Luke 7:28-30 (NIV) I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
(All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
John the Baptist was, even by Jesus’ estimation, a profoundly great man, even greater than Elijah in whose spirit and power he came (Luke 1:17, Malachi 4:5-6). But John’s greatness was not Jesus’ point here. His point was that, regardless of how great John was, the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
Jesus embodied the kingdom and demonstrated its reality everywhere He went. But the kingdom did not become a reality for the rest of the world until the Holy Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). John was filled with the Holy Spirit from even before birth (Luke 1:15) so that he could powerfully preach the words of God to the people and turn their hearts back to God before the kingdom did arrive.
But the power and riches of the kingdom of God, the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the ability to do even greater things than Jesus did (John 14:12-14) were not available to John, because Jesus had not yet died, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. These had to wait until the appropriate time, and John would be executed by Herod before that time came.
Therefore, as Jesus pointed out, even the least in the kingdom of God has access to far more power, authority, wisdom, and grace than anyone before the kingdom became a reality, even John. The deep tragedy is that so few people who actually live in God’s kingdom today really grasp or believe this, and even fewer exercise it to move the kingdom forward and transform their homes, their communities, and their nations.
The response of the people to this announcement was predictable, even though few at the time understood its full implications. Those who had been baptized by John and who had thus bought into his message, predominantly common people including “sinners” and tax collectors, received it as truth. But those who rejected John’s message, refused his baptism, and hardened their hearts against Jesus, predominantly the religious leaders and the Pharisees, rejected this message as well, and thus turned away from the reality of the kingdom.
Father, this promise of the blessings of Your kingdom is staggering in its implications. It so powerfully reassures us of the reality of Your kingdom, and of Your power and grace that is freely available to those of us who live in it, just as Jesus promised. Help me to walk in that power, in that grace, in Your kingdom today. Amen.