Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Mt. 11:11.
This is a puzzling text in a way, and the questioner who submitted a question on it rightly sees that it has some difficulty. (By the way, all the questions that are answered in this leaflet are indeed sent in. We do not invent them.) The question reads: "Who is the 'least' in the kingdom of heaven, and how is John inferior to him?"
But the difficulty is cleared up when we remember the work which John the Baptist had to perform as the forerunner of Christ. In a certain sense of the word, John straddled the two dispensations, the old and the new, and had a foot in both.
The differences between the old and new dispensations are not, I fear, fully appreciated. From many points of view, the Old Dispensation was spiritually poor. It was not very spiritually rewarding to live in those days.
We cannot go into the details of those differences in this article, but two differences ought to be mentioned, although the two are related.
The OD was the time of types and shadows. The reality of God's promises to bring to His church salvation in Christ was still in the future. The types and shadows were only pictures of the great realities of salvation.
In the second place, while God's people were saved by the Holy Spirit through regeneration and faith then as now, the Holy Spirit could not and did not make every one of God's people prophets, priests, and kings, as in the ND. The people were dependent on others for their relationship to God. They had to go to the prophet to know God's will, to the priest to pray and bring sacrifice, and to the king to have God's law applied to their lives.
We may perhaps compare the OD to the primary grades in school in which grades the children are dependent on their teachers, are learning to read, and are in need of picture books to understand things. Picture books are nice, but they are not as nice as the reality.
I may show someone my pictures of Yorkminster, and my audience may be duly impressed with the size and majesty of the cathedral, but it isn't like seeing it for one's self. When one does see it, one will say: The pictures never really did it justice.
John stood between the two dispensations and was called to be the forerunner of Christ by preparing the way for the ND. He spoke of repentance as being the chief characteristic of those who belong to the ND, of baptism in the place of circumcision, of the washing away of sins, of the Lamb of God Who would take away the sins of the world -- all truths of the ND. He warned that the old system of worship in the temple with all the ceremonial laws was about to be taken away ("The axe is laid at the foot of the tree . . .") and warned those who practiced an outward religion to flee from the wrath that was to come. And finally he pointed out Christ Himself: "Behold, the Lamb of God . . . ."
Again, perhaps we may use a figure. The ND is the dispensation of the kingdom of heaven. The pictures of the kingdom which God gave the church in the OD were on the door of the kingdom, a door which was firmly shut. All the people could do was look at the pictures.
When John came, he opened the door a small crack. The result was that the people to whom he preached caught a glimpse of the reality through the slight opening of the door.
The people, upon catching a glimpse of the glory of the reality, took the kingdom by violence (vs. 12). They were so enthralled with the blessedness of the kingdom that they stormed the door and would not be turned away.
Christ opens the door. He enters the kingdom through His own blood because He took on Him the sins of His people. Entering the kingdom through His own blood, He takes His people along with Him into the kingdom.
John straddles the two dispensations. He belongs to the OD, and in it he is the greatest prophet of that OD, because he prepared the way for Christ, and because, although he did not belong to the ND, he had a foot in the door.
And so, while he is the greatest in the OD, he is less than the least of those in the ND. Those who are born and live in the ND are on the other side of the door. No longer do they have to limit themselves to pictures. They have the reality. No longer do they need prophets, and priests, and kings. They are themselves prophets and priests and kings, because of the Holy Spirit poured out on Pentecost. John never had these realities; the least in the kingdom of heaven do. They are greater than John for that reason.
We are of the ND who have the great realities of the kingdom. It is true that we will not have them fully and perfectly until we are in glory; but nevertheless we have them all in principle. We have the Spirit of our exalted Christ. We are prophets and priests and kings under Christ. We are citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Let us be thankful for that. Let us not take that blessed reality for granted. Let us praise God for His marvelous works.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 4
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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