Face with the hard sayings of Jesus; we question ourselves -to refuse to believe and obey, or to pick-n-choose, or to neutralize (hyperbole), or to submit to the Word? Instead, the fundamental question should be, Is Jesus (and His Word) fair game? Then the answers to the questions will become more apparent.
What wrong John the Baptist did for the relegation?
First, as Jesus indicates in the context (Mt. 11:6; Lk. 7:23), John is offended by Him and has backtracked from his first view of Jesus- the lamb of God who takes away the world's sin (John 1:29). And John acts out his doubts and challenges Jesus with a question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Mt. 11:2-3).
His question shows his view of the Messiah has changed. And, it also shows he is unhappy with Jesus's ministry for not doing anything to liberate the Jewish nation. And he is challenging Jesus to do for the liberation of the nation of Israel now, or else. "We" in the question gives the impression that he speaks for the Jewish people.
John's life began being filled with the Spirit and led by Him. He said he rejoices and happy as a friend of the groom. He even prophesied - Jesus shall increase, he shall decrease. (Jn. 3:29-31)
But been in prison, facing the imminent execution, he is unhappy, doubtful, even contemplated a second thought about Messiah Jesus. So, he is in a precarious situation and is vulnerable to the devil's attack.
And he acts, sends his disciples to Jesus to question Him verbatim, in public. * We all wonder what led John to this?*
It is unclear why John kept his ministry going all along, even after the ministry of Jesus began. He always was at a distance, never closed to Jesus, nor took part in His ministry. John did not have firsthand experiences of the divine power of Jesus and His teachings, as the twelves did.
By the divine revelation, not by his cognition, John introduced Jesus to Jews as the Lamb of God for the sin of the world (John 1:33). But it seems the initial revelation - knowledge of Jesus has never culminated into the complete conviction for the lack of knowing Jesus firsthand.
John spoke from his heart and acted out - never recanted. So Jesus first praises him for his work as the forerunner. And, Jesus, the great I am, no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11) utters the ultimate words - he is less than the least in the Kingdom of Heaven, and that will stand in eternity.
"Blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Jesus and His words)
"much is given, much will be required "(Lk. 12:48);
every idle Word they speak will be accountable (Mt.12:36).
But, John, having begun by the Spirit, was finishing by the flesh (Gal. 3:3). He stumbled by Jesus and fell from the heights once he was to the lowest. John did not resist the fiery dot of incitement from the devils. He took and ran with it, and he fails big time!
Will he be least in eternity?
As mentioned above, John stumbled upon Jesus and acted it out on Jesus in public. He spoke from his heart - verbalized his thoughts - never recanted. And Jesus did not reverse His public statement about John, and it stands as it is.
The significance of "least" in the Kingdom of Heaven:
Jonathan Edwards once said:
"There are different degrees of glory in Heaven. Some saints will there be exalted higher in glory than others. This is a doctrine very fully revealed in the Scripture" -.
Jesus is speaking in terms of equity-everyone gets just and fair rewards according to their life of faithful service in this life (Heb. 11:6; Rev. 19:8; 20:13; 1Cor. 3:8; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12).
(ref. Scripture speaks of saints in the Kingdom of Heaven in varying comparative terms -e.g., greatest, great, least, etc. (Mt. 18:4; 11:11; 5:19). (ref. The Word μικρότερος means, figuratively, least in dignity (Strong) in a comparative sense)
Jesus speaks John will be in the least group of saints, not in value or hierarchy as we know it. We know all children of God - redeemed and written in the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15) - are equally precious in His eyes!
How Jesus' warnings including Mt. 5:19 applicable to all bible students?
Matthew 5:19 is another "cause and consequence" statement of Jesus on "least" in the kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus uses strong words: in verse 17- καταλύω and ἀλλὰ, and in verse 18 -ἀμήν λέγω ὑμῖν (truly I say to you). And also, He speaks with eschatological ramifications in verse 19. Therefore, verse 19 is a solid and authoritative warning for all saints entering the Kingdom of Heaven. (Ref.καταλύω (destroy, do away)a strong word; ἀλλὰ, strong adversative conjunction; ἀμήν λέγω ὑμῖν)
a. The ἐλάχιστος -least (v. 19) in the superlative, denotes the least, the lowest.
Nine(9) times, Jesus used ἐλάχιστος in His discourses, denoting the smallest, the least in status, exalted state, etc. - in terms of equity, not equality, - i.g.,
Mt. 2:6 - not the least among the princes of Judah. Mt. 25:40, 45 -
unto one of the least of these my brethren. Lk. 12:26 - if...not able
to do that ... which is the least. Lk. 16:10 - he that is unjust/
faithful in the least.
b. And κληθήσεται (they will be called) is passive, which implies God will make the call, according to His standard with no consideration of the status and reputations they earned in this world.
Jesus speaks to His disciples (Mt. 5:1) that He came not to abolish but fulfill the Laws ( with His life) - the least and the greatest and all. Therefore, Disciples must adhere to the Law without disparagement, destroying (=dismantle, disarm), and pick-n- chose any part of the Law. He is saying, God's Word is NOT fair game.
c. In verse 19, Jesus is not asking Disciples to keep every command and teach. Instead, He is speaking more on how they treat the commands. They must first have reverence for the Word of God and "do them" wholeheartedly, and teach others to do them.
The λύω (loose, break)(v. 19) is a lesser form of καταλύω - do away, destroy (v17). It signifies Jesus' warning is about all manners of men's arbitrary attempts to the commands -i.e., set aside, break apart and pick-n-chose, glossing over, attributing unwarranted hyperbole to Jesus' words, etc.
"Whoever...teaches" refers to all who take any teaching roles- temporary and lasting, in all platforms -i.e., school, pulpits, and the cyberspace (BH included) which have a broader audience influencing them until it is down.
Whoever "relaxes " positioned in the same text infers, "whoever" himself does the λύω and teaches others what he did with the Word -not restricted to Mosaic Law.
For saints, to have or not to have a healthy and blessed life here and in the coming Kingdom of God, hangs on keeping the Law of God. For the tampering/meddling the Law, they will be called the least/the lowest;
for being stumbled by Jesus, John was called, less (lower) than the least in the Heaven. We, too, are susceptible to being called "least" for the same causes, unless we stay vigilant against the wiles of the devil (Eph 6:1), and watch and pray not to enter into temptation and not fall (Mt. 26:41; 1 Cor. 10:12).
Jesus states He had come to fulfill the Law; it will be in effect until the end of the world. And, the Law must be taught and preached as it is, un-tampered, unadulterated, and unhampered in all manners, because the Law is the way to the righteous living of saints, the light and salt to the world(v. 16).
Yes. Being the least in the Kingdom of Heaven matters, because it is the consequences of "being stumbled by Jesus" and "tampering" to the Word of God, as the devil did in the Garden and to this day like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8). All saints should be concerned about both the cause and consequence.