All three synoptic Gospels record one of the most beloved accounts: Jesus blessed little children (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Learn why Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to infants and those like them.
Table of contents
- Jesus Said, “Let the Little Children Come to Me,” Because the Kingdom of God Belongs to Them
- Jesus Said, “Let the Little Children Come to Me,” Because They Exemplify Salvation Apart from Works
- Jesus Said, “Let the Little Children Come to Me,” Because the Kingdom of God Belongs to People Like Them
- The Kingdom of God Probably Also Belongs to the Mentally Handicapped
In Luke 18:15-17 Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to infants. I preached four earlier sermons explaining why the kingdom of God belongs to infants:
- Are Children Innocent?
- The Biblical Age of Accountability
- Sin Is Not Imputed Where There Is No Law
- Do Babies Go to Heaven When They Die?
If you are reading this post, listening to the sermon, or watching the sermon, and you have questions, they were probably answered in these sermons.
All three synoptic Gospels record the beloved account of Jesus blessing little children (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17). We will be focusing on Luke’s version:
Luke 18:15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.
Jewish parents commonly sought out prominent rabbis, which Jesus was, to bless their infants. Not only did the disciples try to stop the parents from bringing their children, they rebuked them. It looks like the disciples rebuked the parents, but then Jesus rebuked the disciples.
This is not one of the shining moments for the disciples. If you ever wonder if God can use you, think of some of some of the things the disciples did, and you will be encouraged he can. When I look at the behavior of the disciples at times, I’m encouraged that God can use me.
In the parallel account Mark 10:14 says, “When Jesus saw [what the disciples did], HE WAS INDIGNANT.” Based on what Jesus said, he seemed to be indignant because the disciples were destroying a spiritual truth he was trying to communicate. Infants were supposed to be able to come to Jesus physically, because it pictures infants being able to come to him spiritually, not just in this life but in the next. Preventing infants from being brought to Jesus could communicate they don’t have access to him.
Jesus Said, “Let the Little Children Come to Me,” Because the Kingdom of God Belongs to Them
Jesus made it clear infants have access to him with the words, “To such belongs the kingdom of God.” The words “to such” are incredibly important. In the NIV, NASB, and Amplified, it says, “such as these.” These words show Jesus wasn’t only saying the kingdom belongs to the infants brought to him. The kingdom also belongs to EVERY infant.
I’m not alone in interpreting this as a guarantee of babies’ salvation. When preaching on this passage John MacArthur said:
I am convinced that the Scripture is absolutely clear that when babies die and children die before reaching the point of personal accountability, they go to heaven. And I have collected all that material in a book.
I have a copy of John’s book, Safe in the Arms of God, which I referenced during these sermons. If you desire to understand infant salvation deeper than what I have taught, I highly recommend this book.
[This] passage gives Kingdom citizenship to both children and those who are like children. [They] have not yet any understanding to desire His blessing but when they are presented to Him, He gently and kindly receives them and dedicates them to the Father by a solemn act of blessing. It would be cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption. It is an irreligious audacity to drive from Christ’s fold those whom He held in His arms and shut the door on them as strangers when He did not wish to forbid them.John Calvin (2013). “Commentary on Matthew”, p.388, Ravenio Books.
I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise. Think what a multitude there is of them!C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. 1, ch. XVI, “A Defence of Calvinism,” Passmore and Alabaster, 1897, p. 175.
Two Points About Jesus Blessing the Children
Mark 10:16 [Jesus] took [children] in his arms AND BLESSED THEM, laying his hands on them.
The parallel account in Mark’s gospel adds that Jesus blessed them.
First, Jesus only blessed the saved, which makes sense. How blessed could people really be if they went to hell? How bad it would it look if Jesus blessed people and then they didn’t go to heaven?
Second, Jesus blessed these babies, and if paedobaptism, or infant baptism, was biblical, we would also expect him to command the parents to have them baptized. But he didn’t.
Why Would the Kingdom of God Belong to Infants?
What is so commendable about infants that they get to receive the greatest possible gift?
First, infants can be very loving. Typically, they are happy to be held, hugged, kissed, sometimes doing these things even at very young ages.
Second, infants are forgiving. Even if infants are angry because they didn’t get what they wanted, they don’t hold grudges. When you return to an infant a little while later they are not upset with you about whatever it is they didn’t get. They do not keep a record of wrongs or harbor bitterness.
