Jesus' devotion to John the Baptist
The first is Jesus' devotion to his teacher, John the Baptist.
"I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John" clearly indicates Jesus' devotion and esteem of John. Yet sectarian teachers completely ignore this humble attribute by Jesus as they pronounce that Jesus could not be including himself - that he could not possibly be saying that John was greater than himself.
Yet this is precisely what Jesus is saying. Was Jesus' physical body not also born "of women"? Was he not the son of Mary? And did Mary not give birth to Jesus? This is clearly documented in the Gospels.
This most certainly means that Jesus is paying homage to and honoring his spiritual teacher as being the greatest teacher, and greater than himself.
Yes, John was Jesus' teacher
How do we know this? First consider the rite and meaning of baptism. Baptism is a ceremony, yes, but symbolizes a student's acceptance of a particular teacher, who does the baptizing. This is seen as so many people came to hear from John and accept him as their teacher:
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. (Matt. 3:13)
At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (Mark 1:9)John also baptized many others:
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. (Mark 1:5)And Jesus was among them:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. (Luke 3:21)In fact, many of those who were in the crowd listening to Jesus' teachings were John's disciples, as we find these two verses directly following Jesus statement above in Luke 7:28:
(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)So we can see clearly that at least in that region, John had many disciples, and Jesus was among them. And John would not have been baptizing if he didn't understand himself to be a bonafide teacher and representative of God. We can see this within this statement:
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?" (Luke 3:12)This indicates that along with their baptism they were accepting John as their spiritual teacher. They were ready to take instruction from him.
We can also see the esteemed position required to baptize others during those times with this statement:
Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" (John 1:25)This indicates that John was admitting himself to be spiritual teacher and God's representative by exercising the rite of baptism and thereby accepting students.
What is baptism?
We can also see that baptism is none other than the rite of anointing as described in the Old Testament:
"Anoint them just as you anointed their father, so they may serve me as priests. Their anointing will be to a priesthood that will continue throughout their generations." (Exodus 40:15)We can see this rite as Moses anointed Aaron:
He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron's head and anointed him to consecrate him. (Lev. 8:12)And we can see this rite as Samuel anointed David:
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. (1 Samuel 16:13)These verses and others clearly indicate that anointing and baptizing are essentially the same in their symbolic meaning. They are both ceremonial rites that symbolize the student accepting the spiritual teacher as God's representative, and the spiritual teacher accepting the student as disciple.
And while ecclesiastical institutions like to say that becoming a priest requires a more official ceremony following baptism, this is merely pomp. It is not the reality. The reality is that anointing and baptizing are ceremonies that symbolize a person's accepting a spiritual teacher. Any student of a bonafide teacher can become teacher. This was illustrated by Jesus himself as he told all his disciples to go out and teach others (see below).
And we see that anointing alone was a general rite required to become a priest (the word "father" in the verse below has been assumed from אב ('ab) but the Hebrew indicates this means mentor or teacher) with this instruction by God to Moses:
The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. (Lev. 16:32)As time went on, we see from the Old Testament that the ecclesiastical Jewish institutions began to see anointing as the rite of passage to become a king. But this is completely negated by the early descriptions of anointing, and David's many statements regarding how special those who have been anointed are to the Supreme Being:
"The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD's anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD." (1 Samuel 24:6)and
But David said to Abishai, "Don't destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD's anointed and be guiltless?" (1 Samuel 26:9)Furthermore, the rite of baptism/anointing also represents the student committing their life to the teachings of the teacher - and this means (if the student is sincere) committing their life to the Supreme Being. This is why David was so respectful of Saul's having been anointed.
These verses and many others indicate that the anointing was specifically related to becoming a student of a spiritual teacher. Certainly, the word was also used to select or "anoint" a king. But this anointing was related to the fact that the king was expected to carry out the wishes of the Supreme Being. They weren't being anointed as a ruler. Kings were anointed into doing the will of God.
Sectarian institutional teachers not only discount John's baptism: They also ignore the fact that baptism is the same as the traditional anointing process.
These sectarian teachers assume these verses indicate that John's baptisms were not potent. Why would John baptize so many people including Jesus then? Why did John even teach? (See the previous verse for Jesus' very statement regarding this.)
"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matt. 3:11)
"I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8)
"I baptize you with water. But One who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Luke 3:16)
"I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands One you do not know." (John 1:26)Most misinterpret the phrase "But One who is more powerful than I will come" to mean someone who enters the scene later - as though it were a movie set or something. But this would contradict John's own statement saying that "but among you stands One you do not know" if we are talking about Jesus' coming arrival on the scene. This is confirmed by this clear statement four verses later:
When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. (Luke 3:21)We can also know that John was not speaking of Jesus because John did not know Jesus' position. This is confirmed with this verse:
When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?' " (Luke 7:20)So who was John referring to when he spoke of "One who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie"?
