to Rebekah, the wife of Isaac.

In Egypt the dragon tried to destroy the seed by having all the male children killed.  Later the entire machinery of Saul’s kingdom went into effect just to try to kill David.  And then Queen Athaliah ordered all the royal seed destroyed from the house of Judah!

Then the dragon hatched a plan for the genocide of the nation of Jews.  All of them.  But God had placed Queen Esther at the right side of the King of Persia, and she was courageous enough to stop it.

And we see the people of Israel, mingled with the pagans, always tempted to join in the polytheism around them and offer their children up as sacrifices to demons.  That too was an attempt to snatch away the Kingdom!  And the killing of all the prophets that God sent to Israel was an attempt to snatch away the Word of the Kingdom!

And, of course, the dragon inspires King Herod to slaughter all the children of Bethlehem in order to insure that he killed the King Who was just recently born.

And having failed with that, the dragon tried again - this time tempting the Lord for forty days and nights in the desert to subvert His heirship to the Kingdom.  Then Jesus was teaching about Elijah in the synagogue at Nazareth when the synagogue leaders became inflamed and rose up to kill Him.  And He and His disciples were subjected to extreme human and demonic oppression throughout His ministry - even to the point of inspiring one of them, Peter, to betray Him three times!

These, by the way, are only a very few of the many that could be cited.  But finally, the dragon orchestrated the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And in that one act of wounding the heel of the seed, the dragon’s head was crushed.  Satan was tricked into fulfilling God’s eternal election - as Paul says - “the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory, the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it…” says Paul, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Now, in spite of everything the dragon does, the Seed is caught up to the throne and now rules the nations with a rod of iron.  Satan had no power at all to stop Him.

And, as we’ll see - the further along in Matthew we get - the dragon’s wrath is expended upon Israel, Jerusalem and the temple, in an attempt to stop the new Kingdom from spreading to the nations.  But the new Judean Christians - the lost sheep of the house of Israel who were found - are pictured in Revelation twelve as fleeing into the wildernesses (the Gentile nations) to be protected from the period of ascendant wickedness - the tribulation - a time of wrath and judgment.  And while the Church went into - expelled, spewed out - safety, that tribulation was expended upon apostate Israel!  Another trick on the dragon!  Isn’t it strange that the Church is still waiting to raptured into safety?

As some also see it, the flight of the new Christians into the wilderness wasn’t an abandonment by God of the Church.  Quite the contrary.  It was a gracious provision reminiscent of the forty year wanderings of Israel, and reminiscent of Elijah’s three and a half year sojourn in the desert while he was fed by ravens.  So the new Church was nourished there in the wilderness during the tribulation, and it was made strong in order that it might disciple the nations - baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  And Jesus said that He would be with them until the end of the age.

And now we see John the Baptist, the representative of all the Law and the Prophets; the special embodiment of the spirit and power of Elijah, who was the subject of ferocious attack in order to cut off the Word of the Kingdom; we see John the Baptist, who represents all the prophets who had their lives and their words snatched away by the dragon, in order to stop the progress of the Kingdom, John himself is about to be the recipient of the predator’s attack.  And Jesus says of him, verse fourteen, as if He were in the time of Malachi’s prophecy - “and whether you wish to receive it, it is Elias, the one about to come….”  And in that one statement is the foreboding prophecy of the things to come, based on all that we’ve just said.  “The one having ears to hear, let him hear.”  Hear if you can - the one about to come is here, and it signals the imminent arrival of the day of the Lord!

The last four verses in this passage concerning John the Baptist, verses sixteen through nineteen, Jesus puts a cap on the condemnation of that generation.  You remember back in Malachi chapter four it was prophesied that the new Elijah would come to turn the wisdom of the fathers of the nation to the children, and the hearts of the children back to the wisdom of the fathers.  And that’s exactly what Gabriel said to John’s father Zacharias.

But Jesus here says that this generation is like children playing games in the marketplace.  Some children cry out to the other group about this, and the other group razz the first group about that.

But here is Elijah prophesying the Day of the Lord; and here is Christ Jesus the Lord, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom and preparing to bring wrath and destruction to an apostate people!  And the Scribes and Pharisees are spending their great wisdom on issues like John refusing to eat bread and drink wine, and on the fact that Jesus eats bread and drinks wine and associates with the dregs of the earth!  Their minds and hearts are so closed by their own demon-possessed depravity - dragon-possessed depravity - that they are completely shut off from the hearts of the fathers - all of whom prophesied the coming of the Messiah and His forerunner Elijah.

The wisdom of those fathers of Israel is justified by the elect of God who were the found sheep of the house of Israel.  And the wisdom of the Pharisees was justified by their works as they continued their manic resistance to the Coming of the King (verse nineteen).

The generation was doomed - only the elect remnant of Israel were saved.  And they went out into the wilderness to be protected of God while the wrath of the Son was poured out in tribulation.

Just one last thing here, and I’ll be finished.  I remember I was just dumbstruck while reading the Friday morning paper dated May 17th.  We have a section on Fridays called “religious news.”  And in that section was a large piece on the new Presbyterian USA addition to the group of confessions they now have.  This is a short forty-two line creed which the leaders of the denomination describe as “a confession for the Church at this time and in this place.”

In addition to the usual liberal tripe that is in it, there is an obvious omission of any language about the Trinity.  The newspaper quoted one of the more moderate pastors criticizing this creed as saying that the new creed will sail right through the general assembly - even though it doesn’t have (and these are his words) even though it doesn’t have the doctrine in it of one God Who manifests Himself in three ways!!!

Now I want you to get the impact of this.  Here is one of the more moderate pastors of the Presbyterian Church USA while criticizing the liberal creed describing God who “manifests” himself in three ways - a doctrine which abrogates the PERSON of Christ, and he is objecting to his idolatrous doctrine being left out of an unbiblical and senseless creed!

I identify these things with the fact that apostate Israel would not repent even though they had warning from all the prophets - and John - and the Christ, and even killed the person of God’s Messiah.  It remained steadfast in its apostasy and cleaved to its false gods.  It rejected the Person of Christ and became purely idolatrous, creating a god of its own making!

The Presbyterian Church USA and other denominations have done exactly the same thing.  The Word of the Kingdom is being snatched by predators.  And, as Herbert Schlossberg says, “When a civilization turns idolatrous, its people are profoundly changed by that experience.  In a kind of reverse sanctification, the idolater is transformed into the likeness of the object of its worship.  As Jeremiah two says, ‘Israel went after worthlessness, and became worthless.’  Hosea nine says the same, ‘They became as detestable as that which they loved.’

Surely, if this creed of the Church is representative of what’s happening in all the other churches, Israel’s destruction ought to be a sign to us that we, too, can be turned into a wasteland.  The King won’t raze the temple as He did the first, but He will most certainly cut off the rotting portions in great wrath and fury.  The apostle Paul suggested that that was not out of the question.