11 “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. (Mt. 11:11-12)
Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest of all Prophets before Him. This means that John the Baptist was greater than Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and all the other great men and women of God in the Old Testament.
Why was John the greatest? Without question, he had a very successful ministry. In my previous job as a missions director with the responsibility to plan big evangelistic outreaches and crusades, I learned firsthand how important it is to conduct the events in a centrally located venue, to maximize the number of people in attendance. We also had to advertise through posters, banners, newspaper ads, TV- and radio commercials etc. However, such marketing strategies were not necessary for John the Baptist. Great crowds of people came out to the wilderness to listen to a man who was dressed in a cloth made by camel’s hairs and who ate grasshoppers and wild honey. The whole Jewish nation was greatly impacted by John’s message.
But in spite of his great success, John did not perform any signs or wonder like Moses, Elijah, or Elisha. While imprisoned by king Herod, John was even struck with unbelief, doubting whether Jesus was truly the Messiah (see Mt. 11:2-6). Based on John’s performance, it is therefore hard to understand why Jesus considered him to be the greatest. But the reason why John was the greatest was not because of his own success, or holiness. It was because of that he had a very special assignment: to prepare the way for Jesus and point to Him as the Messiah.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” (Jn. 1:29-31)
”Then Paul said, ’John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.’” (Acts. 19:4)
It was the uniqueness of John’s ministry – being the one to testify about Jesus – that made him greater than all other men and women of God in the Old Testament. But although John was the greatest Prophet up until Jesus, he cannot measure up with even the least significant of all New Covenant believers who live after the cross. “The least in the kingdom of heaven” is greater than John, Jesus said.
Why are all present day believers – including “the least” – greater than John the Baptist and all the others? Because they – contrary to us – were not born again, or “new creations in Christ”, as we are. They did not have a new and righteous nature like us; they were only declared righteous through their faith in Him who was to come. One can only become born-again by believing in the resurrection of Jesus (Rm. 10:9) and this was not possible to believe in until it had actually happened! Jesus was the “firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18), which means that the resurrection of Jesus was the starting-point of the era of the new creation. Not until after Jesus had been raised from the dead, could anyone become born-again.
We who are born-again believers thus have something that none of the Old Testament saints, including John the Baptist, had. This is a tremendous truth that I pray that you will get a revelation of! You are greater than Abraham, Moses, and Elijah because of the fact that Jesus lives in you!
We are often taught that we should “grab hold of the kingdom of God by force”. Although the intentions with such teachings are normally good, this is just simply wrong. From the days of John the Baptist to the cross, there was a period in time when people could get hold of the coming blessings of the kingdom by aggressively pursuing it (i.e. “taking it by force”). The Old Covenant was still in force until the cross, but Jesus gave a foretaste of what would become available to both Jews and Gentiles after the cross, by healing the sick and setting the captives free.
One example of a person who “took the kingdom by force” was the Canaanite lady who came to Jesus and asked Him to deliver her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus, who had to work in accordance with the covenant under which He then lived and operated – the Old Covenant – responded that it would not be right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs. Before the cross, only the Jewish people had access to God’s blessings, but this was soon to be changed through Jesus’s death and resurrection:
14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, (Eph. 2:13-15)
Since the law with its commandments and ordinances has been fulfilled and abolished, a new order has entered in which all people, independently of their ethnicity, have access to God through faith in Jesus.
When the Canaanite lady – before the cross – asked Jesus to deliver her daughter, she was asking for something she was not yet entitled to. She therefore had to grab hold of the kingdom of heaven by force by saying that “even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall down from their masters’ table”. She refused to take no for an answer until Jesus had granted her request. Jesus, who saw her faith, gave her a foretaste of what would soon become “her bread”, by healing the daughter.
However, born-again believers who live after the cross do not need to take the kingdom by force. As children of the kingdom we already have access to all heavenly treasures by faith.
” He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” (Col. 1:13)
Since we are conveyed into the kingdom of God, we do not need to be violent and take something by force that does not belong to us. Jesus “took the kingdom by force” on our behalf, through His very forceful and violent death on the cross! Those who preach that we should take the kingdom by force, normally have a good point, though: that we should be hungry and eager for the things of God. But the problem with saying so is that we imply that God is withholding His blessings, unless we be beg and plead with Him to let His blessings rain down upon us.
Instead we need to come to a place of rest, where we realize that God does not withhold the blessings. All blessings already belong to us because of the fact that we are in Christ (Eph. 1:3). We do not need to violently grab hold of what is already ours. I do not tell God: “Give me a new BMW”, if I already have a new BMW in the garage. The only thing I need to do is to get the key, open the garage, get seated in the car, and drive.
May our eyes be opened so that we see what we already have.