“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12 RSV).
This is from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus addresses the question of the relationship between his ministry and that of John the Baptist. It was a question of vital importance to earlier followers of Jesus, since there were many people still loyal to John the Baptist, and the early church was intent on establishing the superiority of Jesus. “Among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist,” Jesus says at Matthew 11:11, “yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
I believe this recognizes that John’s message and ministry emerged out of the Jewish lineage that included all the great prophets. He has taken that religious energy as far as it is possible to go. But Jesus comes from a different awareness altogether. His message is not emergent from the Jewish past, but from an innate awareness of universal spiritual principles. The Jewish tradition is one of separation from God—and John, too, calls his followers to “repent” in order to be deserving of ultimate Oneness with the divine. Jesus, on the other hand, teaches that there is no separation—we are all One with the Allness of God; we do not have to earn the kingdom, we simply have to believe in it, and believe in our Oneness. So the religious mindset may take us far, but ultimately, what’s required is a surrender of our own efforts to the infinite Love that is God. We don’t have to take the kingdom by force; it is not being closed against us. We simply have to accept it, and express it in our lives.