Who is Greatest

Jesus was asked who is the greatest in his kingdom. His answer is an illustration in chronological order. By studying the timing we can find who he considers greatest, the Patriarch Joseph. This article explores.

The Story

Jesus was presented with a pretty simple question. Who is the greatest?

His answer involves a little boy who is brought into the middle. The account is told in 2 places, Matthew and Mark. Here are the passages.


1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Matthew 18:12He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-45"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. Matthew 18:5-6
(Matthew 18:1-5 NIV)


33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Mark 9:33-3435Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark 9:3536He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." Mark 9:36-37
(Mark 9:33-37 NIV)

The 12 Gathered

To answer their question about who is greatest, Jesus calls together the twelve disciples. This action is the parable’s way of calling attention to the twelve patriarchs, Abraham’s great grand kids. After Abraham, their births are the next main event in the Bible’s original chronology. As explained in an earlier article, this happened while Jacob’ was in Laban’s service in the 20 years from 9001 AA through 9020 AA.

The sons of Jacob ran into the issue of who was greatest also. They were arguing amongst themselves, jockeying for position. Reuben was the rightful heir to Abraham’s estate, so he would naturally be the greatest.

They were stunned when their young brother Joseph began having prophetic dreams. The brothers would not believe what God was saying, and projected their own hearts on Joseph. Everyone in the family, including their father Jacob, was stunned by some of the things Joseph’s dreams implied, though they would come true in time.

Eventually, Joseph, was the greatest in his generation when he was made Prime Ministry of ancient Egypt. (About 9040 AA.) Because of Reuben’s sin, Joseph also inherited Abraham’s right of first born, as well as the ’great nation’ promise given to Abraham.

Notice, though, the role of Joseph relative to the rest of the family. Joseph knew he was their servant and did all he could to provide for the needs of the rest of his family. He was both greatest and least.

The ’great nation promise’ passed to Joseph is one of the covenant promises that is key to understanding the lost tribes. The specific ’great nation’ promise passes to Joseph’s sons and eventually to the nations descended from them.

The parable continues and Jesus brings in an important word picture, the ’millstone.’ The following is the text:


The narrative now turns to looking for a famous child. Abraham would be near in terms of the overall timeline, but he does not become famous until he is around age 100.

The little child with dreams, though, is Joseph. The disciples in this story are like the other brothers of Joseph, who hate him because of his dreams. He becomes the greatest in the kingdom, as we see later in Joseph's life as he works to keep people from starvation.

The story continues with more details.

Body Parts

7"Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. Matthew 18:7-9
(Matthew 18:7-9 NIV)

Lost Sheep

10"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. 11 Matthew 18:10-1112"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. Matthew 18:12-14
(Matthew 18:10-14 NIV)

Little Ones

15"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-1718"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18:18
(Matthew 18:15-18 NIV)


38"Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." Mark 9:3839"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward. Mark 9:39-4142"And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. 43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 44 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 46 47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48where "`their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' 49Everyone will be salted with fire. Mark 9:42-4950"Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other." Mark 9:50
(Mark 9:38-50 NIV)

The narrative now turns to the question of who is the greatest. The question is an interesting one because it challenges scripture knowledge.

Of course the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus himself. His is the servant of all, having died on a cross. He refers to himself as the least in the kingdom in heaven, especially in reference to John the Baptist. (cite)

Beyond Jesus, of course, who is greatest?

There were many great men in the Bible, Moses, David, Noah are some. But across the field of possible answers, one man stands out as the most important.

That man was Joseph.