Luke 7:28
It is pleasant to think that, immediately after John had intimated his doubt respecting the Christ, our Lord spoke in terms of unmeasured confidence concerning John. His language is strong and somewhat paradoxical, but it admits of a simple explanation. His-first reference to John affirms -

I. HIS SUPERIORITY IN RESPECT OF CHARACTER. The nobility of John's character has already been illustrated (see ch. 3.). Its most marked features were:

1. His cheerful acceptance of privation; living on in the wilderness with nothing to gratify taste, and barely sufficient to sustain life, though his popularity as a teacher and prophet would have enabled him to make a very different provision for himself,

2. His incorruptible fidelity to the work committed to his charge (Luke 3:15, 16)

3. His fearless, holy courage - a courage which was based on a sense of God's nearness to him and his Divine faithfulness toward him; a courage manifested in public (Luke 3:7-9), and, what is more and what is worthier, shown in private also in an interview with one strong man who held his earthly destiny in his hand (Luke 3:19).

4. His rare magnanimity. Not merely accepting without resentment the fact that he was to be supplanted by another, but going beyond that point in spiritual excellence, and positively rejoicing in the elevation of that other Teacher; stepping down and giving place gladly to one younger but greater than himself (John 3:29). We are not surprised that he "who knew what was in man," who knew the strength and the weakness of our human nature, said concerning John, "Among those that are born of women," etc. (ver. 28).

II. HIS INFERIORITY IN RESPECT OF PRIVILEGE. "But he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." We must take the word "greater" as signifying more privileged: it will not bear any other meaning. Most assuredly Jesus did not mean to say that the man who, being within his kingdom, was lowest in moral worth, stood higher in the favour of God than John. Such a sentiment is quite inconceivable, perfectly incredible. But our Lord may very well have meant that any one, however humble his position in the kingdom of grace, who yet stands within that kingdom, of which John stood outside, has a distinct advantage over the great prophet. To know what we, with all our obscurity and incapacity, do know; to understand and enter into, as we may do, the glorious purpose of God in Jesus Christ; to comprehend that, by that death of shame upon the cross, the Redeemer of the world is drawing all men unto him; and not only to understand all this, but to enter into it by a personal, living sympathy and co-operation ; - this is to stand on a height to which even John, though he came in sight of it (John 1:36), did not attain.

1. We are the children of privilege; we are "the heirs of all the ages" of thought, of revealed truth. If we will read reverently, and inquire diligently and devoutly, we may know the mind of God concerning us as the greatest of all the prophets did not know it.

2. Let us take care that we are the children of God; returned from the far country of estrangement and indifference; dwelling in the home of the Father's favour; walking with God daily; finding a filial joy in doing and bearing his holy will; entering by sympathy and effort into his holy purpose. - C.

For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.
r: — John's greatness not that of function or office only, but of character. But his greatness bows before the excelling and incomparable greatness of the Lord. Further, our Lord here declares that every lowliest stoner who accepted Him as his very own Saviour, thereby passed into the kingdom of heaven, and by this one act and fact took a stamp of greatness besides which even that of John the Baptist was dwarfed. As our tidal rivers enlarge into bays and reaches of the sea by the sea's simple flowing into them, or communicating its own mass and strength and riches to them; so these relatively narrow beings of ours become spacious and Christlike by the indwelling and sway of the Spirit with all the new and august power of the new kingdom. Three practical remarks.

1. Be it ours who are privileged to work for Christ to emulate John the Baptist's type of work. No thought of self.

2. Be it ours in the full day of the gospel to realize our greater responsibility.

3. Be it ours to beware of assumption (or presumption) of this excelling greatness. Mere function, mere human recognition, will count for nothing beneath the eye of Him with whom we have to do.

(Dr. Grosart.)

Jesus told men that the true greatness of human life must come by following Him. It was inevitable, then, that men should ask, "How is it about those great men who are not His followers; those great men who have gone before Him — are they not truly great? And if they are, what has become of His saying that true greatness lies only in Him, and in the Kingdom of God to which He is so earnestly summoning us? "To this question Jesus gave answer in the words of the text. Let us study the answer.

I. It is a question which belongs not to the things of Christ nor to religious things alone. All life suggests it; for in all life there are two ways of estimating the probable value of men — one by the direct perception of their characters the other by the institutions to which they belong, and the privileges which they enjoy. Sense in which the school-boy of to-day is greater than Socrates. The two elements of greatness — greatness of nature, and greatness of circumstance. They are distinct from one another; they do not make each other.

