Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
Matthew wrote, “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me’” (Matthew 18:1–5 also Mark 9:35–37; Luke 9:46–48).
Before the disciples asked Jesus the above question, they had a serious clash of personalities and a spirit of rivalry among them. This took place during their journey through Galilee (Mark 9:30), and apparently reached its peak when they entered Capernaum where their mistaken hope of Christ establishing a worldly kingdom was revived (Matthew 16:21; Luke 4:19). So, they anticipated that Christ would now appoint His high officials (Matthew 14:22).
Be like children
The spirit of rivalry held by the disciples had made them selfish. Christ stressed that those who are truly “great” in the kingdom of heaven—are the ones that are great in character and are innocent like children. His true children are those who believe on Him and walk in His steps (Matthew 18:6). Christ taught the value of humility (Matthew 23:8–12; Luke 14:11; 18:14). In contrast, those who are infants in the kingdom of heaven are the immature Christians who are not fully sanctified by the Word (1 Corinthians 3:1, 2; Ephesians 4:15; Hebrews 5:13; 2 Peter 3:18).
Unfortunately, the disciples failed to learn the lesson Christ had sought to teach them. For about six months later, James and John, through their mother, asked Jesus for pre-eminence in His kingdom (Matthew 20:20). And following the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and Jesus’ declaration of Lordship over the Temple, the argument of pre-eminence in the kingdom again surfaced, on the same night of Jesus’ betrayal (Luke 22:24). The disciples imagined themselves as the highest officials of His kingdom. Position in the kingdom occupied their minds, even to forgetting of what Jesus said of His sufferings and death. Their biased opinions blinded their minds to the truth.
Born of the Spirit
Although the disciple’s ignorance of the nature of the kingdom of God’s divine grace was the reason for their strife, there was another even more deeper cause. The disciples were not truly “converted.” Unless they followed their Master in the same way which He had entered when He came to this world (Philippians 2:6–8), their wishes would become selfish and sinful (John 8:44). For this reason, Jesus tried to help them understand the principle behind genuine greatness (Mark 9:35). Unless they learned this principle, they would not be able to enter the kingdom and enjoy its blessings.
Jesus wanted the disciples to see their need to be born of the Spirit. Anything less than a complete transformation of the life by the power of the Holy Spirit was insufficient to enable them to be part of the kingdom of heaven. They needed to be “born of water and of the Spirit” that is, born “from above” (John 3:3).
Thus, he who is the greatest in God’s kingdom is the one born from above, he has God as his Father and resemble Him in character (1 John 3:1–3; John 8:39, 44). He seeks, by the grace of Christ, to live above sin (Romans 6:12–16) and do not yield his wills to evil (1 John 3:9; 5:18).
In His service,