For about a year, John the Baptist has been in prison. Still, he hears of Jesus’ marvelous works. Imagine how John feels when his disciples tell him that Jesus has resurrected the widow’s son at Nain. However, John wants to hear directly from Jesus about what this all means. So John summons two of his disciples. To do what? They are to ask Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?”—Luke 7:19.
Does that seem to be a strange question? John is a devoted man who, when baptizing Jesus nearly two years before, saw God’s spirit descend upon Jesus and heard God’s voice of approval. We have no reason to think that John’s faith has grown weak. Otherwise, Jesus would not speak so highly of John, as he does on this occasion. But if John is not having doubts, why does he ask this question of Jesus?
John may simply want verification directly from Jesus that he is the Messiah. This would strengthen John as he languishes in prison. And John’s question apparently has an added sense. He is acquainted with the Bible prophecies that show that the Anointed One of God is to be a king and a deliverer. Yet, many months after Jesus was baptized, John is in prison. So John is asking if there is to be another one coming, a successor to Jesus, as it were, who will complete the fulfillment of all that the Messiah was foretold to accomplish.
Rather than simply tell John’s disciples, ‘Of course I am the One who is to come,’ Jesus gives evidence that he has God’s backing by healing many people of all kinds of diseases and ailments. Then he tells the disciples: “Go and report to John what you are hearing and seeing: The blind are now seeing and the lame are walking, the lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised up and the poor are being told the good news.”—Matthew 11:4, 5.
John’s question might imply an expectation that Jesus will do more than he is now doing and will perhaps free John from prison. Jesus, however, is telling John not to expect more than the miracles he is actually performing.
When John’s disciples leave, Jesus assures the crowd that John is more than a prophet. He is “the messenger” of Jehovah prophesied about at Malachi 3:1. He is also the prophet Elijah, as foretold at Malachi 4:5, 6. Jesus explains: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women, there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist, but a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.”—Matthew 11:11.
By saying that a lesser one in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than John, Jesus is showing that John will not be in the heavenly Kingdom. John prepared the way for Jesus but dies before Christ opens the way to heaven. (Hebrews 10:19, 20) John is, though, a faithful prophet of God and will be an earthly subject of God’s Kingdom.