"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent take it by force." - Matthew 11:12 (NKJV)
This is a quote from Jesus as he is describing the ministry of John the Baptist to the multitude in which he turns his description into a teaching on the kingdom of heaven. This is one verse that I have often struggled with understanding. I've heard preachers claim that it is saying that one has to be 'violent' to enter the kingdom of heaven which seemed to put an extra requirement on salvation, but on the other hand, when read in this translation, it seems to be saying that someone was attacking and attempting to take over the kingdom of heaven. Finally I began studying it for myself and found that neither explanation is quite accurate.
The term 'suffers violence' is translated from a single Greek word: biazo. According to strong's dictionary, this word means "I use force, force my way, come forward violently". (To be fair there is also a passive definition which means "to be forcibly treated, suffer violence" according to strong's) Helps Word studies further translates it as "to use power to forcibly seize, laying hold of something with positive aggressiveness." This word is only used one other time in the new testament in Luke 16:16:
"The law and prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone one is pressing [biazo] into it."
With these definitions we can start to see a picture of what Jesus was saying about the Kingdom of Heaven. John the Baptist came onto the scene preaching "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). He called the multitudes to repentance and baptism in order to prepare them for the kingdom that Jesus was establishing. Jesus here is stating that this call to repentance was the beginning of a forceful advancement of the kingdom. It began with John, continued with Jesus, and is advancing forward to this day through each of us who have a true understanding of the Kingdom.
Jesus then follows up this statement by saying "...the violent take it by force". The word for "the violent" is the word biastes which literally means "a violent man" or "one who is eagerly in pursuit". I believe that this is an admonition for us to 'eagerly pursue' the Kingdom. I believe we need to have the intensity shown in this verse in order to truly find the full manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven. We need to fervently pray, diligently study, and continually seek out opportunities to minister to those around us and as we do this forcibly we will advance with the kingdom and see the kingdom come "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).