John the Baptist: The Greatest

By Fredric A. Carlson

Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:11
In what way John the Baptist greatest of those born of women? First, John Baptist held the highest honor of being chosen by God to be the prophet who was predicted by Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 to be His own forerunner who personally would prepare the spiritual road for His arrival, and then introduce Him to the world as the Lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:15-34). It was that introduction that accredited Jesus (John 1:32-34) before the crowds and leaders, some of whom believed on Jesus, and many of whom did not. Philip Schaff (in Lange's Commentary on Matthew) wrote about this role:
John represented the prophetic or evangelical element of the Old Testament religion by pointing to "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." He united the spirit of Moses with that of Isaiah, and stood nearest to Christ, who was the end of the law and the promise. Hence Jesus called him the greatest among those that are born of women, and yet, as still belonging to the preparatory dispensation of the OT, less than the least in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 11:11). The comparison is not one of personal merit, but of stand-point and position.
That might be enough. But there was more: Jesus recognized John the Baptist to be the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matthew 11:13) who preached with the power of Elijah (Luke 1:17; 3:7-18). What an honor it was to have Jesus include him with other great spokesmen for God like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Isaiah, etc. Jesus went on to point out that the highly self-disciplined John (Mark 1:4-6) conducted his ministry regardless of public misunderstanding, opposition, or malicious persecution (Matthew 11:16-18; Mark 6:14-19). Jesus loved that John lived what he preached. Mark noted that large crowds responded to John's preaching with repentance and baptism (Mark 1:5), which Jesus would have appreciated. And Jesus would have agreed fully with the Holy Spirit who inspired Luke to write of John:
He will be great in the sight of the Lord. He...will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:15-17
We cannot be certain if Jesus had other reasons for honoring John Baptist with this description when He did not state them. However, what we know about Jesus, about John, and about John's role in Jesus' life may give us some further hints. For example, we know that God had chosen John to be the prophet who broke the 400-year silence of heaven to introduce Jesus as Messiah. As such, he was the Holy Spirit-anointed bridge from the Old Testament's words from God to those of the New Testament. John stood as the herald who introduced to the world the Hero of all History. And he stood on that bridge fully facing and embracing the Christ who would inaugurate that New Covenant of which both the Old and New Testaments testify.

We know from Luke's account (Luke 1:5-25) that John was born by a miracle of God to fulfill this role. Elizabeth was both barren and long past child bearing years when God's angel announced her to be God's chosen mother for Jesus' forerunner. That alone made him special.

We know that Jesus selected John to be the one who baptized Him (Matthew 3:13-17).

We know that John was humble (John 1:19-27; 3:27-30), not letting his monumental honor go to his head. We know from Jesus' words (Matthew 5:3, 5; Luke 2:21) and from His conduct before and throughout His trials and crucifixion (John 13:1-17; etc.) that He prized humility.

We know from Matthew 3:3 and 13, Mark 6:20-27, and Luke 3:1-20 that even King Herod, who hated John, was forced to respect him as a consistently righteous man and to appreciate his powerful preaching, at least when it was not directed at him. We believe that Jesus agreed with Herod in this.

Whether or not we properly grasp what these references say, and what Jesus may have hinted, we may be sure that when He described John as "the greatest born of women," He certainly meant at least that only John was given the great honor to introduce to the world "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

Image Credit: Morgan Levy; "Jordan River"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Jesus-Christ

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Published 9-26-16