What Did Jesus Say About Children?

(Photo: Unsplash/Charlein Gracia)Three children sitting together in this photo uploaded on May 28, 2018.

Jesus mentioned children several different times throughout his ministry.

One of his most famous interactions with kids occurred in Matthew 19:13-15, which happened after he had gone into Judea, having just spent time in Galilee and taught those gathered there about the nature of marriage, adultery and divorce.

"Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.' When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there," the passage reads.

Theologians have pointed out that when Jesus said that for one to receive the Kingdom he or she must do so like a child in order to enter it reveals something important about God's nature and how He relates to us, his children.

Such childlike receiving is expressed in total trust, notes Kent Hughes, professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, writing on the WTS website in a 2016 essay adapted from his book Luke: That You May Know the Truth.

So in the Gospels when Jesus instructed the disciples to not hinder children from coming to Him, "for to such belongs the kingdom of God,'" He did not say that the Kingdom belongs to those specific children, but those who are "like" them, Hughes explained.

And without their parents, children are utterly helpless, he went on to say.

"A newborn, naked, with flailing hands and feet lifted toward the sky, is a hear-wrenching profile of helplessness. And unlike any other creature, its helplessness extends for years. No child would survive its early years without the help of others."

"Children are free from the pride of knowledge. He has no learning, no degrees to pile up before the cross. Intellectual conceit is impossible. Children are teachable too. They receive the gospel without proposing amendments to it."

Similarly, as Eduard Schweizer, professor of New Testament at the University of Zurich, has observed, that helplessness is the reason children are blessed.

"They cannot count on any achievements of their own — their hands are empty like those of a beggar. Jesus enlarges the promise to include everyone," Schweizer explained.

"With an authority such as only God can claim, he promises the Kingdom to those whose faith resembles the empty hand of a beggar. Such faith is possible because they have no achievements of their own nor any conceptions of God which can intrude between them and God."

In the chapter immediately preceding the one where Jesus speaks of the Kingdom belonging to those like children, the Lord speaks in hyperbole, to underscore his value for children. 

"If anyone causes one of these little ones — those who believe in me — to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!"

Yet that phrase "little ones" marks a shift from the literal "child" in the Greek, noted Kyle Roberts, a theology professor United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in Minnesota in a 2013 essay.

The "little ones" are not only actual children, but also those who have no power, influence, or significance," Roberts explains.

"They are the 'withouts.' When the powerful abuse the powerless, they incur the wrath of Jesus."

"What does it mean to cause a little one (a marginalized, powerless person) to sin – or to quit following Jesus? It's easy to think of child abuse in the church, or overt racism or discrimination, or bullying the weak and 'different,' or excluding by our messages (implicit and explicit) and our programming the poor, the uneducated, the jobless."

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