CAN YOU EXPLAIN MATTHEW 11:11?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Some find Matthew 11:11 very tricky: “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.” What does it mean, “he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than [John the Baptist]?” Will John the Baptist not be in the kingdom of heaven?
The Russellites (so-called “Jehovah’s Witnesses”) have taken Matthew 11:11 and twisted it to bolster their “terrestrial/celestial kingdom” tenet. They unapologetically teach that “only 144,000 will go to heaven” (“celestial kingdom”). According to them, the rest of the believers in Christ will dwell on earth (“terrestrial kingdom”). They say that all unbelievers will be “destroyed, annihilated” (instead of enduring a literal place of unending torment, “Hell,” they cease to exist). While the theological positions of the Russellites are extremely shaky and downright heretical at times, time and space limit us to commenting on their interpretation of Matthew 11:11. In the back of their “New World Translation” (the official “WatchTower Society” “bible”), there is an appendix of brief notes and references concerning various topics. Under the topic of “Life,” they have: “Not even John the Baptizer to be in heavenly kingdom…. Mt 11:11.” There, they also mention, “Only 144,000 taken from earth.”
We should not be shocked that Russellites confuse Matthew 11:11. After all, the New World Translation says there: “Truly I say to YOU people, Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but a person that is a lesser one in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.” This is somewhat awkward English, making the verse obscure. Notice the “hard-to-read” King James Bible is actually easier: “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.”
It is somewhat comical that someone would read Matthew 11:11 and conclude John the Baptist would not be in the kingdom of heaven at all. The verse said nothing of the kind—not even in the New World Translation! We do not read in their own “bible:” “Truly I say to YOU people, Among those born of women there has not been raised up a greater than John the Baptist; but he will be forbidden from the kingdom of the heavens and others better than he will go in.” If I were a Russellite, I would have translated my “bible” this way in this verse. Left alone, that verse is the last I would appeal to in order to preclude John the Baptist from the kingdom of heaven!
The emphasis in the verse is not John the Baptist the man. What is being stressed here is his office, his function. What was his role? Why, dear friend, rather than endlessly wondering or idly speculating, read the verse before it! Matthew 11:10-11 says: “ For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.  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.” Rather than grabbing verse 11 and yanking it from its context (as Russellites and others do), we use verse 10 to interpret it. The Lord Jesus Himself said John the Baptist was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (cf. Mark 1:1-4).
What was John the Baptist’s purpose? Malachi 3:1 said that he was to “prepare the way before [Jesus Christ, JEHOVAH God in the flesh].” John’s role was to announce to the nation Israel that her Messiah had arrived. Luke 1:16-17 says of John before his birth: “ And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.  And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
As document in Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-18, and John 1:6-34, John the Baptist conducted a ministry and preached, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Jews awaiting Messiah’s coming went out to John and “were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). Acts 13:24 summarizes: “When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” These believers formed “the Little Flock” (Luke 12:32), the believing remnant in Israel that would become God’s “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9). They saw Jesus as their Messiah/Christ. Unlike the unbelievers in Israel, these saints would inherit God’s earthly kingdom (Luke 12:32).
John’s baptism made the conversion of the Little Flock possible because it made the introduction and acceptance of Jesus possible. After all, Father God sent John the Baptist to prepare Israel for His Son’s arrival. The Bible says, “There was a man sent from God, who name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe…. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:6-7,34). What the Old Testament prophets only spoke of and saw with eyes of faith centuries prior, John had the privilege of personally seeing and introducing Israel to her Messiah! The office John held was valuable only because of the Person it exalted. John was just an ordinary man, but he was preaching Jesus Christ, the universe’s greatest Person!
Still, Acts 13:24 reminds us: “When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” John the Baptist did not have a ministry to the whole world. Unlike today’s missionaries, he did not go to all nations preaching Jesus Christ and water baptizing all nations. The Bible is clear that John the Baptist’s ministry was confined to the nation Israel. As spectacular as John’s role was, it only involved Israel’s conversion. All members of the Little Flock (true Israel) will have a much more magnificent ministry than John. When Jesus Christ returns at His Second Coming, the Little Flock (Jewish believers in Israel’s prophetic program—including John the Baptist) will enter God’s earthly kingdom. The God of heaven will set up a kingdom on Earth, and thus it is called “the kingdom of heaven.” When the kingdom of heaven is established, when the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ begins, there will be worldwide revival. Every member of the Little Flock will personally introduce Jesus Christ to the believing Gentiles (nations). This is a more extensive ministry than John the Baptist’s. Matthew 11:11 again: “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.”
