ESV - 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.
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I believe that it refers to Israel's earlier rejection of God's rule by killing His prophets. "Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!" (Matthew 23:37) John the Baptist, the last of the Old Covenant prophets, had just been imprisoned. That was the latest of many persecutions "the violent" (mainly but not exclusively Israel) had been working against the purposes of God. God's kingdom on earth, Israel, was headed by murderers and thieves. The scribes, Pharisees and others governed the nation of Israel, and they gained materially, often illigetimately from poorer people. Israel had a historically rebelled against God. When Jesus spoke those words, His violent death by crucifixion was still future. The violent Jewish governing leaders continued to work violence. Ultimately, God would hold Israel accountable by the destruction of Jerusalem's Temple.
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