Who is the Greatest?

by Mike Ratliff 

1εν εκεινη τη ωρα προσηλθον οι μαθηται τω ιησου λεγοντες τις αρα μειζων εστιν εν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων  2και προσκαλεσαμενος παιδιον εστησεν αυτο εν μεσω αυτων  3και ειπεν αμην λεγω υμιν εαν μη στραφητε και γενησθε ως τα παιδια ου μη εισελθητε εις την βασιλειαν των ουρανων  4οστις ουν ταπεινωσει εαυτον ως το παιδιον τουτο ουτος εστιν ο μειζων εν τη βασιλεια των ουρανων  5και ος εαν δεξηται εν παιδιον τοιουτο επι τω ονοματι μου εμε δεχεται  6ος δ αν σκανδαλιση ενα των μικρων τουτων των πιστευοντων εις εμε συμφερει αυτω ινα κρεμασθη μυλος ονικος περι τον τραχηλον αυτου και καταποντισθη εν τω πελαγει της θαλασσης (Matthew 18:1-6) 

The Bible is the Word of God. It is inerrant, inspired, and our final authority for faith and life. The Bibles we have in our day are translations of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. These translations are rendered into most languages of the earth in our time. When we study the Bible, dig into God’s Word to know Him and His ways then He will bless us with knowledge as He gives us wisdom, discernment, and direction. As our minds are renewed through this as well as through the hearing of godly preaching, teaching, and coming to terms with the extent of God’s grace permeating our lives, we do not become prideful, arrogant, or self-focused for very long. Why? As we become more mature in Christ, we also acquire more and more of His character. That means we will have the proper perspective of our place in God’s Kingdom. This place is not at the head. Instead, it is in total submission to the will of God. It is a humble place to be. 

On the other hand, there are many in our day that are all about changing the Church along the lines of our culture. Those pushing for this change insist on a refocus of priorities from God’s glory and the edification of the saints as the Church awaits the return of Christ at the end of this age to a commitment to make the world a better place through changing from the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to a social gospel. This refocus cannot take place as long as Sola Scriptura, summarized in the first sentence in this post, is in place and is adhered to by the Church. When Sola Scriptura is ignored then we have a free-for-all. There are no absolutes. There are no boundaries. There is only a push to see who is the greatest. This is not the way our Lord implemented His Church nor is it how it is supposed to operate. Why? When God’s truth is cast off as the final authority for faith and life then anything goes and that will not be humble submission to God in self-denial, taking up one’s own cross, and following Jesus. No, it will be culturally dominated religiosity that professes to love God, but whose adherents’ hearts are far from Him. 

Our Lord gave us the scriptural way the Church is to exist and function and how those within it are to relate to one another and the world. Where do we find this? It is all in the Word of God. He described the characteristics of the covenant community within God’s Kingdom in Matthew 18:1-35. The first part of this discourse (vv1-6) deals with the faith one must posses in order to be part of this community of the Messiah within God’s Kingdom. 

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. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6 ESV) 

The Greek word used here for “the greatest” is μείζων or meizōn. This is a comparative word used to contrast what was older, larger, or greater than the majority. It described someone or something that stood out because of this quality. This quality, in the disciples understanding, was one that was attained through human endeavor or accomplishment that resulted in an elevated status. They had the idea, hence their asking the Lord this question, that in God’s Kingdom, there would be a hierarchy of saints with some being honored more than others because of their own works. What was our Lord’s response? What is the requirement for even entering the Kingdom? It is humility that is expressed to God in trust, vulnerability, and a understanding of ones inability to advance his or her cause outside of God’s grace through which they receive help, direction, and all that is needed from Him in order to even become part of the Kingdom. 

Conversion from spiritual death to life comes only to those who come to God helpless and trusting in utter dependence on Him to save them. No one comes to Him on his or her own terms. Our Lord used a small child to express this. Like children, our Lord’s true disciples have no achievements and no accomplishments to offer or with which to commend themselves. No one is saved by works of the flesh, which is all the unregenerate are capable of doing. Those who attempt to do so, however, will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Who are the only ones who enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Only those who “turn” and “become” like children according to Christ’s example in this passage. The word “turn” here is translated as “converted” in the KJV. It is the Greek word στρέφω or strephō. It literally means, “to turn oneself.” It describes one who reverses or does an about face. However, the tense, mood, and voice of this verb is aorist, subjunctive, passive. In other words, the turning or reversing is the result of some previous action. The word “become” referring to Christ’s disciples “becoming like children” in Greek is γίνομαι or ginomai. It describes the transformation from one form to another. This verb is in aorist tense, subjunctive mood, and middle voice. This describes simple action that one does to oneself. The subjunctive mood is telling us that what our Lord is describing here is conditional. However, we know that no one can do any work to enter the Kingdom because all who do must come like a child who has no ability or merit. Therefore, those who turn (repent) and become like children are those who are changed by the grace of God through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). 

