Luke 7:28 I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John, yet even the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
It is simply this, Jesus is comparing the students of two periods; the prophecy about the dawning of kingdom of God given by the prophets up till John the Baptist, and the actual dawning of the kingdom of God presented by God himself directly. Many people think that the kingdom of God refers only to heaven. No, the kingdom of God is the reign of God marked by Jesus’s hour. It begins on earth and extends into heaven (2 Corinthians 5:10, Revelation 14:13). Jesus is God, the Son. The Kingdom of God begins here on earth and stretches into heaven. So, people who will be candidates of heaven begin here on earth based on their knowledge and how they put the knowledge into practice.
John the Baptist is the last prophet who preached about the coming of kingdom of God and Jesus indicated that after that the Gospel about the Kingdom of God is preached (Luke 16:16). The understanding of the prophets about the kingdom of God and also that of the people who got their lessons about the kingdom of God from them is inferior to the understanding of the Kingdom of God that Jesus carried in his teachings. Consider being schooled about some science topics from first grade up to Senior High and being taught the same lessons at the College level. Hence, the least in the kingdom of God as students of Jesus, is greater than John and all the prophets until John, not in holiness or popularity, but the knowledge about the exact nature of the kingdom of God and how to live it. Despite John’s knowledge about Jesus, he still sent some of his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he were the one to come or there was another one to be expected. Jesus schooled him to understand what being the Messiah truly meant (Mt. 11:2-4, Isaiah 35:5). It took time for even many of the disciples of Jesus to understand the message of the kingdom of God from his perspective. So, the Zealots, for instance, were violent and they thought they were promoting the dawning of the kingdom of God based on their understanding of some of the Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah.
Consequently, people taught by Jesus and the Gospels and so living the life of the kingdom of God are greater in understanding and knowledge than the people who based their knowledge and understanding solely on what the OT prophets taught. It is true that Jesus came to fulfill the OT prophecies about the Messiah but there was a whole lot of that for other people to learn. He opened the eyes of his disciples who were traveling to Emmaus by taking them through the OT prophesies in reference to himself and they gained better understanding. Let us also consider how Jesus taught about the kingdom of God with down to earth parables and statements, and so even some guards who were sent by the authorities to arrest him came back without him to say that they had not heard anyone spoke like him before. In conclusion, being a student of Jesus and the Gospels make one greater than a person stuck to a narrowed non-comprehensive understanding of the Kingdom of God. Sorry for not being able to include many biblical references but everything discussed is Biblically based.
Luke 7:28 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.
Jesus is using John as a demarcation in terms of space and time for Jesus' Kingdom of God. I don't think we should place too much weight on the words "greater" or "least" as they applied to John. I apply them to the demarcation.
All OT prophets point to Jesus and the Kingdom of God. John is the last one and the closest to touch Jesus (Kingdom of God). In this sense, he is the greatest of the prophets. John is right at the door.
However, more blessed are the people who are in the Kingdom of God, i.e., who are born of the Spirit. Any of them is greater than John before John is born again.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize that John is the demarcation for the Kingdom of God. One should not focus on the comparison with the person of John.
A similar statement can be found in Matthew:
Matthew 11:11 (KJV 1900)
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.
For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
(The majority of texts contain the phrase "not a greater prophet" in Luke 7:28, but the ESV opted for an alternate text. I don't think it is that relevant to your question, though).
In the Greek, the word translated as "woman" in both Matthew and Luke above is γυνή (gynē), which generally refers to an older, usually married, woman. Jesus was not born of a gynē, but of a parthenos (παρθένος) - a virgin (cf. Matthew 1:23).
Furthermore, the statement that he that is least in the kingdom of heaven [Luke: God] is greater than he might be better translated "he that is younger ...", or at least lesser. The word that occurs in the Greek is the comparative form μικρότερος (mikroteros), not the superlative as implied in the KJV, ESV, and other translations. The word can refer to age (i.e. fewer in years) as well as size or stature and some Greek commentators in antiquity (e.g. Chrysostom1) understood this statement to mean that although Jesus was slightly younger than John in years, he was greater in position in heaven. Theophylact comments:
Then, as if in answer to the question, "Is he greater than Thee also, O Christ?" He adds these words, "But I, Who am younger than John, am greater than he in the kingdom of heaven. Now I am thought to be younger and lesser in age, lineage, and glory, but in the kingdom of the heavens, that is, in divine and spiritual things, I am greater than he."2
1 Homily XXXVIII on Matthew
2 Explanation of the Gospel According to St. Matthew, tr. Christopher Stade (Chrysostom Press, 1997), p.77
It is simply stating that of those born of the flesh, there is no one greater than John the Baptist, hence "born of women." Those who humble themselves as little children in the sight of God and who are born of the Spirit, not of women having been born again, the least of these is greater than John the Baptist. It has nothing to do with the age of Jesus since Christ is God and He exists at all points in time and before time.
