As is often the case I could blog a dozen or more points from the Gospels. Reading the Gospels is such an affirmation of Jesus’ Lordship! But rather than making a dozen different points, what I was most focused on in my reading was the pericope of Matthew 11:1-19. In this passage there are a number of challenging thoughts, statements and maybe what I’ve learned or how I understand things can be of benefit to the readers.
The very first challenging thought I have when reading this text is, “How can the forerunner of Jesus who baptized Him and heard the voice of God and saw the dove come down out of heaven, now doubt Jesus?” This question is based on John’s question in 11:3.
The question becomes understandable when we think of John’s own prophesying of the “judgment” of the Messiah (Matthew 3:7-12). To all that John hears there is very little judgment taking place, in fact he’s sitting a jail for standing up for morality and Jesus is out speaking of the “good news.” Also, we see here as we’ve seen in Job that just because someone was righteous did not necessarily mean they possessed the correct world view of the Messiah…again something we should note as Seventh-day Adventists and that should give us pause before we condemn those with “wrong” views outside or even inside our church…the worldview of the Jews was that the Messiah would come as a great warrior king like David, “Saul slays his thousands, David his ten thousands.” That the Messiah would through force free Israel from her oppressors. If this was John’s world view, which I think it would be safe to say it likely was, we can then better understand why he is sitting in jail wondering, what is going on. While his question is,
“Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” -Matthew 11:3
That could be code for…
“So are you going to get me out of here or do I need to try and figure out another way?”
John’s world view did not match Jesus’ actions and thus John had doubts.
That leads us to the second difficult statement in Matthew chapter 11. Jesus begins to defend John’s ministry and he references Exodus 23:20 & Malachi 3:1 to confirm that John was the chosen one by God to be the forerunner for the Messiah. Jesus then states matter-of-factly,
“Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! -Matthew 11:11a
How was John the Baptist the greatest? Well part of that is pretty obvious, he is greatest in that he was the one who would point to Christ more clearly than anyone else. He was greatest in that his mission was to set the stage for the immediate presence of Jesus…the last pre-messianic prophet.
But then comes the really hard statement,
“Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” -Matthew 11:11b
To understand this lets first forget about the way we use the term “least.” We think of this as valuable. There is the Most Valuable Player and then there is the Least Valuable Player…when a player says “it was a team effort it took all 12 of us to win this game”, do any of us believe that? Or when coaches say, “everyone on this team is of equal value. We are going to win or lose together as a team.” Do we believe that? No because we know what least is and put any 12th man on the Chicago Bulls and they still would have won 6 championships in the 90’s, take away Michael Jordan and they would have won zero! Why? Because there is the Most Valuable and they matter and the least valuable and they can be replaced. This is not what Jesus is saying at all. John actually could not be replaced he was the most valuable…so what does “least in the Kingdom of Heaven” mean?
John was a prophet he spoke looking forward but without a clear picture. He did not fully perceive or understand truly who Jesus was and what He would do on this earth. His mission was to speak about Jesus (the coming Messiah). I believe what makes the people “greater’ that are part of the messianic kingdom moving forward is that those who are after the life of Jesus, after the cross, after the resurrection these individuals can look back and give a more profound explanation of Jesus than John could. So the “least” concept is addressing directly his full understanding of all things Jesus. I would say this then affirms also the position that John would question Jesus, because he was living under the banner of the old motif, the old perspective of the Messiah, but all those that witnessed the life of Jesus, saw the cross, and had understanding of that perspective, including us even in 2016 could give better explanation to the mission of Jesus than John.
Matthew 11:12 is another puzzling statement for some,
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.”
This is Jesus simply summarizing what he is about to say in verses 18 & 19. That through the human race there are those used to wage spiritual war against the cause of Christ trying to discourage people from following Jesus. I could give you half-a-dozen names right now of just such individuals, but i will let you think of those on your own.
Then verse 14 has been troublesome to some,
“And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.”
This is not speaking in the literal sense of Elijah returning in the form of John the Baptist, how do we know this? Well on the basis of the rest of scripture, but even beyond that we have a text that clearly explains what is being said here,
“It is he (speaking of John the Baptist) who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah,” -Luke 1:17a
Maybe you’ve never had any curiosity about some of these texts or maybe this was review for you. But hopefully for a couple this was helpful in their journey with the Lord.
Keep reading the scriptures daily and may we all continue to grow individually and corporately in knowing and loving Jesus more!
Tomorrow’s Reading: Romans 11 & 12