Third, infants are very trusting, and trust is synonymous with faith. Infants are so trusting that as they get older we must teach them to be LESS trusting. We say things like, “Don’t talk to strangers. You can’t trust everyone.”
Fourth, infants have sincere motives. When they smile, laugh, or giggle, it is completely genuine. They do it for no other reason than the joy they are experiencing. They don’t worry about how they appear to others. They don’t try to impress, which leads to the fifth thing about them…
Fifth, infants lack pride:
Ephesians 2:8 By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is NOT YOUR OWN DOING; it is the gift of God, 9 NOT A RESULT OF WORKS, so that no one may boast.
Our salvation is not our own doing and not a result of our works. As we get older we can start to become proud and believe we contributed something to our salvation. But infants don’t have this problem.
Jesus Said, “Let the Little Children Come to Me,” Because They Exemplify Salvation Apart from Works
Considering there is no effort or merit on our parts to be saved, infants exemplify this incredibly well. They are the best example of the gospel’s recipients demonstrating divine grace and unconditional election.
When I use the term unconditional election, I’m not even using it in a Calvinist versus Arminian way. I am using it in the most generic way possible to describe people being elected independently of anything they have done or could do. There’s no better example than babies. They have done nothing to be elected, yet they are. They have done nothing to deserve the kingdom of heaven, yet it belongs to them.
Luke 18:9 He also told this parable TO SOME WHO TRUSTED IN THEMSELVES THAT THEY WERE RIGHTEOUS, and treated others with contempt:
Jesus preached this parable to the religious leaders. Because they believed the kingdom of God belonged to those who were good enough, the idea that infants could be saved was detestable to them. When Jesus held these infants and said the kingdom belonged to them, it flew in the face of the religious leaders’ teaching that the kingdom of God belonged to those who did enough.
What Have Infants Done to Be Saved?
Some people struggle with infant salvation, because they don’t think infants have done enough. But if we understand the gospel, what have any of us done to be saved? Nothing. We haven’t done more to be saved than infants. Or another way to say it is, infants haven’t done less than us to be saved.
Matthew 5:3 Blessed are THE POOR IN SPIRIT, for THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
In Luke 18 Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to children. Here he says the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit know they have nothing with which they could earn their salvation. They don’t trust in their own righteousness. So, it is fitting that the kingdom of God belongs to infants. They don’t think they are spiritually rich. We must get older to become proud and believe we deserve to go to heaven.
A true Christian is poor in spirit, and MORE LIKE A LITTLE CHILD, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior.Jonathan Edwards, Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections, Yale edition, 339.
Jesus Said, “Let the Little Children Come to Me,” Because the Kingdom of God Belongs to People Like Them
After making the point that the kingdom of God belongs to children and those like them, Jesus presents the other side: The kingdom of God does NOT belong to people who are not like children:
Luke 18:17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
If we are not like infants, we don’t even get to enter the kingdom. The Kingdom of God so clearly belongs to infants, adults must become like them to receive the kingdom themselves!
Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and BECOME LIKE CHILDREN, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
This is not a parallel account to Luke 18:15-17, but it is another low point for the disciples. The parallel account of Jesus blessing the little children in Matthew’s gospel is in 19:13-15.
Because there is nothing more important than entering the kingdom of God, we should ask ourselves what it is about children that we must become like to enter the kingdom. Jesus gave the answer in the next verse:
Matthew 18:4 Whoever humbles himself LIKE THIS CHILD is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
This is one more reason the kingdom belongs to infants. They have a wonderful humility.
Two Reasons Humility Is Needed to Enter the Kingdom
First, entering the kingdom requires acknowledging, “I am a sinner.” This world is filled with people who do not have the humility to say these four words. There are countless people going to hell because they cannot confess their sinfulness.
Second, entering the kingdom requires acknowledging, “I cannot save myself.” The world is also filled with people who do not have the humility to acknowledge they can’t save themselves. There are countless proud people believing the most common lie, “I am a good person who deserves to go to heaven.”
“Receiving” the Kingdom of God Like Children
Luke 18:7 contains the incredibly important word, “receive.” Jesus said, “whoever does not RECEIVE the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Think of the way infants receive. It does not matter what you hand an infant, they receive it.
Looking at this spiritually, children receive spiritual truths as readily as they receive physical objects. Tell children, “Jesus loves you” or “Jesus wants to be your Savior,” and they receive these truths. One time, when Rhea was younger, she learned that some people were not Christians, and she could not understand why they would not receive salvation.
