Why did Jesus say that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist”?

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“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” (Matthew 11:11).

In character, faithfulness, and devotion, there was no prophet that had excelled John the Baptist. He also had the greatest honor of all prophets in being the herald of the coming of the Messiah. The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament all looked forward to the day when Christ would come and were glad even to see it by faith (John 8:56). In that sense, John the Baptist was regarded as greater than all.

Jesus commended John saying, “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” (Matthew 11:7-10).

But Matthew 11:11 turns gears when it says, “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This does not mean that someone could be greater than John in faithfulness or devotion but rather in the privilege of being associated with Christ Himself in person while He was here on earth. John the Baptist was imprisoned shortly after Jesus entered His ministry and was therefore not able to associate with Jesus. He was later beheaded by King Herod.

John the Baptist was the greatest prophet in faithfulness and mission (Matthew 3:3; Malachi 3:1, 4:5, 6; Isaiah 40:3-5) but he was not able to have the privilege of Christ’s company although they lived in the same area at the same time. His life was one of self-denial and sacrifice, no pleasure in food, family, friends or the comforts of daily living that most take for granted. Few others have ever lived as he, and in that sense also, most would be considered greater than he.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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