II. Christ recognizes the two elements of personal greatness and lofty condition, and He seems almost to suggest another truth, which is at any rate familiar to our experience of life — that personal power which has been manifest in some lower region of life seems sometimes to be temporarily lost cud dimmed with the advance of the person who possesses it into a higher condition. What really is a progress seems, for a time at least, to involve a loss.

III. In ordinary life the power of the temptation to be satisfied with greatness in some lower sphere and not to aspire to the highest sort of existence, is constantly appearing.

IV. See how the truth of the text applies to the explanation and understanding of a true and noble life lived in a false faith. I believe that this is the simple truth which a good many puzzled people among us need to know. The Christian, with his unbelieving friend whose daily life, so pure, upright, and honest, shames the poor half-discouraged believer every day — what can you say to him?

1. Bid him rejoice that his Christ can and does do for that friend of his so much even when that friend denies Him.

2. Bid him see that if that friend of his could conscientiously know and cordially acknowledge the Christ who is doing so much for him already, he would give that Christ a chance to do still more which now He cannot do.

3. Let him, for himself, be filled with an inspiring shame which shall make him determined to be worthier of his higher faith. This is the true ministry which ought to come to any Christian from the presence of a man who believes far less than he does, and is a far better man than he is.

V. See how all of this must tell upon the whole idea of Christian missions. There may have been a time when, in order to make it seem right for the Christian world to send missionaries to the heathen, it required to be made out that all heathen virtue was a falsehood and delusion. That day is past, if it ever existed. May not the Christian glory in every outbreak of the heathen's goodness as a sign of the power with which his Christ, even unknown, may fill a human life which in the very darkness of its ignorance is obedient to whatever best spiritual force it feels? May not that very sight reveal to him what that aspiring heathenism might become if it could be made aware of the Christ whom it is in its unconsciousness obeying? May he not, even while he goes out to tell the heathen his completer gospel, be filled with an inspiring shame at his own poor use and exhibition of that gospel which he offers to the heathen world? This is the true attitude of Christendom to paganism. It is not arrogant; it brings no insult; it comes like brother to brother, full of honour for the nature to which it offers the larger knowledge of the Father's life. To such brave missionary impulse as that let us be sure that the increase of rational and spiritual Christianity will only add ever new and stronger impulse and inspiration.

(Phillips Brooks, D. D.)

One thing clear at the outset, viz., that the comparison is not absolute, but relative to certain aspects under which the parties compared are viewed; such as the happiness they respectively enjoy, the spirit by which they are respectively animated, or the nature of the spiritual movements with which they are respectively identified. Christ's purpose in making the statement was not to assist the people to take full and accurate measure of John's genius and character. He did not discuss the question of the Baptist's comparative greatness in the spirit in which, in a debating society, youths might discuss the question, Who was the greater man and general — Caesar or Napoleon? He was concerned about far higher matters. His anxiety was to get people to understand the spiritual phenomenon of their time, and in particular to form true, just, and wholesome opinions concerning the religious movements with which John and Himself were identified respectively. For the opinions we form of men very seriously affect our opinions concerning principles and movements. Those who thought too much of John would remain with him, and never join the society of the Christ whose harbinger tie was. On the other hand, those who thought too little of John would think just as little of Christ. It is manifest, then, that the judgment pronounced is not so much on a man as on an era. It is a judgment on the law given by Moses; and the comparison made between the last prophet of law and any little one in the kingdom signifies the immense inferiority of the legal economy to the era of grace which came by Jesus Christ. Paraphrased, the verse means: John, the last prophet of the old time, was a great prophet — none greater. No one who went before ever did better justice to the law than he; preached it with more power and boldness, embodied it in a more upright, blameless life, or gained for its claims more widespread and respectful attention. Still, with all that, nay, just because he is a hero of law, John is a weak, one-sided man. What he has is good, but he wants something of far more value, something which puts its possessors on a different platform altogether from that which he occupies, insomuch that it may be said without extravagance that those who possess it, though immeasurably inferior to John in other respects, are greater than he. He wants the spirit of the new time, of the era of the better hope. Strong in zeal, he is defective in love; strong in denunciation, he is weak in patience towards the sinful; strong in ascetic abstinence, he is weak in the social and sympathetic affections; strong as the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire, he is weak in the moral influence that comes through the still small voice of a meek and merciful mind. In these respects, any one in the kingdom of heaven animated by the characteristic spirit of love is greater than he. The programme of Jesus as in contrast to that of John might be summed up in these two principles: —

