What does Matthew 11:11-15 mean?

Your Question: What does Matthew 11:11-15 mean?

In these verses Jesus is teaching about who John the Baptist is and what he came to do. As he teaches about these things, Jesus also explains other people’s attitude to the kingdom of God – one of violence.

Let’s look at the verses in detail. Verse 11:

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (NIV 2011)

Jesus is saying that John the Baptist is the greatest of men to be born up to that point in time. Why is this so? Because John, a prophet, has actually seen what all the other prophets were looking forward to, he has seen and directly testified to Jesus. So why is John least in the kingdom? It’s because everyone who is born after John and who is in the kingdom (i.e. a Christian) has seen the fulfilment of God’s plans in Jesus, which John is still looking forward to (just like all the other prophets, 1 Peter 1:10-11).

Verse 12:

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (NIV2011)

This verse is very tricky to understand. There is a question regarding the meaning of the verb “subjected to violence” in the original Greek language. The verb in question could either be translated “use force” (see e.g. NIV1984) or “be treated forcefully or oppressed” (see e.g. NIV2011, ESV). On balance it seems best to translate the verb passively (i.e. “to be treated forcefully.” If this is right, then this verse means, that since John began preaching until this point when Jesus was speaking, God’s kingdom rule is being attacked and subjected to violence, presumably by people like Herod (Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18), the religious leaders (9:34; 10:17; 12:14, etc), and Herod the Tetrarch (14:1-12) who plunder the disciples (5:10-12; 38-48; 10:16-39, etc). In other words, Jesus is teaching that people will hate the kingdom of God and try to hinder its progress.

Verses 13-15:

13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear. (NIV2011)

As we’ve already seen, John’s role is the climax of all the prophets, indeed he is the one who was to come to prepare the way for Jesus (Matthew 3:1-17). Therefore, he takes on the role of Elijah (see Malachi 4:5-6), in preparing the way for the Lord (Matthew 11:10, cf. Malachi 3:1).