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
One night in April 2014, a group of armed militants broke into a girls’ secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, killing the guards and abducting hundreds of girls ages 16 to 18. The girls were taken away in trucks to a remote location where some of them were sold as slaves, some forced into marriage, and all of them indoctrinated, even brainwashed, into radical jihadist doctrine.
This is one of the diabolical methods of Boko Haram, the radical group that has declared jihad against Christians in Nigeria, who believe that the education of young girls is wrong, and who have killed thousands of people with bombs, guns, and machetes. Their motive is to impose radical Islam on the country. Their method is brute force.
It is 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 that violence in the name of God is 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 coercion for the cause of Christ. It never works. It always damages people. It corrupts the message of Jesus.
PONDER: Can you think of a time when someone tried to use coercion in the name of Jesus? What was the result?
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• PRISON OR EXILE •
Khoroush led an underground Bible college in Iran, was a pastor in one of the largest churches in Iran, trained leaders, and was involved in the underground church movement in Iran during the dark days of Ayatollah Khomeini. His own senior pastor was martyred while he was growing up in this church.
For years he was regularly brought in for interrogation by the secret police. He prayed for wisdom so that he would not make mistakes that would cause other believers harm or risk their imprisonment.
When asked if he was afraid and ever thought about leaving, he responded, “We need to change our thinking. When we decide to follow Jesus, we need to understand that this includes being a part of the fellowship of his sufferings. We should not run form this; we should embrace it.” He then said, “How could I leave at such a time as this when God is breaking through in ways that we never dreamed would happen? There are now churches in every city in Iran, and I meet new believers from Muslim backgrounds every week.”
Last year the police came and demanded the names and addresses of all the members of his church. He asked the congregation who would be willing to give their names to the government and thought maybe 50 to 100 would be willing. He was shocked when about 700 church members, mostly from Muslim background, came forward and gave their names and addresses.
In May of 2013, he was arrested and put into solitary confinement. All of his books, papers, notes, and computers were taken by the police. His wife was taken in for interrogation as well. He was later released after two months and then given the choice: either five more years in prison or leave the country. He has moved his family to Armenia for now.
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John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for Jesus. Yet John was thrown into prison where he began to fear that Jesus might not be the Savior after all. Jesus affirms that he is the Messiah, and in verse 12 he begins telling people about the violence opposing God’s kingdom. He warns the people against this violence and pleads with them to understand the truth about his kingdom.
Read Matthew 11:1-12. John the Baptist began to doubt Jesus. How does Jesus reassure John? Why do you think people wanted John to stop talking about Jesus? As we lead and share the news of Jesus with others, how should we act? Read Matthew 20:25-28.