‘No one who has ever lived is greater than John the Baptiser. Yet even the least of those in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than him’.
This passage has largely been misunderstood because of a lack of understanding about a Jewish teaching style called the ‘reversal of expectations’. This clever teaching technique very succulent compares human judgement with God’s judgement.
Understanding this technique allows us to better interpret the meaning of this passage. Jesus first makes a worldly judgment about John being the greatest person who had ever lived but then follows it up with God’s judgement about John being the least. This almost certainly is hyperbole but the point is God judges very differently from man. Jesus then tells us that John is the Elijah (which makes him great in the eyes of the world) but he had just told John’s disciples to tell him to stop doubting or he may fall away (which makes him the least). Even the mighty fall!
“I tell you the truth, no one who has ever lived is greater than John the Baptiser, yet even the least of those in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than him!” TJB 10:41