Chapter # 7 Paragraph # 4 Study # 5
October 12, 2008
26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
1901 ASV Translation:
26 But what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
27 This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, Who shall prepare thy way before thee.
28 I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there is none greater than John: yet he that is but little in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
29 And all the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
- I. John as the "More Than a Prophet" Prophet: Greatest of All Born of Woman.
- A. This is a remarkable statement on the face of it since Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, etc. were all "men born of a woman".
- B. Is there any "contextual limitation" to Jesus' broad declaration? There does not appear to be any, though the text behind the AV does add the word "prophet" to the category of those "born of a woman". That "addition" was likely an attempt by a copiest to iron out the "problem" of John being "greater than" Abraham, or someone of his stature.
- 1. He was inferior to every person in the Kingdom of God.
- a. Jesus deliberately put the two realms in the sharpest contrast possible. There is the physical realm of those "born of a woman" and there is the spiritual realm of those "in the Kingdom of God".
- 1) At the core of these realms is this issue: the purity of the inner reality. In the realm of physical generation, there is, until death, a moral pollution derived from Adam that is ever present and fundamentally inescapable. In the realm of the Kingdom of God there is, after death, an absolute moral purity that is uncompromised in any sense.
- 2) Thus, no matter how "godly" a person may become while in this flesh, he has not even touched the threshold of uncompromised godliness.
- a) John, being filled with the Spirit from the womb, was of a level of personal godliness that was unrivaled among men.
- b) But even filling from the womb does not eradicate the legacy of Adam -- as John's question of Jesus in this text reveals.
- b. At the heart of the matter: Why would Jesus deliberately insert such a contrastive statement into His instruction at this point?
- 1) Was Jesus' "greatness"/"least" category the "moral purity" issue? In what sense is any man "great" or "least"?
- a) The context regarding John as "more than" a prophet has to do with his task of "preparing the way before You." This seems to indicate that the "greatness" thesis is somewhat tied to man's view of greatness as a consequence of accomplishment. [God's view of greatness is not so much what the "great" is able to "do", but how he is "valued" by others. He that is "loved" is greater to the one loving than himself. Thus, he is "greater" though the reason for being "loved" may not (most likely does not) have anything to do with what he is able to do.] In man's view, the issue inevitably turns around the issue of "works" -- those things of which a person is capable -- and in this view the entire reality is affected by the sense of a competitiveness of accomplishment...a "look how superior I am" destructive premise.
- b) The contrast Jesus injected into the equation has to do with the vastly superior realities of that sphere known as the "Kingdom of God". Since the apostle Paul had a major theological thesis in his doctrine of transcendent "glory" that cannot be "compared" to this present state of affairs, it should not be surprising to us that the very "least" of anything in that transcendent state is "greater" than anything in this present one.
- c) But, the bottom line in the contrast has to be related to the task of both the forerunner and the Messiah: the preparation of people for participation in that latter transcendent state. This, ultimately, boils down to "morality". The immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God and the "justified" will.
- 2) Jesus' insertion of this issue into the "conversation" seems to be, then, a deliberate refocusing of what is "at stake". What the people "went out into the wilderness to see" was a messenger who could tell them how they might become qualified for the incomparable glory.
- 2. There is this question: when Jesus said, "...he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he", how did He mean "in the kingdom"?
- a. In some senses, those who believe in God are already members of His kingdom.
- b. But in the sense of Jesus' words, He was clearly contrasting "those born of a woman" and "those in the kingdom". This would indicate that He did not have a concept of both/and in mind, but an either/or concept. This, as in the discussion above, pushes the issue into that realm where there are either some "not born of a woman", or those in that realm that were "born of a woman" are no longer considered from that point of view. It is possible that Jesus did not have anyone in mind in His "least in the kingdom" statement, but simply the kingdom principle of inverted "greatness".
- 1) This forces us to consider the issue of "greatness". What is it? The bottom line seems to be thus: one is "great" when others give them status in their eyes. That brings up the question of why persons "give status" to others. In the case of fallen men, the granting of status typically centers on "what you can do for me", but in the case of God and His kingdom, the granting of status typically centers on "what I must do for you".
- a) Herein is a strange thing: men call it "greatness" if the "great" have the "power" to force their will upon the circumstances, but, in their hearts, they do not consider one "great" who forces his will upon them.
- b) Thus, the granting of status to another is a curious mixture of contradiction: one is "great" who can force the circumstances to go his way, but he is not "great" if he forces my circumstances to go his way.
- 2) There is also this reality to "greatness": it actually rests upon some form of voluntarism. Actual "greatness" cannot be coerced. One is not "great" who is not "beloved" and "love" is not something that can be forced. The distinction between God's view of what constitutes "greatness" and what men see as "greatness" must be kept in view.