Session #081 Kingdom Greatness
Scripture Matthew 11:7-15
Summary Questioned openly, Jesus affirms the person and ministry of John the Baptist openly. In doing so, He establishes His own Messiahship. And yet, the main point in Matthew 11:7-15 is about the kingdom of God and how it will continue to be opposed. Against this, and in spite of this, everyone is invited to kingdom greatness, to say ‘yes’ to serving the King.
As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’ “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. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Matthew 11:7–15
Jesus affirms the person and ministry of John the Baptist as a messenger who remained faithful to Christ despite opposition. Will you stay faithful in sharing the good news of Jesus even when it becomes difficult?
John pointed to Jesus, any loss of credibility in the person and ministry of John means the loss of credibility in the person and ministry of Jesus. In affirming John, Jesus also affirms His own identity.
“What Did You Go Out to See?” (Matthew 11:7-9)
Jesus employs a rabbinic style that answers questions by asking questions to provoke answers.
John was a picture of strength and sturdiness as his ministry environment is in the wilderness. He is not a reed blown about by the wind (Ephesians 4:14). John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). John was not clothed in soft (malakos) garments, which is usually found in kings’ houses. Jesus answers the questions for the people, “Did you go out to see a prophet?” If so, that was exactly what you saw – a prophet.
Jesus affirms John’s appointment and assignment. And yet, John is more than just any prophet you are used to. John had a very special place and Jesus proceeds to explain that.
More Than A Prophet (Matthew 11:10-14)
Matthew presented John as more than a prophet by the chiastic structure (various parts of the passage mirror each other) of Matthew 11:10-14,
11:10;14 John the Baptist as Elijah
11:11;13 John the Baptist as the Culmination of Old Testament
11:12 Kingdom of God
John the Baptist as Elijah (Matthew 11:10;14)
Malachi is well-known to the Jews as the last of the Old Testament prophets. Malachi 3:1, it speaks of a messenger who will usher in the Day of the Lord and Malachi 4:5 names this messenger as “Elijah the prophet”. Every year at Passover, Jews prepare a cup and place for Elijah.
The tradition is that Elijah the prophet will be the one to announce the coming of the Messiah. There is a tradition that Messiah will come in the month in which Passover occurs – “Nissan” on the Jewish calendar. The cup is called “Elijah’s cup” to express our hope that our guest will be Elijah himself coming to inform us of the Messiah’s coming and the rebuilding of the holy temple in Jerusalem. This theme of future redemption rings throughout the Hagadah, and is stated explicitly at the beginning and the end in the words “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
Jesus attaches Malachi 3:1 to John the Baptist. John is that messenger – “For this is he of whom it is written”. John is not physically Elijah, but he comes “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
After the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples ask Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah must come first? Jesus answers them in Matthew 17:12 that Elijah has come already.
John points to Jesus. If John is not Elijah, then he is not the messenger of Malachi, then Jesus is not the Messiah. But because John is Elijah, then Jesus is the Messiah and God.
Accepting John is accepting Jesus (Matthew 10:40-41).
The King has arrived, and the kingdom has been ushered in. The new kingdom age is now here.
John the Baptist as the Culmination of Old Testament (Matthew 11:11;13)
Jews viewed the era of prophets as ending with Malachi. With 400 years of silence (no prophetic voice) and then suddenly, “a voice in the wilderness”. Jesus extends this era to include John the Baptist. Another way of saying it is “all the prophets and the law prophesied until John”.
John is only declaring what the prophets and the law had already been prophesying. He is the final one to declare the coming King and the kingdom. He closes the line of Old Testament prophets and opens a new era by handing it over to Jesus.
There has risen not one greater than John the Baptist is hyperbolic and superlative praise which is typical of Jewish culture. It is not meant to belittle others, but to greatly affirm the one described. The usage can be seen in these examples, 2 Kings 18:5, 23:25 and 1 Corinthians 15:9.
In other words, it does not mean that Moses, Samuel, Elijah or Isaiah were inferior to John the Baptist; but that John holds a special place and position that the others will never have.
John had no great miracles, but he had a great message. No one else would have the honour of being the forerunner, to introduce the Messiah. No one else had the privilege of closing the Old Testament and opening the New Testament. John paved and prepared the way of handing over everything to Jesus.
Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:12)
Biazomai is Greek meaning to suffer violence; biastai/biastes means the violent, or violent men and harpazousin (from harpazo) means to steal, to snatch, to take away, to take for oneself, to attack.
Jesus opens a new timeline, and describes the condition “from the days of John the Baptist until now”, the kingdom of God will come under attack. John is in prison and will be executed soon. There is increasing hostility that will be experienced by Jesus, leading to His crucifixion. Jesus in Matthew 10 warns His disciples of the same treatment and predicament.
Since then, the kingdom of God and the people of the kingdom have suffered violence. This is expected to happen until the return of the King.
What about Luke 16:16?
“The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing (biazo) into it. Luke 16:16
Pressing into it means “violently forcing into the kingdom”. Some have taught that we must violently possess the kingdom, or forcefully contend for the things of the kingdom. This verse cannot be taken to say that we must contend for the things of the kingdom. It is about entering the kingdom of God, not violently for the things of the kingdom. It also does not support being physically violent against those who are violent against the people of the kingdom.
No one can force his way into the kingdom. We are saved into the kingdom. We are born again into the kingdom (John 3:3, John 5 and Colossians 1:15). After that, we are expected to live righteously by His grace, empowered by the Spirit, that we may then finally enter the kingdom of God.
Along the way, be prepared for trials and tribulation, and violent ones who attack the people of the kingdom. We stand strong and ready, remembering that we do not wrestle or fight against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities. We fight the fight of faith, the battle belongs to the Lord.
John was considered great, and yet, John did not get to see or experience the fullness of the kingdom he declared. Jesus had not died, resurrected or ascended but we have this ‘greater’ revelation and experience. In that, those after John are considered “greater” than John.
New Testament believers are not ‘greater or better’ than John in terms of what we have done or how we have lived, or that we deserve a greater reward than John. New Testament believers are considered “greater” than John because we have a fuller message and a deeper revelation of the kingdom. John died in prison “having obtained a good testimony through faith” but “did not receive the promise” (Hebrews 11:39).
The “least” does not mean “the worse” or “the weakest”, it just means “everyone is included”.
The “least” of New Testament believers all have a “greater” invitation and even more opportunity than John ever did to participate in the advancement of the kingdom.
Just as John had a special place, we too are in a privileged position. We get to proclaim the coming of the Lord too. We live in a generation that may see the coming of the Lord. We get to move in the spirit and power of Elijah, of the forerunner. To prepare the way, to make ready a people for the Lord’s coming. To participate through kingdom assignments. Everyone is invited to Kingdom Greatness.
The question is, “Will you accept this glorious privilege and honour?” Before you say “yes”, consider the nature of the kingdom of God, and its violent repercussions. The kingdom continues to suffer violence, the consequences can be costly. This is what discipleship entails. Many will try to get in ‘forcefully’ through different means and making empty promises. There will be different gospels and attractive alternatives. Many will tell you that you do not have to do anything or that there will be no suffering at all. But is that what Jesus teaches about entering the kingdom?
As much as we honour the greatness of the saints who have gone before us, God invites “the least” to share in this greatness. It is not based on who we are, what we have or how talented we may be. It is all based on who Jesus is and what He has already done for us.
Kingdom Greatness Is For All Who Will Say ‘Yes’ To The King.