“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 11:11-15)
Was John the Baptist Jesus' teacher?These statements by Jesus indicate that John the Baptist was Jesus' spiritual teacher. We can add the fact that Jesus received baptism from John, and that Jesus taught what John taught, as indicated below.
Jesus' statements above indicate a devotional relationship between Jesus and John. Jesus says, "there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." That indicates that Jesus respected and admired John considerably.
Note that Jesus is basically saying that John taught knowledge that went beyond even that given by the prophets before him.
These statements indicate that Jesus humbly admired and respected John. He saw John as his superior. This is the consciousness of a student.
It is well known that Jesus received baptism from John:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. (Luke 3:21)The scripture confirms that John was a bonafide spiritual teacher, and had many followers:
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)These were all people who came out to the Jordan River to be baptized by John and hear his instructions. Thus we can be assured that John was respected and honored throughout Judea for his teachings.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked [John the Baptist], "what should we do?" "Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay." (Luke 3:12-14)
We also know that Jesus accepted that John was a bonafide teacher:
"For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did." (Matthew 21:32)And we know that Jesus taught the same thing as John:
"What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ “ (Matthew 11:7-10)
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matthew 3:2)Jesus also taught his own disciples to go out and teach this same thing:
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. ... From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12-17)
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'" (Matthew 10:7)We know from these verses that John was well respected and admired by Jesus; that Jesus underwent John's baptism just as other followers of John did; that John was a messenger of God; that Jesus accepted John as an acclaimed spiritual teacher; and that Jesus taught what John taught and instructed his own disciples to also teach what John taught.
Consider also the version of Jesus' statement from Luke:
"I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John. (Luke 7:28-30)Following hearing John's these teachings, Jesus went to the desert to apply those teachings - solidifying his relationship with the Supreme Being Otherwise, why would Jesus have bothered going to the desert? Did he just want to become thirsty and be tempted?
At some point after Jesus's journey in the desert, John was thrown in prison for his teachings.
Why did Jesus begin teaching after John was jailed?It was then that Jesus took on the responsibility of teaching the same messages as John, following in the footsteps of his teacher. Jesus saw that John could no longer reach out in his teachings because he was jailed. So he began his mission
As Jesus taught, he, like John, also took on his own followers and later told them - after they heard and understood his teachings - to go out and teach the same message to others (Matt. 10:16-20).
This is how the Supreme Being passes along His message to us: Personally, from one loving servant to another. Each loving servant learns from another loving servant of God not only the words of the Truth but how those words are applied. Once the loving servant applies those words and the example of his/her teacher, that person may be empowered by the Supreme Being to pass this message on to others.
And what is this Message? Jesus communicated this clearly:
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:36-40)Jesus is repeating the same teaching that Moses gave in Deuteronomy. Is this a coincidence? Certainly not. It is evident that the lineage of prophets - teachers and their students - between Moses and Jesus were passing on precisely the same message.
Was John also the Prophet Elijah?So why did Jesus mention Elijah with respect to his teacher John? In Malachi God makes this statement:
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5)So we must ask, what is the great and dreadful day of the Lord, and just who is Elijah?
The teachings of the politically organized Roman Catholic institutions and those that followed would have us believe that Jesus is Elijah. But if Jesus were Elijah, why is Jesus saying that John is Elijah?
The word "prophet" (נָבִיא) follows the word "Elijah" (אֵלִיָּה) - indicating the emphasis on "prophet." Furthermore, there were several people named "Elijah" in the Old Testament. There was "Elijah the Tishbite" and there was the Benjamite son of Jeroham, and there was the son of Elam and there was the son of Harim. Which Elijah is God speaking of, and if God is speaking of any of these Elijahs, why did they all appear before Malachi?
The meaning of the word “Elijah” means “My God is Yah.” In context, the word Elijah refers to a "loving servant of God," or "one who has dedicated their life to God."