In Luke 7:28 why does Jesus say no one among those born of women is greater than John the Baptist?
This is so ,since John the Baptist appeared as the messenger who prepared the way before God and Lord (Jesus) by getting the Jews ready for the coming of of the messenger of the covenant -Jesus , in fulfillment of the prophecy at Malachi 3:1.
The [inserts in bold] in the verse are mine.
Malachi 3:1 (ASV)
3 "Behold, I send my messenger,[John the Baptist] and he shall prepare the way before me:[God] and the Lord,[Jesus] whom ye seek, will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant,[Jesus] whom ye desire, behold, he cometh, saith Jehovah of hosts."
Recommend reading Matt. 11:2-15
As John's the Baptist disciples leave , Jesus turns to the crowds and praises John, that he is equal to any prophet who lived before him. and tells them that he is the messenger of the prophecy in Malachi 3:1 and also the prophet Elijah as foretold in Malachi 4:5-6
Matthew 11:10-11 (NASB)
10 "This is the one about whom it [a]is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You. 11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
Malachi 4:5-6 (ASV)
5 "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come. 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children [b]to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
- ‘Born’ and ‘Come’ of women
‘Born’ of women in Matthew 11:11, regarding the entering into the world of John the Baptist, his parents Zacharias and Elizabeth, is the translation of the word gennetois (see also Luke 7:28) which Liddell & Scott [American Edition 1854] say is derived from gennaw (the ‘w’ is omega, a long ‘o’). Bible hub says that gennetois is an adjective and is the dative, plural masculine.
Liddell & Scott gives the meaning ‘to beget’ for the verb gennaw and ‘begotten’ for the adjective gennetois. Thayer [2nd Edition 1958] agrees completely with Liddell & Scott in this regard.
Of Jesus, Paul says that he is genomenon of woman, Galatians 4:4. Bagster’s Analytical Lexicon says this is the accusative, singular, masculine and neuter, participle, aorist 2 of the verb ginomai, to come or to become.
Jesus, here in Galatians 4:4, is ‘come’ of woman but not, here, ‘begotten’ of woman.
- ‘Begotten’ - naturally - of woman
Jesus says, recorded in John 16:21, that ‘a woman … in travail … hath sorrow … but as soon as she is delivered (tikto) of the child she remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a man is begotten (gennaw) into the world’. Note : delivery first, results in a begetting.
Luke records the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57 ‘Now Elisabeth’s full time came that she should be delivered (tikto) and she brought forth (gennao) a son.
In both the above cases the delivery of the child and the cutting of the cord result in a new, independent entity being in the world. This is called a begetting. Delivery first, results in a begetting.
- The Only Begotten Son of God
When the concept of begetting is mentioned of Jesus, it is in connection with his Father in heaven.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (monogenes) [John 3:16 KJV]
Both Luke (2:7) and Matthew (1:25) record that ‘Mary … brought forth (tikto) the son of her, the prototokos. Neither evangelist states that this is a ‘begetting’.
Prototokos does not mean, intrinsically, ‘firstborn’. The root tokos means ‘usury’ see Matthew 25:27 and Luke 19:23, and the translation of prototokos should reflect that root meaning.
Of Jesus’ conception it is heralded by the angel Gabriel that
… thou shalt conceive in thy womb … and bring forth (tikto) a son … [Luke 1:31 KJV]
… the conception … the begetting (gennao) holy shall be called Son of God … [Luke 1:35 KJV]
This second reference, Luke 1:35, describes the result of :
… the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee
… the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee
The result of these two divine influences and activities - is that a begetting is present in the womb of the virgin. And this begetting is prior to a delivery taking place.
A new individual entity is already present in the world, prior to the delivery of a child.
Likewise, in Matthew’s record (1:20), the angel informs Joseph in a dream that ‘that which in her is begotten (gennaw) of Spirit is holy’. Again, there is a new individual entity in the world, already. But she is not yet tikto, delivered.
