WHAT DID JESUS MEAN, IN MATTHEW 11:11, BY SAYING, "HE THAT IS LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS GREATER THAN HE"? (I.E., JOHN THE BAPTIST)
According to our Lord, John the Baptist was the greatest person to be born till that period of time. He was not just a prophet, but, "More than a prophet" (Matthew 11:9). All the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied about the coming of the Messiah. Jesus Himself testified to it:
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5:39)
And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27)
Comparing John the Baptist to the other prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus said:
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:13)
John was the last of the prophets before the coming of the Messiah, and was greater than the other prophets in the sense, he not only prophesied about the Messiah to come, but also introduced Him to the world!
John told the public about the soon coming Christ:
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. (Luke 3:16)
Just a little later the Messiah comes! And John does not prophesy anymore, but presents Him to the beholding multitude:
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. (John 1:29, 30)
Though John was the greatest of all who ever lived before the coming of Jesus, he did not get to see the works and life and death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. The common people saw it, and thus were more privileged than John the Baptist. Jesus plainly told His humble disciples and followers:
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (Matthew 13:16, 17)
Therefore, only that generation of people who saw God in human flesh was the most privileged of all before His coming and after His ascension. Even though most of them were simple fishermen of humble background they were the most special of all as they saw what all the prophets and righteous men desired to see, but did not. These were greater than John the Baptist, the greatest prophet, because they saw Jesus' mighty acts, firsthand, and heard Him speak the words of life, and associated with Him. That is the reason Jesus said:
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. (Matthew 11:11)
The "kingdom of heaven" referred to here is not the kingdom of glory that we will all finally share, but the kingdom of grace which Christ brought to us. Christ plainly tells us that the kingdom of Heaven He referred to was not something that was to come, but something that was around since the preaching of John.
And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. (Matthew 11:11)
The most crucial period in the history of the world was the three-and-a-half years of Christ's public Ministry-where He got baptized, overcame in the wilderness the three powerful temptations of the devil, preached, healed, died and rose, thus defeating the devil.
The kingdom of God that Christ set up was not a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one. The people in the B.C. period looked forward to it, and we in the A.D. period look backward to it.
A couple of verses will make it clear that those years-especially the closing scenes in His earthly ministry-were the central part of the "Kingdom of God". Jesus preached:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel. (Mark 1:15)
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:21)
("Within you" or "Among you" as the Bible margin has it.)
How privileged were those disciples to behold the Prince of life, face to face! By faith we, too, can behold Him, and we also have a blessing in store!
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (John 20:29)