While certainly Elijah the Tishbite is the historical prophet spoken of in Kings of the Old Testament, there is considerable context to know the Malachi reference to Elijah was not referring specifically to Elijah the Tishbite.
The historical person referred to in Kings as "Elijah the Tishbite" to distinguish this. Elijah the Tishbite was known by many during those times as a "man of God" - one of God's representatives.
As such, God is communicating in Malachi that in every age He sends His messenger - those who proclaim “My God is Yah.”
What is 'the day of the Lord'?The statement "that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes" has also been twisted by some teachers to supposedly mean the coming (and now second coming) of Jesus Christ. This would mean that the first coming of Jesus did not precede "that great and dreadful day" as imagined by these interpreters the first time - but rather, sometime in the future.
They have it all wrong. It is apparent by the beginning of Malachi 4 that the Supreme Being is speaking of a personal event:
"Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire" (Malachi 4:1)If this sentence is read within its context it is apparent that God is speaking of a particular day in a person's life - not a historical arrival of a person centuries into the future.
“The day of the Lord” is the day that each of us dies: It is the day we each must leave this body and face the Supreme Being in one form or another. At that time, we will be judged for our lifetime. This is the day we all must prepare for during our lives. Over recent centuries, this has been paraphrased as the day we "meet our Maker".
This has also been referred to as "Judgement Day," as this (the day of the death of our body) is the day our lives will be judged and our next destination determined.
And God is saying that those who hear such a His messenger's teachings and apply them will be prepared for their day of judgment - the death of their body - while others, who did not heed His messengers, will be doomed to resuming life in hell.
Jesus uses the word “Elijah” as it is used by God in Malachi. This means Jesus is applying the word “Elijah” to John the Baptist because he sees John as one of God's messengers. Let's consider this exchange between Jesus and his students regarding Elijah:
The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." (Matt. 17:10-12)From this we know that Jesus considered John the Baptist - his teacher - as Elijah, as John was persecuted just as Jesus would be.
But note that Jesus also states, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things." Is he still speaking specifically of John the Baptist here - the person whose head was cut off by Herod?
Rather, Jesus is communicating that Elijah is a position rather than a particular person. This might be compared to saying something like, "the colonel walks in front of his troops." While the word colonel can be used specifically to describe a particular person, it can also be used to describe any person who occupies that position.
This is why Jesus uses the word Elijah as a title: “he was the Elijah” - rather than simply that John was Elijah.
In Malachi above, the Supreme Being instructs the nation of Israel to listen carefully to His devoted messengers of God (i.e., prophets whose God is Yah), for these empowered teachers will change the hearts of the people, and bring them back to God. As for those who do not heed the teachings of His messengers, God says, the land of those people will be cursed.
This is clearly a statement of: 'Listen and heed the teachings of My messengers and return to me, or be prepared to face the problems of the physical world alone.' This is not only clear but logical, because it is the Supreme Being who ultimately saves us from the physical world. Furthermore, the Supreme Being is behooving us to listen to His messengers and heed their instructions, of which the most important is to love God with all our heart and soul - before each of us has our "day" where we "meet our Maker."
What does 'least in the kingdom ...' mean?There is considerable discussion among Biblical historians that part of Jesus' statement was added to the earliest manuscripts. That phrase is:
"yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."This phrase indicates a possible addition during the period where two factions existed - those who understood the relationship between John and Jesus and those who wanted to decrease John's stature in order to promote Jesus. The existence of these two sentiments in the years following Jesus' departure has been surmised from other sources. There is a translation of an early Hebrew version of Matthew that excludes this part of Jesus' statement.
Whether this phrase was added or not, it is clear from the rest of the statement that Jesus was a devoted follower and disciple of John.
We cannot overlook that Jesus received baptism from John - a rite of given to symbolize a student's commitment to the doctrine of the teacher.
We cannot overlook Jesus' statements of praise for John, including the above. And we cannot overlook the reality that Jesus taught the same thing as John, and that Jesus instructed his own disciples to also teach the same thing.