When the messengers of John had departed, he began to speak 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 are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’
For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (Luke 7:24–30)
Jesus praised John the Baptist, but not while any of his disciples could hear him. Jesus waited until they had departed before he began teaching the crowd about how much John the Baptist meant to the world and how there was no prophet greater than John the Baptist.
But yet, having said all those wonderful things about the man, Jesus told those left listening to him that the “least” in God’s kingdom was “greater” than John the Baptist. How so? What did Jesus mean by that?
Jesus did not mean that John the Baptist was not a part of the kingdom of God. John had been preaching the same message about the coming kingdom, after all. Nor was Jesus denigrating the prophet after just having praised him. Jesus was not putting John down at all. Rather, Jesus meant that being a great prophet, even was as great as John, was nothing compared to being a member of God’s kingdom. Jesus wanted those listening to realize that the kingdom of God was greater than anything they could comprehend. John was the pinnacle of human achievement in this world, and yet the lowliest member of God’s kingdom is better, greater, more marvelous than him.
Jesus’ words suggest that we really don’t comprehend just how marvelous being a part of God’s kingdom is, or what it will be like for us in eternity.