In fact, the statements in Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:8 and John 1:26 are not speaking specifically of Jesus. These statements are indicating that it is the Supreme Being - God Himself - who renders real baptism. Yes, the "He" in "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" is none other than God. And "but among you stands one you do not know" is referring to the Supreme Being, who stands amongst all of us - but we do not see Him. We do not know Him. (This also relates to the teaching, "The kingdom of heaven is near.")
What does "come" mean?
We must understand the source and meaning of the word "come," as used multiple times in the context of Jesus' and John's teachings in the New Testament. This word "come" is translated from the Greek word ἔρχομαι (erchomai) which means, "to appear, make one's appearance" and "to come into being, arise, come forth, show itself, find place or influence" according to Thayer's lexicon.
The "appearance" of the Supreme Being takes place within ones life and heart once a person dedicates their life to God. Such a person comes to see God within, from a spiritual perspective. This is not the same as seeing with the physical eyes. It is seeing with the heart. In other to have such a vision of the Supreme Being, one's spiritual eyes must be opened. These are the eyes of love, and humble loving service.
John was certainly humble about his own power. This is consistent among bonafide spiritual teachers. Jesus also indicated his humility when he told John's disciples: "Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." (Luke 7:23)
"My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me." (John 7:16)and
"I am not here on my own authority, but He who sent me is true. You do not know Him" (John 7:28)Notice how both Jesus and John spoke humbly about their own abilities, and they both attributed all their potency to the Supreme Being.
And those who have misinterpreted these glorious statements by John and Jesus are in fact trampling upon their humble statements, being blind to the very Supreme Being they were referring to.
Jesus passed on John's teachings
We also can see from John's and Jesus' teachings that Jesus was, in fact, passing on John's teachings to others. Consider these three verses:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 3:1-2)After Jesus' baptism from John, Jesus carried forth those teachings:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." (Matt. 4:17)and Jesus also told his disciples to pass on these same teachings to others:
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:7)The "message" "'The kingdom of heaven is near'" is obviously a generalization of their teachings, but the fact that not only did John and Jesus both teach it, but Jesus told his own students to teach it. Because we know that Jesus' disciples were to pass on Jesus' teachings, we can also know by these verses that Jesus was passing on John's teachings. This clearly indicates Jesus' relationship with John as his student.
The second lesson of Jesus' statement
Now for the second lesson within Jesus' statement of Luke 7:28:
"yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."Is Jesus saying that John the Baptist was not the greatest person "born of women" as he indicated in the first part of this statement? Was he contradicting himself? Certainly not.
Jesus was trying to teach a great lesson here, one critical for his students to understand. When it comes to a bonafide spiritual leader or teacher - God's representative in other words - being the "greatest" is not comparable to being "greatest" as we consider it in the physical world.
In fact, so many people want to be great teachers. They strive for many followers and strive to earn a name and reputation for saving so many people. This goal, to become a great teacher, is in fact no different than wanting to be a movie star or a famous model, or even a president or an Olympic Gold Medal winner. These are all aspirations of empty hearts who want to fill our emptiness with the adoration of others.
We think that if we are adored by many people we will be happy, and fulfilled inside. Any real star, president or winner will tell you, however, that having the adoration of millions does not fulfill the emptiness within. And we can see that it doesn't by all the suicides and addictions among those who are famous. Becoming famous does not fulfill us - even if we become a famous preacher, minister, reverend or even pope.
This is because being great or famous is not our natural position. Our natural position is one of servant - caregiver. We are not happy being served and adored by many because this is not our natural position.
In fact, we are not these physical bodies at all. They are temporary vehicles we drive for a few years and then leave them at the time of death. Thus their identities are temporary as well. Just as a child can only be identified as a child for a few years, we can only be identified with our adult body - our jobs and positions - temporarily. Just talk to any elderly person. They will say: "When I was younger I was a fireman" or "when I was younger I was a lawyer." Their former identities were quite obviously temporary.
And when we leave our body behind at the time of death, we will leave our identification with it completely.
Yet we each have a spiritual identity that endures. Our spiritual identity is eternal. This is who we are inside.
This spiritual identity's natural position is servant - caregiver. We are only fulfilled when we are loving and serving the Supreme Being and His children.
This means that humility equates to greatness in the spiritual realm. This creates an opposite scenario compared to the physical world, where being great in the physical world means being puffed up and respected by others.
Being great in the spiritual realm is the opposite. Being great is related to ones level of humility and service to others. Therefore, the greatest in the spiritual realm are actually the most humble - feeling themselves the lowest instead of the greatest.
This is Jesus' lesson with this statement. He is trying to make sure his own disciples do not fall into the trap of desiring to become a great spiritual teacher. This was something Jesus condemned about the ecclesiastical Jewish teachers - the Pharisees, Sadducees and the High Priests. They were all vying for the top spiritual teacher post because they wanted to be respected and served by the public.
Meanwhile, Jesus' hope was that his students learned to love and humbly serve the Supreme Being:
“‘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." (Matt. 22:37-38)