Salvation imagery is even bound up in the word receive. For example, if I ask, “What is something you receive?” Most people are going to say, “A gift,” and that’s what salvation is:
- Romans 3:24 [We] are justified by his grace AS A GIFT.
- Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death, but THE FREE GIFT OF GOD is eternal life.
- Ephesians 2:9 By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is THE GIFT OF GOD, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
- John 4:10 Jesus [said], “If you KNEW THE GIFT OF GOD, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
And this is Jesus’s point: we should receive the gift of salvation as readily as infants receive whatever is given to them.
The Kingdom of God Probably Also Belongs to the Mentally Handicapped
In conversations about babies going to heaven, one of the common questions is, “Are there any other people in this category of special salvation?” Probably the mentally handicapped. I say “probably,” because I don’t have the scriptural support for the mentally handicapped going to heaven like I do with babies. But I do think it is probably the case.
1 Timothy 4:10 God…is the Savior of all people, ESPECIALLY OF THOSE WHO BELIEVE.
It is significant God is the Savior of all people, ESPECIALLY those who believe, versus ALL who believe. This implies God saves some who haven’t believed. This could include everyone who, through no fault of their own, can’t make the mental assent to believe, or, in other words, are unable to exercise saving faith. Two groups in this category: infants AND the mentally handicapped.
Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to those who are LIKE CHILDREN. When you ask people familiar with mentally handicapped people what they are like, they frequently say, “Like children.”
1 Corinthians 1:27 God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.
There are two ways the word “chose” is used in the New Testament. One way is to describe those God has chosen for a special purpose. But the more common way is to describe those God has chosen for salvation:
2 Thessalonians 2:13 God CHOSE YOU…to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
When 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 describes who God chooses, it could very describe those chosen for salvation. But even if the verses are only about those God has chosen for a special purpose, it is hard to believe they could be chosen for a special purpose, without ending up being saved.
Sadly, our world singles out down syndrome babies to be aborted. Some parents take tests when they are pregnant to find out if they are having a down syndrome child so they can abort it. But God could have a special place for them in heaven. Maybe some mentally handicapped people go through this life despised, but God has a glorious eternity in store for them in his presence. And this thought blesses me.
When We Were Told We Were Having a Down Syndrome Child
Katie is pregnant with our tenth child, Hudson Taylor LaPierre. She received a message from the doctor that Hudson likely had down syndrome. A few weeks later Katie took a more accurate test that revealed Hudson likely does not have down syndrome.
During the weeks that we thought we were having a down syndrome child, we read medical literature and testimonies from people with down syndrome children to understand what it would be like for us. I also tried to find Scripture that related. Three encouraging truths emerged.
First, God Is Sovereign over Disabilities
Exodus 4:10 Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? WHO MAKES HIM MUTE, OR DEAF, OR SEEING, OR BLIND? Is it not I, the Lord?
Although God mentioned the mute, death, or blind, it fits the spirit of the passage to include any disabilities, including children with down syndrome. It encouraged me that if we had a down syndrome child, it would not be an accident. God is as sovereign over the disabled as the abled.
I hope you can be encouraged by God’s sovereignty as well should you ever have a disabled child, or find yourself able to minister to someone with a disabled child.
Second, Disabilities Are not the Results of Parents’ Sins
John 9:1 [John] saw a man blind from birth. 2 [The] disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that THE WORKS OF GOD MIGHT BE DISPLAYED IN HIM.
The disciples assumed that the man’s blindness could have been a result of his parents’ sin. Many parents with a disabled children might think they did something wrong. Katie even did this, because she read that a baby’s likelihood for down syndrome is increased if the mother is stressed. But Jesus quickly corrected that thinking with the disciples and I believe he would with us as well.
This encouraged me, and I hope it encourages you as well, that if parents ever have disabled children they should never wonder if the child’s disability was caused by something they did wrong.
Third, God Wants to Use Disabilities for His Glory
Jesus’s response encouraged me not just to see the child as a gift from God, but even the accompanying disability as a gift from God, because of the way he would use it. God uses disabilities to “display [his] works in [them.]”
As Katie and I were reading about having a down syndrome child, it became evident that our lives would change, not just for a few years, but more than likely for the rest of our lives. People with down syndrome children often care for the child for the rest of its life.
I shared with Katie that there would be wonderful ways God would use this child in our family and our church family. Even though it seems like our 10th child probably does not have down syndrome, if the Lord ever chooses to bless our family or church family with a down syndrome child, I believe he will use that child in beautiful ways that we can’t imagine.