The Greatness Of John

The universal question by the people in the entire hill country of Judea concerning John was, "What then will this child turn out to be?" (Luke 1:66 NASB). From the time it was learned that Elisabeth was pregnant, there is no doubt that the people who were close to Zacharias and Elisabeth were wondering what part their child would play in helping to bring about a change for the better in their uncultivated spiritual desert. Surely God must have something in store for them after so long a period of national spiritual drought. The answer to the people's question was "the hand of the Lord was certainly with him" (Luke 1:66 NASB).

There was something unusual about the child in the womb of Elisabeth. The record states that when Mary was told "...that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35), she went to her cousin Elisabeth. Mary had been told that Elisabeth was with child in her old age, and she wanted to tell Elisabeth about her pregnancy. When they met, Elisabeth was occupied with

Mary's child rather than her own. Furthermore, Zacharias was filled with thoughts of Christ rather than John. What a lesson for Christian parents! "...When Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb..." (Luke 1:41). Some are foolish enough to say that the fetus leaped in her womb as a result of reflex motility caused by the cardiovascular system. Contrary to this scientific explanation, the Biblical record states that Elisabeth exclaimed, "For, consider, as soon as the outcry of the greeting came into my ears, the baby [brephos, which means baby or infant] leaped for extreme joy in my womb" (Luke 1:44—translation). Can the explanation be limited to the fact that Elisabeth was filled with the Spirit (Luke 1:41)? Can science interpret this Biblical fact? Can science explain the virgin birth?

Although the baby who would be called John when he was born (Luke 1:13) leaped for joy in the womb of Elisabeth (Luke 1:41), the major attention was directed to the baby in the womb of Mary. Thus, before the births of either the forerunner or the Savior, the unborn forerunner must decrease in order that the unborn Savior might increase. This same principle was carried out in the life and ministry of John the Baptist.

John was a man who would rather anger a king than fail to expose his sins. Herod Antipas the tetrarch was a person of lesser importance than the primary king. He had inherited only one-fourth of the inheritance of Herod the Great. John was continually saying to Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother's wife (Matt. 14:4; Mark 6:14-29). Faithful rebukes that do not profit provoke one to anger. John was faithful to God and to Biblical principles. He preferred being without a head to having a conscience with offense before God.

Since sinners are bold to sin, we must be bold to denounce sin. What one loves becomes an X-ray of his heart. The prophet's voice was not silenced by his executioner. John troubled Herod more after his beheading. Herod heard John pleasurably before he beheaded him; but afterwards, it was through Herod's conscience that he heard John. Conscience starts judgment in time that continues throughout eternity (Rom. 2:14-16).

The following are Herod's steps to misery: (1) He was subjected to John's preaching (Mark 6:20). He heard him, heard him often, and heard him with pleasure. (2) He took his brother's wife. (3) He arrested and imprisoned John. (4) He had permanent knowledge of John's righteous character. (5) He was grieved because of his oaths. (6) He acknowledged that he beheaded John (Mark 6:16).

John the Baptist stood for the Lord against the hopeless apostasy of his day. The terms "man in Christ" and "man of God" are not synonymous. In the sense of I Timothy 6:11-12, a man must be in Christ in order to be a man of God: "But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on [epilabou, aorist middle imperative of epilambano, take hold of for yourself] eternal life, whereunto thou are also called [to which you were called] " Taking hold of eternal life for oneself is not a reward following the struggle; but according to the aorist imperative Greek verb, it is something to be done at once. Hence, the man of God is seen standing for the Lord against the hopeless apostasy described in II Timothy. The eternal life which the man of God is to take hold of for himself is not only quantitative (endless) but also qualitative (the spiritual strength to fight).

John the Baptizer had his shortcomings, but they did not distract from his message concerning the kingdom. The dark shadow cast over his soul because of his imprisonment was not unusual among God's privileged servants. Scripture furnishes many examples of depression, disappointment, and other manifestations of the flesh. God never hides the failures of His servants, whether it is Abraham's lying, Moses' anger, Elijah's discouragement, Jeremiah's disappointment, or Peter's cursing (invoking a curse on himself). John, like Elijah, was a man of like passions as all of us. He manifested his shortcomings by sending two of his disciples to Jesus Christ with the question, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another [heteros, one of a different kind]?" (Matt. 11:3).

