"I tell you that of those born of woman there is no one greater than John
-- but the least person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he."
Luke 7:28; also Matthew 11:11
In a comment on my previous post I was asked to "expand a bit" on what Jesus meant when He said this. The thoughtful reader had noticed that I glossed over this verse without comment. So now I can't ignore it, even though I am not quite sure what to say. (Uni told me to ask Jesus what He meant, but though I did, He has not answered me yet and I don't feel that I'd better wait for His return to receive an answer.) Anyway here are some thoughts.
First we should notice that long before Jesus made this statement, even before John's birth, the angel had announced to his father Zechariah that his son " ... will be great before (or in the presence of) the Lord..." (Luke 1:15). I can find no other person of whom this is said, and I suspect that this thought may have been in Jesus' mind.
So John is the greatest of those of human birth and is great even in the presence of the Lord. But what does Jesus mean when He compares "the least person" to John?
Jesus uses the word "least" (Greek - mikroteros - "smallest"), one other time as applying to persons, when the disciples were arguing as to which of them was the greatest (Luke 9:45-48). He showed them a child, spoke of receiving a child in His name and concluded, "... for the one who is least among you all -- this one is great" (9:48).
John was, in a sense the last of the Old Testament prophets. He came as the fulfillment of prophecy -- the Lord's Messenger who would precede the Messiah (Malachi 3:1), Elijah the Prophet (Malachi 4:5). As such he was the greatest. But the coming Kingdom that John announced was already present in the Person of Jesus, as Jesus Himself told the Pharisees, "... the Kingdom of God is in your midst" (Luke 17:21). The new citizens of that Kingdom were already being gathered, even though the Kingdom's complete physical appearing was (and still is) yet future.
We should recognize that Jesus often used hyperbole; He spoke of many things using extreme language and/or superlatives to express the radical differences in His Kingdom from the way things are perceived in the present age -- "the last will be first," "the least is the greatest." We should be careful of an overly literalistic interpretation of His words.
John was the greatest in the old age, but now that the new age has arrived things are different. There is room for many "great" persons. And those who take the position of the least in this present phase of the Kingdom -- those who serve -- will be great in the coming phase.
Will John have a place in the Kingdom? Of course. But the beautiful thing is that there will be others who are honored -- those who are least, who humble themselves to serve. I think that Jesus is telling us that though John is great, others have opportunity for greatness.
Bob, I apologize if I "expanded" too much. I hope I "expanded" enough.