Not what you were thinking, right? You might say, “The greatest person ever was…IS…Jesus Christ!” What if I told you Jesus Himself said that the greatest person ever born of a woman was John the Baptist? Would this affect your thinking?
In Matthew 11:11, just days before the execution of John, Jesus paid him the compliment and title of the greatest person ever to live. This was his eulogy. What a remarkable statement! You may not know a whole lot about this man and yet Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, said this about him. Since he was important to Jesus, he is important to us.
As you will see, the identity and responsibility of John the Baptist reveals why Jesus, the Way, Truth, Life, and Intermediary between God the Father and humankind, would attribute this title to him.
A Royal Messenger or “Herald” is a representative of a monarch who often comes before a king to announce the king’s arrival. Sometimes, a Herald will bring a message to the people on behalf of the king and in preparation for the king. You do not have to watch many movies before you meet this character in a film. They are typically small enough to make the king look big, dressy to set a tone of grandeur and dignity, and confident, knowing they hold authority simply by association with the king.
In many ways, John the Baptist was a herald for Christ. He came before the greatest of all kings to prepare the people for His message. The Scriptures read,
A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the
desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
When Jesus arrived on the scene and spoke about John the Baptist, He made two powerful statements. First, he identified John the Baptist as the long-awaited voice, crying out in the wilderness. In doing so, He also identified Himself to his disciples as the long-awaited Lord.
Many prophets of God spoke of a coming Lord and Savior because that was the expectation since God’s promise to Adam and Eve; that the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). But none of the prophets of the Old Testament lived to see the day or the child.
Just think about this: for hundreds and hundreds of years, the servants, priests, and prophets of God dreamed of a day when God would send someone to do away with the separation between God and humankind, once and for all. When a hero rose up, each one was seen as a potential serpent-crushing savior in the eyes of the onlookers. And yet, every hero failed and thereby disappointed all the hopeful people of God.
Moses murdered, ran, lacked faith, and died. Saul became the first king over the people of Israel, allowed pride to destroy him, and died with his egocentrism. King David stepped in as a “man after God’s own heart,” fell short in adultery and homicide, and went on to die (1 Samuel 13:14). The priests and prophets lived, doubted, and died, leaving the people of God to watch another generation come and go with no sign of a savior. No one born of a woman lived to see the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” that is, until John the Baptist (John 1:29).
John the Baptist was the greatest because he was the first and final prophet to meet and recognize Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Until the time of Jesus, in regards to fulfilling their role in the story of God, the greatest person was John the Baptist. He faithfully announced the arrival of Jesus and called the people to repentance. Ultimately, John’s faithfulness got him killed and, as a result, he goes down in history as the first martyr of the faith.
Something fascinating about John the Baptist tends to get overlooked. The fact comes just before this statement; that he was “the greatest.” While John was in prison—most likely days before his death—he asked some of his disciples to return to Jesus and ask Him one final question, “Are you the one who is to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2).
How fascinating is this?! The same man who baptized Jesus and saw the Spirit of God descend on Him like a dove asked Jesus for confirmation (John 1:32). John doubted. Yet Jesus’ response to John was gracious and it speaks volumes as to God’s reaction to skepticism: ”Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5).
Jesus told John’s disciples to bring the evidence back to John. He paired it with one final piece of wisdom to John the Baptist: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).
Jesus affirmed John with evidence and urged him with a promise. John heeded these words and may have held on to them in his final moment before he would be executed, enter heaven, and confirm this promise of Jesus.
Jesus would likely have the same reaction to skepticism today. Do you ever doubt Him in a moment of fear? Do you question whether He is who He says He is?
Dig into the evidence, listen to the testimonies, and observe the life transformation. He is not afraid of your investigation. If and when you come to follow Him, know that He will urge you toward discomfort as you announce His second coming. But remember that you have a reason for confidence, simply by your association with the King.