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Last week, we looked at Jesus’ claim that He was the greatest among those born of woman. However, He also stated that he was least in the kingdom of God. Welcome to our amazing paradoxical God. The least being the greatest is a difficult idea for us to understand. Clearly, Jesus is not the least. He is exalted. He sits with the Father on His throne. He is God Himself, incarnate. However, when He walked the earth, He became the least. For further clarification about this, I refer you to last week’s article under Jim’s Ramblings: “Sorry, Christian, You Are Not the Least in God’s Kingdom. That Spot Is Taken.”

Jesus calls Himself the greatest again in Matthew 18:1–4: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’” 1

I have experienced some difficulty finding an audience that will accept that Jesus is referring to Himself in this passage. Part of the dilemma lies in what was mentioned above: We cannot imagine Jesus humbling Himself like a child. However, there are other reasons for the rejection of this idea. One is that we rank greatness and “least-ness” according to our worldly understanding. The ones who have the most power, the most money, the most influence are obviously the ones who are great. Jesus, of course, had little of the above when He walked the earth. We cannot seem to comprehend the earthly powerlessness He had on earth. Note that I wrote “earthly powerlessness.” He possessed enormous spiritual power everywhere, all the time. But He denied Himself the use of this power-over-all: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).

Another difficulty lies in the compromise the English language has made in the use of positive, comparative, and superlative forms of adjectives. Hang in there with me. This is not difficult. A good example for our use here is great, greater, and greatest. One thing is great, but this other thing is greater. But only one is the greatest.

At least, that’s how it should be. However, we have compromised these meanings in English. You hear it all the time. “You’re one of my best friends,” for example. However, according to Merriam-Webster, the word “superlative” means “surpassing all others.” Either your football team is the greatest team of the year because it won the Super Bowl or World Cup, or it is not. The team that lost to yours cannot possibly be “better.” But let’s get to the point. Was Jesus the greatest man to ever exist, or was He one of the greatest? If He was only one of the greatest, then it is possible that another may be as great or even greater. We cannot talk about God Almighty in these terms. He is the greatest Being who may be known to us. He is the most powerful, not one of the most powerful; the Possessor of perfect knowledge, not among the possessors of perfect knowledge.

So, when in Matthew 18:4 Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven,” to whom was He referring? No man or woman can be greater than Jesus. He was referring to Himself. He is God Almighty. You are not that Being.

The ramifications of this statement are stunning. Jesus humbled Himself like a child?

Yes.

Powerless, as children were in those days and still are, compared to earthly power.

The least, as children were in those days, considered slaves.

Yes. Jesus became like a slave.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5–7).

The word “servant” in this passage, and in many New Testament passages, is “doulos,” also translated “slave.”

Please note that Paul wrote, “Have this mind among yourselves…”

We are supposed to empty ourselves and be servants?

Become like powerless children?

It’s right there in black and white.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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