John the Great

Saturday, Apr. 1                             

Jesus makes a very enigmatic statement about John the Baptist in Mt. 11:11—actually two connected statements.  “I tell you the truth.  Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than he; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  There are a few problems of interpretation here.  Probably the first thing that catches one’s attention is singling out John for this amazing accolade.  Jesus doesn’t say that John was the greatest, but that “no one was greater.”  In other words, he was at least equal to any man “born of woman.”  This would include Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Elijah, Samuel, David, Isaiah, and a spate of others.  There are two problems here.  In what way was John at least equal in greatness to others before him?  Position?  Ministry?  Faithfulness?  Or something else?  Secondly, why is Jesus making this statement?  He must have had a purpose.  We might get a clue from the second statement, which speaks of the kingdom of God.  Both John and Jesus preached a message of repentance, which was to prepare the Jews for the coming kingdom.  It seems clear that the kingdom is the establishment of the Church.  Repentance—changing direction—was necessary because the Jews could not live righteous lives under the Law.  Their view that they were “in” by being a descendant of Abraham had to be abandoned.  The truth was that they were just as lost as the Gentiles, which Paul makes clear in Romans.  This ministry of Jesus prior to his redemptive death on the cross was extremely important—and John the Baptist is a key figure in it.  I don’t want to be dogmatic, but John’s role could well be more important than that of any of the Old Testament luminaries.  Not only did he preach repentance, he was a key witness to the validity of Christ’s claim that he was the Messiah.  He pointed this out to his own disciples, with the full knowledge that they would become Jesus’ disciples. This still doesn’t explain why Jesus made the statement.  It could be that it would be remembered later after the birth of the Church, where the disciples would have a fuller understanding of the entire redemptive process.

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