John the Baptist is clearly a precursor in the Synoptic Gospels. He is the one who goes before the Lord to prepare his way. In Matthew, John has a borderline role. John is the last and greatest of all prophets until the time of Jesus. He is indeed the one who, alone among the prophets of the Old Testament, was the forerunner of the Messiah and this is what makes him the greatest human being.
Even so, John does not belong to the new era of God’s rule inaugurated by Jesus. While on the one hand, the content of his proclamation about the kingdom is the same as that of Jesus; on the other hand, even the least in the kingdom is greater than John.
The “least” in the kingdom, who is greater than John, while it may refer to Jesus (who came after John and was “younger” than him), here seems to refer to the disciples. These are greater than John because they have the privilege of seeing the inauguration of the kingdom which John was not privileged to see. They are also the ones who recognize the Messiah and point to him more clearly than John could hope to do.
From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the kingdom has been forcefully advancing. The Prophets and the Law prophesied until then and, implicitly, prophesied this new era. And from that time on, the fulfillment of the prophecy, the kingdom itself has been forcefully advancing. This advancement cannot be seen by those who have closed themselves to this kind of revelation and thus, the text ends with the invitation to hear.
The kingdom that Jesus inaugurated continues to advance today despite many setbacks. It is not a kingdom that advances by force or by any kind of pressure. It is a kingdom that wins over opponents by that unconditional love with which Jesus began it. We in the present generation are the fortunate ones who have been privileged to witness the kingdom. Now, it is our responsibility to point to him and make him known to those who have not yet had the privilege of encountering him as we have done.