John the Baptist had sent his disciples to Jesus with a simple question: “Are you the Messiah?”
Rather than giving a direct response, “Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”” – simply put, Jesus confirms that the prophecy given in Isaiah 61:1-2 regarding the work and ministry of the Messiah was being fulfilled in Him. John the Baptist and his disciples (as well as the Jewish leaders) thought that Jesus – if He were the Messiah – was about to (attempt to) overthrow the oppression of Rome. Jesus’ answer is emphatic, the deliverance that will be wrought at His hand will be infinitely greater than merely the overthrow of the Roman Empire! Jesus has come to destroy the works of the Devil! (1 John 3:8), and the miracles of healing and deliverance were testimony to that.
As John’s disciples head back to give him this answer, Jesus takes the opportunity to question the crowd regarding John. ‘What were you expecting?’ Jesus askes them. ‘A flaky religious nut, blown around by every new idea?’ – that is how many even today view God’s servants! ‘Maybe John was an aloof religious idealist?’ Jesus continues. That is also how the world often sees believers. ‘It’s ok for you… everything is fine in your world… but why does your God allow _____ (fill in the blank). Jesus explains that John did not think himself above others, he hadn’t put himself on a pedestal so he could look down on and judge others.
‘Did you expect a prophet?’ Jesus finally askes? ‘For that is was John was… but he was more than just a prophet’. Jesus then makes an incredible statement: “For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
How can John be greater than Moses, Elijah, Daniel?
As one commentator put’s it: “Since John’s proclamation had been made, Jesus had come; eternity had invaded time; heaven had invaded earth; God had arrived in Jesus; life could never be the same again.” All the prophets before John looked forward to, and prophesied of, the Messiah (either His first coming, or spanning the years to His second Coming), but John, unlike any prophet before him, actually had the honour and privilege of announcing the Messiah! In that way he was greater that all who had gone before him, for the Messiah, prophesied from Genesis through to Malachi, was now here!
But why then is John less than the least in the kingdom of God?
John represents the closing of the Old Testament, the conclusion of the old covenant. John came ‘under the Law’; part of the Mosaic system the depended on the shedding of the blood of bulls and goats to atone for sin. But as the writer to the Hebrews states: “[Jesus] is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.“ (Heb 8:6-12)
The writer to the Hebrews goes on to say: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance“. (Heb 9:11-15)
There are many benefits we begin to see under the new covenant, not least being that in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was given only for a specific work or task for an individual. For all those who believe in Jesus, under the New covenant, the Holy Spirit is given unconditionally and makes His home in the believer (John 14:16-17 / 1 Cor 3:16 / 1 Cor 6:19), not for a specific task and for a limited duration, but forever! No longer do we have to follow a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, the Holy Spirit indwells each and every believer and leads us, and prompts us to walk with Him (see Gal 5:16-17).
This is why even the least in the kingdom of God is in a greater position than John the Baptist was! We are living in an age of Grace like no other! Thank you Jesus!
Luke chapter 7 then concludes with an account that truly emphasises the incredible love that God has for us in Jesus! We have been forgiven so great a debt of sin (that we could never have paid), and so our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude and worship! Like the woman in the account in Luke 7:37-50, we must be prepared to recognise our own spiritual poverty, and be willing to humble ourselves and fall at Jesus feet, but in so doing He will lift us up and declare “Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace”!
Simon and his colleagues look on amazed that a man can pronounce forgiveness of sins… for only God can forgive sins. But this man was God! This was the Messiah, come to dwell among men and He offers salvation to all who call upon His name!