Some believe the question posed by John's disciples arose not from doubt but to give the disciples an opportunity to hear from Christ's own lips the evidence of John's Divine mission. Impatience is what we really see in John's question. John did not doubt Christ's Messiahship, but he could not dismiss the thought of Christ as the avenger of sin and the Judge of all (Matt. 3:11,12). A noteworthy observation is that Jesus Christ did not refute John's messianic hope, but He confirmed His messianic character by appealing to His miracles. This fortified John's faith in Christ as the Messiah. A new beatitude was introduced to the report sent back to John in prison: "...blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended [aorist passive subjunctive—the mood of possibility—of skandalid-zo, which means to cause to stumble or to be shocked; to cause to falter or err] in me" (Matt. 11:6). (See John 16:1; Rom. 14:21.) Blessings are forfeited by failure to acknowledge Christ's authority. John was on the winning side despite the fact that he was destined to be beheaded. He should take refuge in the truth that God's most noble servants are bitterly tested. The fires are heated seven times hotter for them (Dan. 3:19). Hence, they are often made to cry, "O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name" (Dan. 9:19).

After John's disciples departed, the Lord Jesus began His discourse on the greatness of John the Baptizer by asking the three following questions: (1) "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed [kalomos, a reed or cane] shaken with the wind?" (Matt. 11:7—translation). Christ's approval did not endorse a timid, vacillating, unstable man. John did not bend with the winds of either religion or politics. His commission from God was all he needed to give him stability of purpose. (2) "But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft [malakos, soft to the touch or delicate] raiment?" (Matt. 11:8). Persons who wear soft garments are without stamina. They do not have the constitution to withstand opposition or to endure in times of hardship. That type of person could not stand against Herod and his unlawful wife. (3) "But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea I say unto you, and more than a prophet" (Matt. 11:9). John was more than a prophet. He was also the subject of prophecy.

The Biblical answer to John's greatness was stated by the Lord Himself: "Truly I am telling you, among them that are born of women there has not appeared a greater than John the Baptist; but the one of least importance in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he" (Matt. 11:11—translation). The greatest man born of women became a martyr after thirty years of training and only one year of service. The Savior's commendation of John for his greatness did not include amiability, friendliness, and agreeableness with all and everything regardless of principles in order to attract crowds. Jesus Christ said the most gracious things about His people in their absence. Unlike Christ, men often say their most gracious things about people in their hearing because they seek personal advantage: "...their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage [opheleia, means profit or advantage]" (Jude 16).

Christ's commendation of John the Baptist included one of the most controversial passages in the Bible—Matthew 11:11-15. Some assume that the "least" (mikros, one who is low or humble in dignity) in the kingdom (Matt. 11:11) means the most degraded sinner in whose heart the kingdom is established is greater than John the Baptist. They allege that John was the herald to usher in the messianic age and the advent of the kingdom. They think he could not enjoy the benefits of the kingdom because he was destined to die. Therefore, they conclude that John must be pronounced as one blessed less than those in their desperate need violently striving to be recipients of what Christ would bestow (Matt. 11:12; Luke 16:16).

Many students of Scripture contend that John proclaimed a spiritual kingdom that is being taken by the forceful. They state that the Baptizer was less than the least in the kingdom. John was great, but there is a greatness that goes beyond what he could ever hope to experience. Their opinion is that the forerunner stood on the borders of the kingdom, but he was unable to enter. They say this mystified the disciples, but that Christ gave the answer in Matthew 18:1-3. They claim this does not mean that John the Baptizer was unsaved; but it does mean that he could not enjoy the kingdom that Christ established at His first advent.

