As Matthew 11 begins, we learn that John the Baptist was in prison.  Matthew 14:3-4 tells us why, “For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.”  Many of us realize that Herod killed John the Baptist.  I encourage you to read that account in Matthew 14:1-12.

Now let’s read Matthew 11:2-6, “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”  I suppose it’s not surprising that John was discouraged.  He had said of the Lord Jesus in John 1:34, “And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.”  John was the one who had announced to Israel that their Messiah had come.  Surely, John as the forerunner of Christ did not expect to spend his life in prison.  The Lord, in His infinite love and compassion, sent John’s disciples back to him with absolute proof that He was indeed ‘he that should come.’

It’s interesting to note that the message He sent to John was showing the fulfillment of prophesy of the Messiah.  He comforted John with undeniable proof that He was the Messiah.  He told John:

  • The blind receive their sight as prophesied in Isaiah 35:4-5.
  • The lame walked as prophesied in Isaiah 35:6.
  • The lepers were cleansed as prophesied in Isaiah 53:4 and applied to Christ in Matthew 8:16-17.
  • The deaf were able to hear as prophesied in Isaiah 35:5.
  • Even the dead were raised, which went far beyond what was prophesied in the Old Testament.
  • The Gospel was being preached to the poor as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1.

After addressing John’s disciples, the Lord turned to the assembled crowd, and in verses 7-15, He spoke to them concerning John the Baptist. To answer your specific question, let’s read Matthew 11:11, “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.” Of all the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist was the last, and his privilege was the greatest. It was John that announced in Matthew 3:2, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was John’s privilege to announce the kingdom of heaven. However, God’s ‘kingdom under heaven’ did not come to the earth. John, as Christ’s forerunner was rejected and killed. Christ was rejected and crucified. The day when Christ shall establish his kingdom on the earth is yet future. When He returns and sets up His millennial kingdom on the earth, the prophesy of Luke 1:32-33 will be fulfilled. That says, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” John was privileged to announce the kingdom, but he was not able to enter into it. Those who will live on the earth with the Lord Jesus as their present King will be afforded a greater privilege than that of John. It’s not that they will be morally greater than John, but their privilege will be much greater.

Some have applied this portion to the church, saying that the privileges that belong to those in the church are much greater than the privileges of John and those who lived under the law in the Old Testament. This is very true, and I suppose an application can be made, but the direct lesson concerns the coming kingdom of the Lord Jesus. (176.3)