In this lesson, focusing on Mark 10:13-16 (also Matthew 19:13-15; Luke 18:15-17), Jesus uses little children to help us understand who and how to receive the kingdom of God.
How do you receive or enter the Kingdom of God? What happens to little children when they die? Those two questions may seem to be unrelated, but they are closing related to each other. Today, Jesus is going to use children to teach some very important lessons about His kingdom, about being blessed by Jesus, and about our attitude toward God’s kingdom.
Let’s read Mark 10:13-16 and dive right into it, One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. (NLT)
The gospel of Mark is about following Jesus. Mark has been showing us who Jesus is and what He is all about. He has been teaching us what it looks like to follow Jesus and what it does not look like. Today, Mark gives us more insight into who Jesus is and what His kingdom is all about and what it means to follow Him and work in that kingdom.[i]
Let me give you some observations about Jesus you need to know if you are going to follow Him throughout your life.
The Approachability of Jesus
First, we see the approachability of Jesus. Mark tells us in verse 13, One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. Matthew adds that “some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them” (Matt. 19:13, NLT). What we have is multiple parents (fathers and mothers) approaching Jesus with their children and wanting to officially lay His hands on them, speak a word of blessing over them, and pray for them.
- These parents already had a spiritual view of life. At some level, these parents knew enough about Jesus and believed Jesus could bless their children in some way. They wanted Jesus to pray for their children’s well-being; that God would show them favor throughout their life.
- Many people, including these parents, saw Jesus as a rabbi. It was part of Jewish tradition in Jesus’ day – to bring a child to a rabbi that he might bless them. The word “brought” (prosphero) does not mean to casually bring something to someone. It is an intense version of bringing something or someone to something. It was commonly used for bringing sacrifices to worship and here suggests the idea of dedication. For these parents, this was an act of dedication on behalf of their children. It was an act of worship for these parents.
- The word for “children” (paidion) is significant and is used throughout these verses. There are nine words in the Greek language that is translated “child”; this one refers to anyone from an infant up to 12 years old. When Luke describes this event he uses the word “brephos” which specifically refers to “infants” and “small children.” This word is normally used in the New Testament to speak of a child who is in the earlier years of his or her development. It is safe to assume that based on Mark and Luke, the majority, if not all of the children who were being brought to Jesus that day were little children.
The scene has been set. There is a simple, but profound lesson for parents here of a dedicated approach of bringing their children to Jesus. Every parent should be committed to introducing their children to the Lord and teaching them God’s truth about life.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-7, which addresses parents, says, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (NLT). As parents we are to have an all-out love for God and use everyday occurrences to teach our children God’s truths.
- Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (NLT). Dads, it is our responsibility to be the spiritual leader of that home. Dads, go ahead and teach them how to repair the car, repair the house, fish, and hunt but also teach them what God says about life. Help them to have an awareness and respect for God’s truth throughout their life.
Jesus was approachable. The parents felt comfortable bringing their children to the Lord. Jesus is still approachable today and He wants you to bring your children to Him.
The Anger of Jesus
Number two, we see the anger of Jesus. Mark says in verse 13, But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him. 14 When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples.
Mark tells us the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Jesus. To scold (epitimao) means “to censure” or “to reprimand.”[ii] It means “to rebuke” (NASB), and “to discourage” (AMP). As the parents were trying to bring their children to Jesus, the disciples were telling the parents to leave Jesus alone and to go away.[iii]
Why were the disciples trying to do this? We don’t know for sure. Maybe they thought they were doing Jesus a favor by trying to protect His time and trying to give Him some much needed rest from the crowds and the demands of the people. Maybe they didn’t think blessing children and praying over them were as important as healing lepers, casting out demons, calming the storms, or teaching about the kingdom of God to the crowds. Maybe they wanted a break from all the activity around Jesus and was simply trying to get rid of the crowd so they could have some time alone with Jesus and each other to process the things that have already occurred and been said. We don’t know.
Regardless of why the disciples kept trying to stop the parents from bringing the children to Jesus they had forgotten a very important lesson that Jesus had recently taught them. Back in Mark 9:35 we are told, He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” 36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me” (NLT).
Jesus just taught them how important little children and people like little children are to Him. Jesus is saying, “If you receive them, you are receiving me and my heavenly Father.”
This is how God teaches you. He is going to teach you a truth and then He is going to give you an opportunity to apply it. Jesus teaches the disciples about the value and significance of children in Mark 9 and then in Mark 10 an opportunity arises for them to demonstrate they learned it. However, they failed. They forgot the truth. They haven’t learn what’s really important to Jesus yet. They should have already known this.
