In the Fulness of Time/Part 70
By: Dr. Thomas Figart
|By: Dr. Thomas O. Figart; ©2007|
|In the past three articles, Dr. Figart has been showing us Jesus commends John the Baptist’s ministry in Matthew 11:7-11. In verse 11 John is Strong in Convictions; in verse 8 John is Separated in Character; in verses 9-10 John is Special in Calling. Then in verse 12 Christ presents a fourth commendation, namely, that John is Superior in Caliber.|
He (John the Baptist) is Superior in Caliber. Matthew 11:11
To review briefly, Jesus commends John the Baptist’s ministry in Matthew 11:7-11. In verse 11 John is Strong in Convictions; in verse 8 John is Separated in Character; in verses 9-10 John is Special in Calling. Here in verse 12 Christ presents a fourth commendation, namely, that John is Superior in Caliber.
- Matthew 11:11 “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
This is a seeming paradox; John is at once the greatest and less than the least. Interpretations of this verse are varied; some say that even though John is the greatest prophet, as in Luke 7:28: “There is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist,” when the Church begins, the least Christian will be greater than he, or, because someone in the kingdom (the Church), “living after the crucial revelatory and eschatological events have occurred, he or she points to Jesus still more unambiguously than John the Baptist” (cf. Donald A. Carson, in Expositor’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 265), then that person is greater than John. Carson sounds rather ambiguous himself!
Others have translated “the least” (ho mikroteros) as “the younger” and refer it to Jesus; thus, though John is the greatest in the class, “born of women,” (as also expressed in Job 14:1 “man that is born of woman”), Jesus, who was six months younger than John was greater than he.
These interpretations seem less than acceptable for the following reasons:
First, the gospel of the “kingdom of heaven” at the time, was still being limited to Jewish audiences, and Jesus has instructed the Twelve to perform miracles and proclaim the kingdom of heaven as “at hand.”
Second, John is presented as the forerunner of the Messiah by Christ Himself (Matthew 11:10), thus the kingdom is looked upon as near at hand from this standpoint. But, it has not yet been instituted; it is still future!
Third, those in the kingdom, even the least one, will be greater than John is now. No mention is made of crucial revelatory or eschatological events rendering such a person able to point to Jesus still more unambiguously than John. The person is greater by virtue of his being in that kingdom! After all, even Old Testaments saints had an unambiguous revelation of Jesus. Christ said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:58). And what could be clearer than John’s own message, “Behold, the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world“? It is rather significant that McNeile, who is not by any means a dispensationalist, nevertheless makes this comment:
- The passage is often explained to mean that the least Christian is greater than the greatest Jew, because the former is in the kingdom and the latter is not. But the kingdom of heaven is future, and if the patriarchs were to share in it (viii. 11), why not one who was at least as great as they? The meaning probably is that anyone, however humble or obscure, who shall be admitted into the kingdom, will be greater than John is now. (Alan McNeile, The Gospel According to Matthew, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1980, p. 154).
Considering all the promised changes to be effected in the Messianic Kingdom, the regeneration of the earth itself (Matthew 19:28), the miraculous deliverances from sickness and disease (Matthew 11:2-3) and the universal peace and prosperity proclaimed by the prophets (see Amos 9:11-15; Isaiah 11, 35) is it any wonder that the least in the kingdom, when it does come “in the fulness of time” will be greater, and will be better off than John was as the prophet and forerunner of Messiah?