Greater Than John
Many years ago, back in 1972 when I became a Christian, I used to hitchhike to get around. Yes, I know it was a really stupid thing to do, but it took a while for me to figure that out. Anyway, after I got saved, right after I told the driver where I was going, I always enthusiastically asked them, "Are you a Christian?" I loved to witness (still do) and 98% of the time, people were interested in hearing what a teenager had to say about God and discussing my views with me.
One particular person I spoke to really stymied me, though. He was a real estate agent named Charles Schwab who was in his thirties or forties. He said that he would never be interested in becoming a Christian until someone answered a certain question for him, and he had never met a Christian who was able to answer it. The sphinx–like riddle that apparently held the key to his heart was, "What did Jesus mean when He said that he that was the least in the Kingdom of God was greater than John the Baptist?" Of course, like everybody else he had met, I did not have a clue, though it probably was not fair to expect me to know, seeing as I had gotten saved only a few weeks or months before then.
Years and years and years and years went by before I knew the answer. Maybe it took so long because a mental block was set up in my mind to suppose that it was difficult to figure out the answer. But 38 years later, the Lord revealed it to me, and the answer is simple.
I had been looking for it in the wrong place, because when I asked other Christians what it meant, they told me that it was because we now have the baptism of the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit, which the Church did not have until after Yeshua showed up. That answer did not completely satisfy me, I suspected it would not satisfy Mr. Schwab, and it would not satisfy non–charismatics who don't have the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
The answer doesn't have anything to do with the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Yeshua was talking about how John was the greatest of all the prophets that had ever lived. I thought that was because he was the one who had directly preceded Him, but really, that does not qualify one to be the greatest prophet. Abraham is called the father of faith, and if it was not for what he did in offering up Isaac to the Lord, Yeshua would not have been released to be born into a human body and die for Mankind. Yeshua said that of the prophets "born of women," John was the greatest.
What prophets are not born of women? Angels. Angels have been sent to Earth to make announcements about future events. Since angels are perfect, then by bringing them into the picture, Yeshua was making a point about character. He was saying that, of all the people who loved Him and were mightily empowered to do His work, John had the best character.
There is nothing in the record to contradict this. He was raised by a godly man and woman in a priestly home. He headed off into the wilderness to be alone with God and get his training directly from Him, instead of to the prestigious rabbinical schools that would have messed him up with their Babylonian taint and irrational traditions. We know that he had a pure heart because he got genuine revelation out there in the wilderness, instead of something like Kabbala.
He certainly was not in the ministry for money, as his food was insects and honey, and his clothes were made from camel skins. He was a Nazarite from his mother's womb, and he never rebelled against it, though he did not have the incentive that Samson had of great physical strength to maintain that lifestyle. All of John's focus was on hearing God and pleasing Him.
All John's righteousness, though, was not enough to get him into Heaven. If a person has even the tiniest smudge of sin on their soul, it is enough to keep them out of Heaven. It is only when we turn away from our sins and look to Yeshua to wash our sins away in His blood that His righteousness is credited to our account, and we are thereby made worthy to enter into Heaven. Yeshua was saying that the worst kind of sinner, once they have repented of their sins and received Yeshua as their Savior, is made better than the best of all men.
I don't know if that answer would have satisfied Mr. Schwab. I sensed that his riddle was an excuse to reject God. Millions of people have submitted to God and received Yeshua as their Saviour without first having known what that particular verse meant. When God asks someone why they rejected His Son as their Saviour, I don't think He is impressed when they whine, "Well, I had this question that nobody could ever answer for me." We all have questions that will never be answered for us in this life, but we will never know the answers unless we submit to the One who has all the answers. People who go to Hell are perplexed forever; it is part of their torment.
Your word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against you.