I would venture to say that it is rather common for Christians to read their Bible with envy, of sorts, toward the grandiose ways in which God has worked and revealed himself on behalf of his servants of old, especially in the Old Testament. Adam and Eve actually walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden. Enoch walked with God and was not, for God took him. Noah received special revelation about the coming flood, built an arc, and ensured the survival of the human race. God spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in dreams and visions, promising them his special blessing by which they would bless all the families of the earth. God raised Joseph up to be the second in command of all Egypt, and through him the nations of the world survived a seven-year drought. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, worked miracles through him, and led a mass exodus of his people from slavery to freedom. His people walked on dry ground through the Red Sea. God triumphantly went before them into the land of Canaan and delivered all their enemies into their hands. He raised up a kingly dynasty beginning with David which would rule forever. Prophets spoke great and mighty oracles of God, warning of present sin and prophesying of glorious and terrible Day of the Lord. Daniel’s lions had their mouths closed by God. Three Hebrew boys escaped the fiery furnace unscathed. Even after exile, God miraculously brought his people back from Babylon and reestablished them in the Promised Land. The wild, mysterious John the Baptist came preaching and baptizing in power. What exciting times in which to have lived!
In light of the mind-numbing ways in which God has revealed himself to his people throughout the centuries, as Christians today it’s easy to compare our experience with theirs and feel like we’re coming up short. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus makes this astounding statement in Matthew 11:11: “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.” From Adam to John the Baptist, there had never been a greater man. Not Abraham. Not Moses. Not David. Not Isaiah. John the Baptist was the single greatest man to have ever lived to that point. The reason for this is found in what Jesus says in verse 13: “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” That is, everything that Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah spoke of and experienced was merely preparation. Their lives were pointing to what was coming. They were signs along the highway of history alerting mankind to the fast-approaching arrival of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Each of them died without seeing the coming of the great and glorious lamb which would take away the sins of the world. John the Baptist, however, not only got to see him, but to him was given the task of personally introducing that one to the world. Certainly he was the greatest man to have ever lived up to that point.
Nevertheless, astonishingly so, the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. You’re a citizen of God’s kingdom if Jesus is your King. You belong to God’s domain if God has personally revealed himself to you in Christ and you’ve bowed your knee beneath his rule. It’s the citizens of the kingdom that God has chosen to seal with his Spirit, dwelling within them. The very least significant person to fit this description is greater than John the Baptist.
John the Baptist died without seeing Christ crucified and resurrected. He introduced the Messiah to the world, but even John did not get to see the single greatest event to ever transpire in the history of the world: Jesus bearing the sins of the world and making atonement between a holy God and his sinful people. You and I have seen it. We have four incredible accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We have a history of the first-century church and of the initial spread of Christianity to the nations. We have letters which provide further commentary on Jesus’ gospel and on the spreading of the kingdom of God to all the world. We have prophecy detailing the end of this age and Jesus’ second coming. And in these sacred writings we are able to come to know the depths of God’s grand plan for all mankind like no one before could have ever dreamed. We live with the mysteries of God opened and made plain to us in ways that Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and even John the Baptist could have never imagined. Truly we are greater than John the Baptist. The possibility afforded us today to know God and his plan for his people through Christ, to walk and talk with him, and to be guided daily and personally by his Spirit is by all accounts superior to John the Baptist’s experience. God has not short-changed us as Christians today.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear. And let him rejoice. And let him know God in light of the full revelation of Christ like John the Baptist never could have known him.