Who Is “The Greatest”?

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?'” (Matthew 18:1)

We might do well to ask why the scripture tells us that it was “at THAT time” that the disciples asked Jesus this question. What was the significance of “that time”?   If you look back, Jesus had just told Peter to catch the fish with the coin that would be found in it, and pay the poll tax for the two of them. Did this cause envy among the disciples?  What about the other 11?  Was Peter greater than they?  Was being party to this miracle an indicator of his preeminence?  Additionally, this episode is not too far removed from Peter’s confession of Christ in Chapter 16, and Jesus’ response that the keys to the Kingdom were given to him. Was Peter the greatest? And who is the greatest among us today?

It should be instructive to us that Jesus answers this question in the next verses by calling a child to Himself.  He tells the disciples: “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”  He is telling them (and US) that your primary concern should not be whether you are going to be “great” in the Kingdom, but whether you will even BE there! Make sure of that; there is nothing more important. And many who assume they will be present there, will in fact be absent. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” (II Cor. 13:5)

But if you are certain that you are a member of the Kingdom of God, Jesus then says “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, HE is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (18:2) Don’t consider yourself to be “great”; be humble, like a child. Be a servant to others, as Jesus commanded later in Matthew 20:25-28.

Jesus seems to indicate here that the best course for a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is not to make being “great” your concern.  Follow Him. Make sure first of all that you are indeed in His Kingdom. Then become the person God has called you to be; walk with Him and know Him; humbly love and serve others in His name.  And let “greatness” fall where it may.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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