Children lived in a dangerous status in the first century Hellenistic society. Some children were petted while others exploited, depending on the situation of the family and society. According to Roman law, a father had absolute power over his offspring- even to condemn him or her to death.
The Hebrew view of children was very much uplifting. They were regarded as gifts from God. Rachel entreated God to give her children or she would die (Genesis 30:1). Hannah prayed for a child, and when she begot one, she named him Samuel (“God Has Heard”).
In the New Testament, we find instances where Jesus elevates little children to a much superior position. In Mark 10, we see many parents bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus. They wanted Jesus to touch the children and bless them. Many of them were babies (Luke 18). The act of blessing has Biblical antecedents: patriarch Israel blessed Manasseh and Ephraim by laying his hands on their heads.
The proud parents placed children in arms of Jesus where they snuggled close to him. He placed his hands on their little heads and said a blessing, addressing heaven.
But the disciples rebuked the parents asking them not to disturb Jesus. They wanted to protect Jesus from the milling crowd. After all, he had to combat with demons and religious leaders. Then there were the crowds, who wanted him to heal them from various ailments. Now the children were being brought to him. Also, these were but children: little, insignificant people who could not understand anything about Jesus.
According to Verse 14, the reaction of Jesus to the actions of the disciples was that he was “indignant.” The Greek translation of the word indignant is a mix of two words: ‘much’ and to ‘grieve.” Thus, Jesus had been much grieved!
An indignant Jesus tells his disciples, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” Jesus expresses many things in this outburst.
Firstly, it is evident that Jesus loves children. He had been a child himself. In other places, Jesus’ love for children is evident where a gentle father cuddles his children (Luke 11:7) and a parent who listens to all requests of his children (Mathew 7:9).
In fact, Jesus performed many miracles involving children. These are the Noble Man’s little son and Jairus’s daughter to whom Jesus said tenderly, “Talitha Cumi” (Little girl, rise).
Not only does Jesus love children, he secondly affirms the spirituality of children. By saying – ‘to such belongs the kingdom of God’- he affirms the full spirituality of children.
Jesus also declares, ‘Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” This is a strong pronouncement because it spells out the condition to enter the kingdom of God.
But Jesus does not mean only that one must be as simple and innocent like a child. Instead, he means that one must possess the quality of a child to be helplessly dependent.
All children in the world are emotionally and physically helpless. So it must be for all Christians- they must be completely dependent on God.
When you realize you are helpless, you naturally get the quality of humility. In another place, Jesus gives the statement that unless one does not become like a child, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Also, Jesus says whoever who humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Mathew: 18).
Thus, Jesus not only loved the innocence of children but loved them for their complete helpless dependence on others, which was a mirror of a Christian’s complete dependence on God.