This is not a natural birth. It is supernatural.
Luke records (2:1) that ‘Jesus having been begotten (gennaw) in Bethlehem …’. Now we know that Mary was already great with child, Luke 2:4 and 5, when Joseph and she journeyed from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Her conception occurred in Galilee.
There was a begetting within her, by virtue of her conception. This results in a begetting in Bethlehem. But it is still not attributed to Mary.
It is not said that Jesus is ‘begotten of Mary’, only that ‘having been begotten’ in Bethlehem. The wording is most careful. There is a definite avoidance, in all of these scriptures, of stating that Jesus was ‘begotten’ of Mary. It is just not there.
Nowhere is Jesus said to be ‘begotten’ of Mary.
He is ‘come’ of woman, Galatians 4:4.
He, himself, is the only begotten Son - of God.
Basically all the other prophets preached about the coming of Jesus Christ, but John the Baptist was the one to introduce Him to the world. He who is least in the kingdom is greater than he John the Baptist. This is so because John died under the old covenant, meaning he died before Jesus went on the cross for our transgressions.
Pious thinking leads many to assume that Jesus was more popular than was John the baptizer but it isn't necessarily so, or at least not in Luke 7, while John was still alive. John's popularity is often underappreciated by the modern reader. And by "popularity" I refer to his notoriety and effectiveness in calling people from all over the environs to repentance and cleansing (in mikveh) and to await the reign of the messiah.
John's notoriety seems to naturally eclipse that of Jesus early on and we are given frequent reminders that despite the apparent emphasis on John it is Jesus who is the star of the show:
Joh 1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. Joh 1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. Joh 1:8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. Joh 1:9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
Act 13:24 When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. Act 13:25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.
Act 19:1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, Act 19:2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. Act 19:3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John's baptism. Act 19:4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. Act 19:5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Act 19:6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. Act 19:7 And all the men were about twelve.
As an indication of John's notoriety, Josephus wrote that many thought that the calamities of 70 AD were divine retribution because Herod had had John the baptizer beheaded:
...[18.116] Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God as a just punishment of what Herod had done against John, who was called the Baptist.
[18.117] For Herod had killed this good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, righteousness towards one another and piety towards God. For only thus, in John's opinion, would the baptism he administered be acceptable to God, namely, if they used it to obtain not pardon for some sins but rather the cleansing of their bodies, inasmuch as it was taken for granted that their souls had already been purified by justice.
[18.118] Now many people came in crowds to him, for they were greatly moved by his words. Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death. In this way, he might prevent any mischief John might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late.
[18.119] Accordingly John was sent as a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I already mentioned, and was put to death. Now the Jews thought that the destruction of his army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure with him...
Jesus actively avoids fame and resists public acclaim:
Mat_12:15 But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;
Mar_3:7 But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea,
Joh_6:15 When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.
Josephus has only this to say about Jesus and even this mention is embroiled in controversy as to its authenticity:
...About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared... - Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 §63 (Based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library.)
So Jesus is not being humble when he says accurately that John is the "greatest". Jesus is much the lesser. However, even in John's lifetime, before he was murdered, Jesus' disciples began to baptize more disciples than John but it does not necessarily follow that overall they baptized more than John because John had been doing it for a long time already:
Joh 4:1 When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John, Joh 4:2 (Though Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples,) Joh 4:3 He left Judaea, and departed again into Galilee.
Paul says of Jesus that Jesus intentionally "made himself of no reputation":
Php 2:7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: Php 2:8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
His "hour" to be glorified had not yet come:
Joh 12:23 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Joh 12:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Joh 12:25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
So it appears to me that Jesus' point in contrasting John's current popularity with notoriety in the coming kingdom of heaven is to say that "the first will be last and the last will be first" in that what really counts is not what a big shot you are in this life but how much of a big shot you are in the age to come. The greatness of John was nothing compared to what will be the portion of the least in the kingdom of heaven:
Mat 19:29 And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. Mat 19:30 But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
There may also be reference to the fact that unlike Jesus, John was filled with the holy spirit from his mother's womb, preached with unprecedented power and results the coming kingdom and the coming Christ and that he died a gruesome martyr's death:
Mat 11:7 And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? Mat 11:8 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. Mat 11:9 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. Mat 11:10 For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Mat 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.
KJV unless otherwise noted