“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Chapter 18 sets forth principles of conduct suitable for subjects of the King and His kingdom. Jesus and His disciples were still in the city of Capernaum. He gave a discourse on the nature of being a child of God. This is the fourth of five discourses in Matthew.
We enter the kingdom as a child, 18:1-4
We treat fellow believers as children of God, 18:5-14
We discipline believers as children, 18:15-20
We forgive fellow believers as children, 18:21-35
At that time [the time of the discussion on the temple tax in Capernaum] the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
The disciples introduced the subject of status in the kingdom of heaven. Their interest was in who would get preferred positions there. They argued over this issue (Lu 9:46).
Matthew used the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 32 times in the first book of the New Testament. This is a reference to God’s rule on earth.
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,
Jesus answered the disciples’ question by setting a small child in their midst as an object lesson. In this passage the little child is analogous to a converted person.
and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted [to turn] and become [literally—become something you were not before] as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom as first and foremost an inner issue. Jesus did not imply that His disciples were not true believers but that they must enter the kingdom with a certain attitude. That attitude was the attitude of a child. A child has no authority but is dependent upon others around him. He has no concern about his status in society. The disciples were to “turn” toward this attitude. That is a “right about face” word—they were to go in the opposite direction from where they were, like an unpretentious child depending on his parent and making no claims about his personal greatness.
Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
People entering the kingdom must go with the humility of a lowly child. There is a difference between approaching the kingdom as a child in attitude and being childish.
Whoever receives [welcomes] one little child like this in My name [all that Jesus represents] receives [welcomes] Me.
Jesus spoke here of people born into His kingdom. We cannot separate Jesus from His children.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone [cylindrical stone for grinding grain, pulled by a donkey] were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Those who seduce God’s children are subject to judgment. It is one thing to sin against oneself but it is another to sin against a fellow believer. Jesus’ emphasis was to take maximum measures to maintain humility.
The greatest people in the kingdom are those with humility, the inverse of 20th-century thinking.
Most of us think about our reward in heaven rather than the awe of meeting the Lord there. We are absorbed with our little issues rather than with the greatness of the Lord.
We put priority on personal prestige and aggrandizement. We jockey for positions in the church. Pride is destructive to the heart of Christian living. True humility orients to God rather than to others or even self.
Much of current evangelical orientation is on selfish ambition and personal advancement. It is a sad indictment of current Christianity.