The Prophet Jeremiah said in chapter 31: “ Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:  Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD:  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
The whole purpose of the New Covenant is to make the nation Israel God’s people. It applies Jesus Christ’s shed blood to them, resulting in the cleansing of their national sins (cf. Hebrews 10:1-22, note especially verses 10-17). Every Jew, “least and greatest,” will “know the LORD.” They will all have a personal relationship with JEHOVAH God and they will all know His laws. Why will they have this special association with the one true God? They will be thus qualified to be heirs of the Abrahamic Covenant. God wants to bless Israel and make her a blessing to all nations.
Genesis 12:1-3 says: “ Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:  And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” With the nation converted and entering the Millennium, those redeemed Jews become a kingdom of priests who go and evangelize the nations. This was God’s intention in the Abrahamic Covenant. Once the New Covenant is ratified at Christ’s Second Coming, and the Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ begins on Earth, read the following verses and watch Israel function in her God-given capacity.
Zechariah 8:20-23: “ Thus saith the LORD of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities:  And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts: I will go also.  Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.  Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.”
Matthew 28:18-20 says to Israel’s believing remnant: “ And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Numbers 23:9 says Israel “shall not be reckoned among the nations.” This means, when paired with Matthew 28:19, that Israel is not to be taught the things of God in the Millennium. Why? They already know God’s laws because they have been given the New Covenant! They are now to teach God’s Word to the Gentiles (non-Jews, the nations).
Revelation 5:10 says of believing Israel: “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” First Peter 2:8-10 amplifies: “ And [Jesus Christ, verse 5, is] a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;  Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Isaiah 61:6 prophesies of believing Israel in her Millennial Kingdom: “But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves.”
Isaiah 60:1-3 says to Israel because Messiah is now in her midst, the Millennium beginning: “ Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.  For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.  And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”
Finally, Isaiah 2:1-4 is a beautiful summary of the Millennial Kingdom: “ The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Matthew 11:11 is not difficult to understand, provided we use verse 10 and other Scriptures to interpret it. Every believing Jew in the kingdom of heaven will minister to numerous Gentiles of various nations and languages. In the Millennium, the 1000-Year Reign of Christ on Earth, each member of the Little Flock will have privilege of sharing Jesus Christ with the nations of the world. This is far grander than anything Father God ever sent John the Baptist to do. John’s ministry was restricted to the nation Israel but Israel in the Kingdom will have a worldwide ministry. Nothing is difficult here. The only reason why this becomes hard to grasp is when we start inserting the idle speculations of denominational proponents. Leave religious tradition out of it and all will be clear!
SUPPLEMENTAL: MALACHI 3:1 IN THE “RUSSELLITE BIBLE”
Our King James Bible says in Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Who is talking in the above verse? The end of the verse says that the speaker is “The LORD of hosts” (JEHOVAH God). Who is the “me” in “he [John] shall prepare the way before me?” Obviously, the “me” is the speaker (JEHOVAH). John is coming to prepare the way before JEHOVAH. Yet, according to the New Testament, John came to prepare the way before Jesus Christ (cf. Mark 1:1-4). This leads to one inevitable conclusion: Jesus Christ and JEHOVAH are one and the same Person.
Horror of horrors, friends! The “Jehovah’s Witness” is shocked to see that we can disprove their theology by appealing to their own “bible.” Malachi 3:1 says in the New World Translation: “ ‘Look! I am sending my messenger, and he must clear up a way before me. And suddenly there will come to His temple the [true] Lord, whom YOU people are seeking, and the messenger of the covenant in whom YOU are delighting. Look! He will certainly come, Jehovah of armies has said.” (The “me” and “Jehovah of armies” are one and the same, Jesus Christ and JEHOVAH are synonymous!)