Who will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven? (What does it mean to be least in the Kingdom of God?)

As a theologian and devout Christian, I commonly spend one-on-one time with God reading His word. A few years ago, I came across a mind-blowing verse that arose my curiosity to learn more; Mathew 5:19. In this verse, Jesus was teaching on the mount and mentioned that there would be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. I researched extensively, read scriptures in detail, and consulted with various pastors and more experienced theologians to understand their interpretation of this verse. Last week, a member of my online bible study group asked who would be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as this question struck me the first time I came across it, I noticed the same reaction from other group members. Because I had conducted extensive research and understood who these people that Jesus termed the “least” would be, I explained to them in detail. So, who will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven?

According to Jesus’ teaching in Mathew 5:19, the least in the Kingdom of God are those who set aside some commands instead of following them fully and teaching others accordingly. Jesus notes that those who will be called great are those who follow all his commands fully.

So, join me as I discuss the context and meaning of Mathew 5:19. I will also talk about what it means to be the least in Heaven, if the “least” in Mathew 5:19 signifies hell, and what it means that the least in the Kingdom are greater than John.

What is the meaning and context of Matthew 5:19?

What does it mean to be least in the Kingdom of God?
What is the meaning and context of Matthew 5:19? Image source: Pixabay

In Mathew 5:19, Jesus was giving a sermon on the mount and addressing the value and importance of the law. He says in Mathew 5:18 that until Earth and Heaven disappear, nothing, not even a letter, will disappear from the law till everything is finished and accomplished. In verse 17, Jesus made it clear that he came to fulfill the law but not to abolish it.

In verse 19, he says that anyone who sets aside any of these commands and preaches to others accordingly shall be termed the least in Heaven, but one who practices and teaches all of his commands shall be called great in the Kingdom. This is to mean that every law that Christ gave is equally important, holy, and perfect, and all should be followed accordingly.

After addressing those who will be termed as the least in the Kingdom of God, Jesus condemned the religious teachers and Pharisees indirectly for how they handled the law with great misconduct. He notes in Mathew 5:20 that unless your righteousness is greater than those of the teachers of the law and Pharisees, then you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Most Pharisees and teachers of the law were perfect examples of those who chose which commandments to follow and “set aside” the others. Despite the Pharisees pretending to follow the law, their actions, like rejecting Christ, diminished some parts of the law. Thus, they had no true righteousness in them.

What does it mean to be least in the Kingdom of God?

Jesus notes in Mathew 5:19 that there will be the “least in the Kingdom of heaven.” This suggests that there will be different categories of honor in Heaven. The criteria for assigning these honors, as seen in Jesus’ teaching, will be based on how one handles the word of God and adheres to the law. Those who received the word of God practiced it fully, and fulfilled all their responsibilities will be under those who are “great” in the Kingdom. However, those who received God’s word but rejected some parts and did not fulfill their responsibilities fully will be the “least.”

This corresponds to when believers will appear on judgment day. The book of 2 Corinthians 5:10 notes that when we appear before Christ’s judgment seat, each and everyone will be judged in accordance to what they did in the body. That is, we will be judged based on how we faithfully serve God.

Does being “least in the kingdom” signify hell in Matthew 5:19?

Who will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven? 
Does being “least in the kingdom” signify hell in Matthew 5:19? Image source: Pixabay

Though the scripture does not give us enough evidence to conclude that being the “least in the kingdom” signifies hell, some Bible commentators believe so. They believe that being called the least means exclusion from the Kingdom. However, as mentioned earlier, we cannot lean into this conclusion as there is not enough evidence to support it. Instead of signifying hell, this verse could mean that for those who did not observe all the ten commandments, God was still merciful unto them to let them as the least in His Kingdom.

What does it mean that the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John?

In Mathew 11:11, Jesus notes that anyone who is the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Jesus ranked John the Baptist so highly because he was not only among the few historical figures predicted in the Old Testament alongside Christ, but he baptized and introduced the Messiah. So, how possibly can it be that those who are the least in the Kingdom of Heaven are greater than such a man?

Christ’s statement in this verse is paradoxical, and different theologians have different views of it. Some note that this statement is to mean that though John was great, he died before witnessing the fullness of the plan of God in Christ, based on Mark 6:17-29. John the Baptist died before witnessing the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet even those termed the least know of these happenings and understand their weight.

Others note that Jesus meant that our great achievements or status while on earth has nothing to do with our status in the Kingdom of Heaven. They argue that though John the Baptist played an essential role in making the way for the Messiah, this does not make him better special in Heaven.

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