Matthew 11:11-15. “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”
These words of Jesus make an amazing statement. No other man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist! Think now–we know about Adam, Noah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and dozens more, yet Jesus said no other man born of woman is greater than John.
Boy. That really is high praise, coming from the lips of the Son of God! I believe it meant that John had fulfilled the purpose God had set for him. He had faithfully gone about preparing the way for Jesus, and he had recognized Jesus even before either of them were born. Truly, a man of God. His life would end soon, but what greater epitaph could there be than the one Jesus stated?
Wait a minute, though. There’s more here, and it’s important. Jesus went on to say that even the very least person in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John! Doesn’t this seem like a contradiction?
The common application of this statement is that the Lord spoke here of the church age, and that the least in this present dispensation of grace is greater than John in the old dispensation of the Law, to which he fully belonged. He was executed before Jesus died and rose again, and before the establishing of the church. And it is true that New Testament believers hold a special position, or standing, as products of the saving grace of Jesus.
However, the primary meaning of this passage is a different one. The important question is, “What did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of the Heavens? Up to the 13th chapter of this book of Matthew, the Kingdom of the Heavens referred clearly to the earthly Kingdom to be established in the earth, as predicted by the Old Testament prophets.
In the 13th chapter, it is the Kingdom of the Heavens in the hands of man, in its development during the absence of the King. In this 11th chapter, the offer of the earthly kingdom is still on the table, so to speak. So it seems clear to be consistent with the whole scope of Matthew, that Jesus meant the Kingdom of the Heavens actually set up in the earth. The littlest one who is in that Kingdom, when it finally comes, will be greater than Joh, who merely announced the coming of the Kingdom. Jesus’ statement here foreshadows the Kingdom age, which will be a glorious time of peace and beauty on the earth, and the littlest one will be greater than John ever could be in the earth.
The rest of the passage also needs to be understood in the proper setting, and the words taken in their literal meaning. There are those who preach and teach that these words indicate the efforts of Satan to destroy Jesus’ work at Calvary, and that finally he will succeed in destroying Christianity. The devil, the flesh and the world stand in the sinner’s way of salvation, and after strenuous effort and violence Satan will be able to take it (the Kingdom) by force.
Such confusion exists because of the effort to make this passage something it isn’t! It isn’t about the literal millenial kingdom, and it isn’t about the church. Think for a moment: Who were those in Jesus day who took Him by force and violence, trying to destory Him? Jesus had said, “From the days of John until now.” This isn’t a far future prophesy, but something that will happen soon. John was violently rejected by the Pharisees. This foreshadowed the rejection of the King, of the preaching of the Kingdom, and the kingdom itself. The Kingdom was rejected by force and is now postponed until He comes again.
If the religious leaders had received John the Baptist, he would have been Elias (Jehovah is my God) in spirit and in power (Luke 1:17) but not in person (John 1:21). That Elias, or Elijah, is still to come, and will preach to the Jews during the great tribulation period.
The phrase ears to hear is Jesus, saying “Pay attention!” I’m telling you some very important truths here!”
This seems to be a more lengthy post than I usually offer. I felt it was important to pick this passage apart carefully. I’m so thankful for the great scholars who have gone before, learning the biblical languages and providing us with wonderful commentaries and study materials.