This is why Mark goes on to say in verse 14, When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. Sometimes you are going to get angry at Christians. The disciples of Jesus are going make you frustrated, but don’t let your anger toward them cause you to give up on them. Jesus got angry at them, but He did not abandon them.
When Jesus became angry with the disciples, He was not slightly annoyed or a little frustrated with them. He was “angry” (aganakteo). This word “angry” means indignant, irate, or outraged.[iv] It means to be greatly grieved resulting in an expression of irritation. The term indicates that Jesus was seriously agitated at the disciples for the way they treated these families with their children. They were not demonstrating understanding of God’s Word, nor were they demonstrating love for these people.
What’s ironic about all this is we usually tell children to behave like adults, but in verse 14-15, Jesus tells the adults to behave like children. Which brings us to our next observation.
The Kingdom of Jesus
Number three, we see the kingdom of Jesus. In response to what His disciples were doing He said in verse 14, He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” To help His disciples and us understand something about the kingdom of God, Jesus uses children as an object lesson. In verse 14 Jesus talks about actual children, then in verse 15 Jesus refers to those who are like a child. To understand what Jesus is doing we need to take a look at these two verses separately, then look at how they are connected.
Jesus said in verse 14, the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. When Jesus says, “like these children,” He is not talking metaphorically or symbolically. He is using the children in front of Him to refer to all children everywhere. Jesus is saying, “These children in front of me represent all the children on this planet and the Kingdom of God belongs to them.”
What does that mean? It means that if those children were to die they would go to heaven. The kingdom of God belongs to them. This statement by Jesus is unqualified. There are no conditions or restrictions on this statement. These children are not elect, they are not baptized, and they bring nothing to the table. They don’t even bring faith to the table. There is nothing about these children that merit them possessing the kingdom of God. These children are unable to believe Jesus for salvation because they have not reached the age of accountability.[v] Remember, we are talking about infants and little children. They don’t understand anything about sin, forgiveness, heaven, hell, or salvation. But Jesus clearly states that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.
Let me make something clear. Jesus did not pronounce blessings on people outside His kingdom. All such people belong to Satan’s kingdom (John 8:44; Col. 1:13; 1 John 3:8) and are cursed. Babies, before they reach the age when they understand good and evil (which varies from child to child), are under God’s gracious, special care. If they die before that time, their souls will go to heaven; once past that point, God will hold them responsible if they fail to repent and believe the gospel like everyone else.
This condition of grace for children, now becomes an illustration of how everyone must receive the kingdom of God. So Jesus says in verse 15, I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it. Jesus is not talking about faith or humility or simplicity. Jesus is talking about two things.
- In this context, to be “like a child” is to be helpless. Little children cannot do anything for themselves. They are helpless. I’m convinced that Jesus was using these children who were brought to Him to be blessed as an illustration of the way in which all people must come to Him for a blessing. That is, if we would come to Jesus for a blessing, we must not come in our own strength; we must not come through our own understanding, our own wisdom, our own good works. We can only come to Christ in our helpless state, looking to Him and to His grace alone. One of the things that moves Jesus to bless these children is their helplessness.
- In this context, to be “like a child” is to be dependent. Children are dependent for everything. Nothing good can happen for that child unless someone provides that goodness for that child. When we come to Jesus we come to Him in a state of dependence. I cannot save myself, I am dependent on Him completely to rescue me and bless me with eternal life.
How do we receive the kingdom of God into our lives? How do we receive the blessings that come from the kingdom of God? We receive them like a child receives blessings, in a state of helplessness and dependence.[vi] This is mercy and grace. Little children are the perfect example of how God’s grace and mercy works. We can’t do anything to get into the kingdom of God, it must be completely done for us. To receive God’s kingdom, you must be like a little child – helpless and dependent.
The Compassion of Jesus
Finally, we see the compassion of Jesus. Mark says in verse 16, Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them.
The phrase “took the children in his arms” means to be folded, held tight, or secure in His arms. He is cradling these little children. It is a scene of compassion and love. They are precious in His sight. They are protected in His arms. I believe we see here an image of our Heavenly Father loving His children, you and me.
Then we are told Jesus “placed his hands on their heads.” This is an act of love and compassion. Placing hands on their heads was a physical demonstration of a spiritual reality. What was happening between Jesus and the child was personal.