No one violently strives to enter the kingdom. People violently strive to enter that which pertains to either the flesh or the world. The Greek word for "violent" in Matthew 11:12 is biastai, nominative plural of biastes, which means one who uses violence or is forceful. Since this is the only place this noun is used, one cannot go elsewhere in Scripture for its explanation. According to the context, Christ was speaking to the multitudes (Matt. 11:7). How can persons who claim to believe in salvation by grace say forceful or violent un-regenerate men take "the kingdom of salvation" by force? The

Bible says, "...There is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. 3:11). Furthermore, anyone who understands the Biblical teaching of regeneration knows that the sinner is passive in the new birth (John 3:8).

Many who advocate that the kingdom is present declare that they believe in depravity, unconditional election, and irresistible grace; but they manifest their inconsistency by saying the spiritual kingdom requires earnest labor and the highest degree of exertion in order to enter. This teaching denies that life precedes any activity toward God. Hence, their exegesis of Matthew 11:12 would be amusing were it not damaging to interpretation. Therefore, such teaching must not go unnoticed, and it must be exposed. Is everyone pressing into the kingdom? Whether "every man" is interpreted to mean without distinction or without exception does not matter in this instance, because the unregenerate are not with utmost effort pressing to get into what is unscripturally called the kingdom of grace.

In Matthew 11:12, the Greek verb biadzo is used the same way as the noun biastai—"...the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence " Since the inflected form biadzetai can be either present middle indicative or present passive indicative, much discussion has ensued over the verb biadzo, which means to overpower by force, to be carried by storm, or to inflict violence on. Some teach that it is used in the middle voice; therefore, the kingdom is presently pressing forward. Since the kingdom has been preached, they assume that men rush to it. Thus, they conclude that believers "seize" (present active indicative of arpadzo, which means to seize or carry away by force) the kingdom and make it their own. This brings up a valid question, which they are obligated to answer. How can believers seize that which they claim already belongs to them in salvation? Thus, they contradict their teaching that the kingdom is salvation. They fail to understand that the

Christian's spiritual experience is from Egypt through the wilderness into Canaan and then the kingdom.

The inflected form biadzetai in Matthew 11:12 must be the present passive indicative of biadzo. Since it is the passive voice, the verse means the kingdom was suffering from the violent efforts of national Israel, as violent (biastai, nominative plural of biastes, which means violent, strong, or forceful) ones seized (present active indicative of arpadzo, which means to seize or carry away by force) it. The latter verb is used by John to describe the Jews who wanted to take (present active infinitive of arpadzo) Christ and make Him King (John 6:15). He who was born King could not be made King by men (Matt. 2:2).

The forceful religionists about whom Christ spoke wanted a kingdom on their terms. They rejected not only the rightful King but also the prerequisite to the kingdom—repentance. Christ gave a parable to correct the erroneous idea that a kingdom would be set up at His first advent (Luke 19:11-27). He foretold what the forceful Jews would say: "We do not want this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14 NASB). Furthermore, the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the baptism of repentance: "...the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him" (Luke 7:30). Many forceful religionists today want not only a preacher but a "church" on their terms. Thus, the same sins of religionists are repeated over and over.

Those who believe the kingdom was established at Christ's first advent allege that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come (Matt. 11:13,14). They say he was not literally Elijah, but his coming in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17) fulfilled Malachi 4:5-6. Contrary to their declaration, "And if ye will receive" of Matthew 11:14 introduces a first class condition where assumption is factual. Thus, some were willing to accept John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6, but Israel as a nation was destined to reject both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ—forerunner and King. Since John the Baptist, Christ's first forerunner, was beheaded and Jesus Christ was crucified as the King of the Jews, Elijah is yet to come as the second forerunner of the coming King. Christ went on to show that Israel failed to qualify for the kingdom's establishment at His first coming (Matt. 11:16-19).

John was not ignorant of the kingdom he proclaimed. He was specially prepared and sent forth to preach the kingdom of prophecy. Many religionists assume the disciples had the wrong concept of the kingdom. However, the supposition that religionists today know more about the nature of the kingdom than Christ's disciples is folly. Jesus Christ's sending men forth to preach what they did not understand would be incredible, but that would be true if some of the modern ideas of the kingdom espoused by men were factual. Since the Scriptures are consistent, only prejudiced men judge the disciples under a misconceived theory of the kingdom of Christ. Hence, truth suffers more from its supposed friends than from its enemies.

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