Who is μείζων  in the Kingdom of Heaven? The greatest in the Kingdom are those who humble themselves as our Lord described in vv2-3. The Greek word used here for “humbles” in v4 is ταπεινόω or tapeinoō. This verb is in aorist tense, subjunctive mood, and active voice. This is action one does to oneself and the greatness is conditional on whether one does it or not. Those who profess Christ, but are in rebellion to His commands and seek to remove themselves from submission to Sola Scriptura are not these who humble themselves. This word describes the action of one recognizing their sinfulness before the Holiness of God and a submission to God’s plan for the Kingdom. They have the right perspective of their place in the Kingdom, which is in total submission to the Lordship of Christ. They do not seek to “change everything” according to their own desires or those of the world. 

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5-6 ESV) 

The Greek word used here for “receives” is δέχομαι or dechomai. This describes the welcoming into fellowship as fellow citizens of the Kingdom those who humble themselves and are converted. Those who do this will also receive or welcome Christ as part of that action. In other words, Christ is intimately involved with those in His Kingdom. He brings them in and keeps them. He desires that we fellowship and love one another. The final warning here is to those who would entice one of His disciples to sin. This is a description of how He jealously guards the spiritual wellbeing of His disciples. He takes their sin seriously and is not amused when false prophets tell His disciples that sin is no big deal because they are, after all, forgiven. This is an insidious false doctrine in our time that is filling up the wrath of God against those who teach such things. 

My brethren, we must interact with one another humbly and with love for one another. Let us rejoice together in our citizenship in God’s Kingdom, receiving one another as brethren. Let us also rebuke those who teach that God’s Kingdom is open to interpretation by mere men. 

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “Who is the Greatest?

  1. John,

    Gotcha! The Greek text I used at the beginning of this post is not from the Textus Receptus nor is it from the Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentusm Graece, which was used to translate the NT in the ESV. This text is from Tischendorf’s Greek New Testament.

    You are making a big deal about how many occurrences of και (and) there are in the text? I doubt if that is going to change the meaning much.

    Θα σας ζητήσω για παρακαλώ να σχολιάσω πάλι μέσα στο πλαίσιο του μετα John. Ευχαριστίες!

    Στο Χριστό

    Mike Ratliff

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  2. John, this is in response to your comment for my post “Termites” that you put here.

    How interesting that John Calvin, who died in 1564 (47 years before 1611), could be so wise and such a good theologian without a KJV 1611 version of the Bible. 🙂 I have a 1560 version of the Geneva Bible. The NT in it is nearly identical to the 1611 KJV, but the OT is quite different because the main translator, William Tyndale, was murdered before he could finish his work. By who? It was by consent of some of those on the translation board King James put together to make his authorized version of the Bible. Also, these translators stated in the introduction to the Bible that their work was not perfect or complete but a work in progress.

    I ask that you refrain from posting comments that have nothing to do with the content of the post.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  3. John, I used Tischendorf here to make a point. You are whipping a dead horse. God’s Word is preserved by HIM in the Greek and Hebrew texts that we have. The additions to the NA are because of more an more manuscripts being discovered all the time. Again, you have offered no “proof” of your allegations that the ONLY reliable Bible is the 1611 KJV only suppositions that hold no water.

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  4. Have you read the biography of William Tyndale John? If you had then you would know the history of the English Bible a bit better and you would not be so in love with the KJV 1611. It was derived from Tyndale’s work plus that of Beza, etc. Some of the board that King James put together for the KJV were some who hated Tyndale and agreed with his execution; that is what I meant. However, they could not ignore his work. Also, the Geneva Bible was the Bible of the majority of Christians in England and America well into and through the 17th Century. Also, the KJV you have now is not a 1611, but one of many revisions with thousands of updates and corrections over the years. Conspiracy theories are the bane of the easily fooled.

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  5. The ESV is a very good translation that is in the language of the people who read it. I have no problem reading my Geneva Bible, but my parents, my wife, my daughter, and my son have all told me that they just can’t do it. It is too hard. When I read it I love the translation part I have to do in order to understand it, but they don’t have that same mindset. Before my parents were elderly they read the KJV, but my dad quit many years ago because it was just too hard for him. My daughter has told me that she has as much trouble understanding the KJV as she does the Geneva. However, they have no trouble with the more modern versions. In fact, my daughter loves the NASB, which I do as well. I have several of those as well as NKJV bibles. I use them all. I use the ESV in my blog because it is so easy to read AND despite your allegations is not full of errors. What you are overlooking is that my research in what I write involves a deep dig into God’s Word using all of my tools. I do not rely just on the ESV text any more than I would the KJV text or the NASB text, etc. I am not against the KJV. I am against KJVO.

    The Geneva NT is nearly identical, but not 100% identical because there was much pressure put on the 1611 board to eliminate some of the things that was hated in Tyndale and his work.

    I have never seen or studied much about the JW. They have access to the same manuscripts that we all do John.

    Why don’t you go get you an ESV, study it and then come back and show me what you have a problem with? Empty insinuations like this are not valid debate. Where is your proof? You do notice that I keep asking for it, but all you have is termitism. This discussion is ended. I have asked you for two things. One is that you refrain from comments alien to the topic of the post. The second is for proof of your allegations… Again, This discussion is ended.

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  6. Good post Mike. He makes us like the little children who depend on their parents. We wouldn’t want it any other way. He takes good care of His own. 🙂

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