Finally, we are told that Jesus “blessed them.” He spoke words of blessing over them and prayed over them. When someone wants to pray for you they are wanting to bless you. When you pray for others, you are blessing them.
All these actions of picking up the children, holding them closely, placing his hand on their head and praying them are all acts of compassion for children who are helpless and completely dependent. That’s exactly how we should be.
As we wrap this up, I want to drive home one point. Notice that Jesus said we “receive” the kingdom of God, not achieve it. We don’t work for it. We can never be good enough to achieve the kingdom. We “receive” God’s kingdom by grace and mercy like a little child.
[i] Matthew, Mark, and Luke all contrast this account with the rich young ruler in order to help us see that salvation is by grace. The kingdom belongs to those who are powerless, vulnerable, and incapable of any contribution making them completely dependent on another person. Whoever receives the Kingdom of God like a child will enter in to it, meaning it is impossible for self-righteous people to enter eternal life. It is impossible for those who depend on their strength, resilience, and capability to enter in to His kingdom. Only those who are spiritually bankrupt and dependent on another’s righteousness shall step foot into God’s kingdom.
[ii] This is an ironic scene. The disciples are scolding and trying to stop these parents from bringing their children to Jesus. As God in the flesh, Jesus is the one who created them (John 1:1-2; Col. 1:16). The one who commanded Adam and Eve to have children and be fruitful and multiply. Jesus is the One who declared that children are a gift and a blessing to the family (Psalm 127:3-5). Jesus is the One who formed the inward parts of these children and weaved them in their mother’s womb and wonderfully made them (Psalm 139:13-16). In reality, the disciples were trying to hinder these children from getting to the one who created them, loved them, and knows them perfectly.
[iii] The related noun is translated “punishment” in 2 Corinthians 2:6. Mark used the word to describe Jesus’ rebuke of demons (Mark 1:25; 3:12; 9:25), and a storm (4:39), His warning to the disciples not to reveal that He was the Messiah (8:30), Peter’s rebuke of Jesus (8:32) and the Lord’s subsequent rebuke of Peter (8:33), and the crowd’s rebuke of a blind man who kept calling out to Jesus (10:48). (MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, p.65)
[iv] It describes the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees to the children in the temple who were hailing Jesus as the Messiah (Matt. 21:15), the reaction of the other ten disciples to the request by James and John for the chief seats in the kingdom (Mark 10:41), the reaction of some present when a woman anointed Jesus with expensive perfume (Mark 14:4), and the reaction of a synagogue official when Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Luke 13:14). (MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark 9-16, p.66)
[v] The comforting truth that young children who die will go to heaven does not, of course, mean that they are not sinners, even though they have not consciously chosen to sin. The Bible is clear that every human since the fall has been born a sinner, inheriting Adam’s sinful nature, which he passed on to all his descendants (Romans 5:12-21). That corrupt nature is present from conception. David wrote in Psalm 51:5, “For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me” (NLT). Psalm 58:3 echoes this truth when it says, “wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way” (NLT). In Genesis 8:21, God said, “Everything they think or imagine is ben toward evil from childhood” (NLT; see also Isaiah 48:8). Proverbs 22:15 points out, “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness” (NLT). All infants without exception grow up to be sinful adults proving that we all have the sinful nature from birth. Sinfulness is not a condition that people enter when they sin but one they are into that causes them to do evil. In other words, people are not sinners because they sin; they sin because they are sinners. So babies and young children are in God’s kingdom solely by an act of His grace.
It is not true, however, that such children have eternal life and then lose it once they reach the condition of accountability, since eternal life, by definition, cannot be less than eternal (John 3:15-16; 5:24; 6:40, 54; 10:28-29). Instead, God holds them in a condition of grace until they reach the age where they become accountable before Him. That temporary, conditional grace will become eternal for those who die before becoming accountable. The Bible teaches that they are viewed as innocent in God’s sight. God referred to the young children in Israel as those “who this day have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39, NASB). (MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Mark)
[vi] Jesus will contrast this helplessness and dependence in the next section of Mark when He tells the rich young ruler to sale everything he has and give it to the poor. This would make the young man helpless and dependent. The rich young ruler doesn’t feel helpless because he thinks he is good; he has kept the commandments (at least he thinks he has) and he has plenty of money. His perceived goodness and wealth are keeping him from an attitude of helplessness and dependence on God. Jesus knows for this man to receive the kingdom of God he needs to see himself as helpless and dependent on God completely for salvation. He needs to come to God like these children.