The Least In the Kingdom

It’s a phrase Jesus uses twice in Scripture, as nearly as I can tell – and it fascinates me.

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:19

He’s talking about the Law and the Prophets (see context, v.17-20), I think. It may be a limited blessing, as some think, that’s in effect only “until everything is accomplished” (v.18). But was everything accomplished when He uttered “It is finished!” on the cross? Or was there still work to be done, through the Holy Spirit, through believers – leaving that comment about being “least in the kingdom” still in effect?

And is He also talking about commands that are implicit in His beatitudes, His commission to be light and salt – and the ones that follow: treating others with respect, seeking reconciliation, resisting lustful urges, marrying for life, speaking with your own integrity, sharing and serving rather than seeking retribution, etc. etc. etc.?

Can someone disobey the least of commands, and teach others to do the same, yet still be a part of the kingdom of heaven – even if he or she is the “least” therein?

Could Peter still serve in the kingdom even though he was a bigot?

Could Paul and Barnabas still serve in the kingdom even though they had a sharp disagreement about John Mark?

Could preachers who preached Christ out of egotism and for profit still serve in the kingdom?

And is being “least in the kingdom” the worst thing that could happen to you?

The other instance when Jesus uses the phrase is in His description of John the Baptist:

I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. – Matthew 11:11 (and Luke 7:28)

Somebody like me who messes up all the time and sometimes inadvertently misleads others can be least in the kingdom yet still be greater than John the Baptist? Can I concatenate those two separate descriptions of “least in the kingdom” to ask that question?

If so, how could that be true? In what way could you or I be greater than a prophet who gave up a normal lifestyle, diet and wardrobe to live off the wilderness? Is it because the message I have is greater, more complete? Not just “The kingdom of God is near!” but “Here it is; and here are the details about how it got started … and how Jesus accomplished it … and how it involves you!”

Is it really possible that the message so far transcends the messenger?

6 thoughts on “The Least In the Kingdom

  1. It’s funny that you mention that passage. When Brian Burkett posted two passages he was struggling with the other day, I wanted to comment about this exact passage. I have always struggled with this passage (to the point of seriously contemplated a re-examination of the entire Hebrew Scriptures as a code for living). I don’t know – some days I think this passage is telling me to obey the entire Bible (including the often ignored parts before Matthew, i.e. the “Old” Testament). After all, to the best of my recollection, Heaven and Earth have not yet passed away…Then there are days when I think that this passage cannot be taken literally or else the entire world has missed the boat.But then, the path is narrow…Baron

  2. Yep,I agree with David U!The message is that “it’s here. It’s now.”To see Christ increase is so cool.* I’m slowly beginning to realize what it means to disappear backstage and let Him take the bows. What I’ve found is even cooler*: He allows us to participate in His joy.*Sorry for the colloquialisms, but I’m out of adjectives today.

  3. Ray, as someone who works on a college campus, I believe the current replacement for “cool” is still “awesome.” (Though most of our students are of non-traditional age.)Baron, I wonder about the binding the whole of the Old Testament on believers sometimes, too – it would save a lot of trouble about picking out what we still can / can’t or should / shouldn’t do. Fact is, there ain’t no temple, so some of it just isn’t possible any more.And the believers who gathered in Jerusalem (see < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Acts 15<>) came to the conclusion that it would be a yoke no one has ever been able to bear, and it would test God.So I see the Law and the Prophets as fulfilled, not obliterated, by Jesus. They still serve as witnesses to His divine nature, and insights into God’s best wishes for us; a schoolmaster when we as humankind needed it and a mentor we respect as we mature.Heaven and earth? There are some who think that this was a Hebrew idiom, now lost to us, that might have referred to the way they swore their oaths (maybe something like “As heaven and earth is my witness…” – see < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Genesis 14:22<>, < HREF="" REL="nofollow">Deuteronomy 4:26<> and < HREF="" REL="nofollow">30:19<> and < HREF="" REL="nofollow">31:28<>). Perhaps Jesus was just referring to this colloquialism (thanks for reminding me of that word, Ray!) when He spoke of “heaven and earth” in this way here.

  4. umm… I had to look up “concatenate”…For those of you who are like me, the word means to “link together”Not that I’m complaining. I always enjoy expanding my vocabulary. I shall now seek for an opportunity to use this word on my wife by the end of the day.Great, thought provoking post, by the way.

  5. I hope it means that I can teach someone something wrong and still be in the kingdom of heaven…even if I am the least.Because, any who teach eventually will allow opinion and tradition seep into their teaching, consciously or not. I pray everytime I teach a class, that I will not mislead or misinform. That I will put myself aside and try to help my class see Jesus….but I know that many times I have failed and failed miserably.But thanks for the thoughts..I need the reminder.

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