Why did Jesus say John was great but the least of men would be greater than John? Since John was martyred, wouldn't he get special approval?
When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). After giving evidence for His being the Messiah (vv. 4–6), the Lord Jesus affirmed John’s greatness (vv. 7–11). Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (v. 11).
The issue of John’s martyrdom is unrelated. Jesus was identifying John as the greatest prophet, not the greatest man. John fulfilled Malachi’s prediction of the one who would announce the Messiah (Mal. 3:1). As a rule, the greater the revelation, the greater the prophet.
But why would the least in the kingdom be greater than John? We who have come to know the Messiah Jesus have been given much more revelation than John, including the whole New Testament. This greater revelation makes even the least of us greater than John. It’s like this: Eddie Rickenbacker was the ace of all U.S. World War I pilots. Yet, today, the lowliest pilot of an F18 Hornet would be greater than Rickenbacker.
We can take heart that even when we experience doubt and discouragement, the Lord Jesus has affirmed us because of the far greater revelation we proclaim today. The revelation we have been given through Scripture is even greater than what the greatest prophet was given.