SEIZING THE KINGDOM AS SONS
February 6, 2017
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of the heavens is the goal toward which men press, and those pressing forward are seizing it.”
– Matthew 11:12
The above words are taken from the Revised New World Translation version of the Bible. It clearly indicates that the days of seeking the Jewish hope of an earthly kingdom is now in the past. Jesus wants his disciples to ‘press forward’ and to ‘seize’ the heavenly kingdom! This is a message to all Christians, as they gradually come to understand that it has been the Father’s purpose ‘before the founding of the world’ that the followers of Jesus be adopted as sons of God and invited to reside forever in the heavens.
“Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in union with Christ, as he chose us to be in union with him before the founding of the world, that we should be holy and unblemished before him in love. For he foreordained us to be adopted as his own sons through Jesus Christ, according to his good pleasure and will.”
– Ephesians 1:3-5
As more Christians accept the heavenly hope, the disciples of the earthly kingdom will decrease, while the disciples of the heavenly kingdom will ‘keep on increasing.’ (John 3:30) We see this happening more rapidly as more and more Witnesses awaken to the true hope – the heavenly one. The conversion is inevitable and unstoppable!
But what did Jesus mean when he encouraged his disciples to ‘press forward and seize’ the Kingdom of the Heavens? Why pressing and seizing? We can gain some insight by looking at how his exhortation at Matthew 11:12 is expressed in other versions of the Bible. For example:
The King James Version -
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”
The New International Version -
“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.”
The Modern English Version -
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force.”
These versions are not encouraging us to engage in what we would commonly refer to as violent behavior in order to attain to the heavenly kingdom. There is another, not often used, definition.
According to the English Oxford Living Dictionary, the word ‘violent’ or ‘violence’ is also defined as the ‘strength of emotion’ as when used in phrases such as ‘the violence of my affections’ meaning ‘the intensity of my love.’ It expresses the forcefulness of inward emotion. Accordingly, in the verses above, the phrase ‘take it by force’ carries the idea of using force, inwardly applied, against one’s self. It is similar to when Paul said that he ‘pummels his body and leads it as a slave’ (1 Corinthians 9:27), or that we must ‘put the practices of the body to death by the spirit.’ (Romans 8:13)
Thus, by using the words ‘violence’ and ‘take it by force,’ the above Bible versions illustrate the internal fortitude and intensity we must have as we pursue the heavenly kingdom. Jesus is encouraging a strong emotional and passionate pursuit. Yes, he wants us to be aggressive with ourselves and to obtain it by personal force! We might re-phrase the verse like this:
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has pierced into the very soul of mankind, and those with a passion for the kingdom are decisively striving to attain it.”
Jesus is further indicating that entering the heavenly kingdom is not a passive exercise where one idly waits to be selected, but rather the individual recognizes the excelling value of heavenly life and personally decides to seize it for themselves!
Not as Men, But as Sons
There is another aspect of ‘seizing’ the heavenly kingdom. As we take into consideration Jesus’ teachings that we must love the Father with our whole being, love our neighbors as ourselves, and love one another as Jesus loved us (Matthew 22:27-39; John 13:34), we know that the ‘violence’ and ‘force’ we must use in our pursuit of the heavenly kingdom is always tempered by love. Hence, we seize the heavenly kingdom not with the kind of violence characteristic of men, but by the kind of loving, passionate consecration exhibited by the sons of God.
For example, seizing the heavenly kingdom as men would leave open the door to selfishness (thinking the kingdom only belongs to a select few) and self-promotion (seeking the accolades and loyalties of others) and false liberty (taking liberties that infringe on the rights of others to those same liberties). Those seizing the kingdom as men might feel justified with challenging the spiritual standing of another, or ‘lording it over’ their brothers, or setting themselves up as the gatekeepers to the kingdom and the guardians of the doctrine. None of those behaviors are characteristic of the true sons of God.
The true sons of God are open and welcoming as was Jesus, about whom it was said:
“[T]o all who did receive him, he gave authority to become God’s children, because they were exercising faith in his name.”
– John 1:11
The true sons of God are not afraid to share their inheritance, for they readily accept Paul’s statement:
“For all who are led by God’s spirit are indeed God’s sons.”
– Romans 8:14
And the true sons of God understand and accept the only divinely constituted authority:
“But you, do not you be called Rabbi, for one is your Teacher, and all of you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for one is your Father, the heavenly One. Neither be called leaders, for your Leader is one, the Christ.”
– Matthew 23:8-10
All those seizing the kingdom of heaven must do so as sons, always giving glory to the Father and to Christ Jesus, and maintaining an open, humble and welcoming spirit.
In the Congregation
As we consider the counsel to passionately seize the heavenly kingdom, we can see that it has special meaning in the congregation. In particular, we note that confessing the so-called ‘earthly hope’ is a relatively peaceful undertaking. The entire congregation supports that hope and it is that hope that they preach in their ministry. Practically every Witness accepts the ‘earthly hope’ with no opposition in the congregation. But not so with the heavenly hope!
Those who confess the heavenly hope have so many challenges to overcome in the congregation. These brothers and sisters who were once looked upon as stalwart, faithful Witnesses now come under intense scrutiny as if they suffered a spiritual and mental breakdown. Their once loyal friends do not realize that the Apostle Paul considered those who are not pursing the heavenly hope as the ones in need of a mental adjustment! (Philipians 3:14-15)
Among the challenges ‘anointed’ Christians must face are:
incorrect teachings in the literature
uninformed talks from the platform
opposition in the congregation
discouragement from fleshly minded friends and family
internal conflict based on imperfections of the flesh
and the common enemy, lack of courage
More and more of our ‘anointed’ brothers and sisters learn first hand the true meaning of Jesus’ words to his apostles on the night of his betrayal:
“Men will expel you from the synagogue. In fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he has offered a sacred service to God.”
– John 16:2
For these reasons, the sons of God among Jehovah’s Witnesses must seize the kingdom of the heavens by force! They must see the value of the heavenly kingdom as worth all indignities and surpassing all fleshly desire, knowing that ‘eye has not seen and ear has not heard’ the glories awaiting them in the heavens. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
At no other time is their passion for the heavenly kingdom more necessary than at the annual commemoration of the Memorial Supper. The sons of God must gird themselves with ‘the complete suit of armor from God’ (Ephesians 6:11) to protect themselves from the ignorance of the decreasing number of those who are still pursuing to earthly kingdom. The public declaration of their hope demands an aggressive faith and a passionate spirit. They must indeed take the kingdom of the heavens by force!
At the upcoming Memorial Supper, we pray that all those who are experiencing the ‘witness of the spirit’ have the courage to act so as to set the example for others who are also experiencing the ‘witness of the spirit,’ for the Kingdom of Heaven is the destiny of all who love truth and love God. And as these faithful sons of God seize the heavenly kingdom, may they do so, not with the animal power of men, but with the love and internal fortitude of the sons of God!