1. Salvation by Divine mercy, not by penance.

2. New life by regeneration, not by reform.

(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

He was outside it in the same sense in which many excellent men are outside the visible Church, though not, thank God, on that account outside the invisible Church. In former times he had proclaimed the near approach of the kingdom, but at this moment he was in doubt whether either the King or kingdom had come, the actual characteristics of both being so different from what he had expected. In this sense John was outside the kingdom: he was not connected with it as a visible historical movement called by this name. The Kingdom of God was in him, in his heart: in his thoughts continually. His very message of doubting inquiry showed this; for his was a case in which there was more faith in honest earnest doubt than there is in the belief of many men. And in what he said Jesus had no thought of calling in question, or of so much as hinting a suspicion, as to John's spiritual state. And we must strive in this respect to imitate our Lord, and to bear in mind that because a man is outside the visible Church he is not therefore unsaved; that there may be many who, from one cause or another, are alienated from the visible Church, who nevertheless are children of God and citizens of His kingdom, though in many respects too probably erring, one-sided, defective men. If Christ judged John leniently and charitably, how much more should we abstain from judging those who are without, and full of prejudices against Christianity, when too probably the blame of their prejudice and alienation lies at our own door! Surely this is a very legitimate lesson to draw from the striking saying we have been studying.

(A. B. Bruce, D. D.)

To insist, in the presence of a successful millionaire, or a triumphant prince, or a victorious soldier, or a medalled artist, that the veriest infant in the class of a Sunday-school, who has intelligently learned the articulate language of love to the Saviour, is better than he, is a brave thing to do, of course. But whether the courage will be rewarded with any prosperity in making him believe it, is quite another consideration. It is power that most men are seeking, and not grace. And it is a pity that they do not all get either, even after the seeking. Think of the unfortunate architecture of Cologne Cathedral. The pile of stone has stood through the ages incomplete; just now it has at last been finished. But — most singular fate of genius — nobody on all this earth knows at the dedication who drew the early plans for the building, or whose is the fame of its beauty. John Keats left for his tombstone in Rome the somewhat violent epitaph: "Here lies one whose name was writ in water!" Alas1 cannot we hope that it was written in the Lamb's Book of Life? It is exceedingly interesting to find the jealous Turner's beautiful landscapes between the two Claudes in the British Gallery; for we are glad to know neither of the great canvasses suffered from the comparison. But then who can help putting the tranquil inquiry, What difference does it make to those painters now which of them is considered the better artist? And where is Turner to-day, and where is Claude Lorraine also? For grace settles the long mysterious future; and gift is not grace. Socrates was a great man; but some say he sold his wife at a price. Alexander was a great monarch; but he died in a drunken debauch. Lord Byron was a great man; but his statue at Trinity College has on its front look the divinity of a genius, and on its profile one side is the leer of a lecher. It would be useless to deny that these famous people had power; but grace is better than power.

(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)The smallest diamond is made of more precious substance than the largest flint.

(Archdeacon Farrar.)

In John 10:41 it is stated that "John did no miracle," and to some this may seem inconsistent with what our Lord here declared concerning him. Mightiness indeed is reckoned, and very justly reckoned, a considerable element of a prophet's greatness. Let us, then, consider how John the Baptist deserves the title of the greatest of the prophets, in spite of his having never wrought a miracle.

1. It is a greater thing to exercise a wide moral and spiritual influence upon our generation, than to work a miracle before their eyes. To work a miracle is to exhibit power over matter; to exercise a wide moral and spiritual influence is to exhibit a power over mind. To be made the means, in God's hand, of swaying the human will, curbing the unruly human passions, arousing the human conscience to wholesome alarms and sincere inquiries after the way of salvation, is a higher distinction than to be made the means of reversing nature's laws, or restraining the fury of the elements, or calling forth the tenants of the sepulchre from their dreamt abode.

2. It is partly, I conceive, in his very lack of miraculous power, that the grandeur of John the Baptist as a prophet consists. Without the aid of miracles to give effect to his words he wrought a national reformation. Without supernatural resources he accomplished what other prophets were only able to effect with their aid.

3. John Baptist's magnanimity is another feature which enhances his greatness as a prophet. He sinks self, that he may exalt Christ.

4. Another element in his greatness is the relation in which he stood to Christ as His forerunner, and the opportunity which it afforded him of bearing testimony to the person of our Lord.Concluding lessons:

1. Learn to estimate aright, and not by the world's standard, the true greatness of man.

2. The testimony of Christ is the spirit of prophecy.

(Dean Goulburn.)

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