I will never forget the shame and embarrassment my wife and I felt when others learned she was pregnant for the fourth time in 6 years. What hurt the most was that these were Christians who did not congratulate us or rejoice with us that God had given us another child. We already knew this fallen world viewed children as a curse, and that Satan himself despised them. And we were well acquainted with our own sinful tendencies to see children as a burden and an obstacle to our comfort. This confusion drove us to see what the Lord says about children in His Word. “What do you think about our children, Father?”
In Mark 10:13-16, the One who perfectly images His Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, demonstrates how He views the children of believers. It says,
13 Then they began bringing children to Him in order that He might touch them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 So when Jesus saw this, He became indignant and He said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me. Do not prevent them, because the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you: whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never ever enter into it.” 16 Then as He was embracing them in His arms, He began blessing them by laying His hands upon them.
Let’s look closely at how Jesus sees the children of God’s people, and the implications of this for parenting.
1. Believing parents know their children need Jesus’ saving touch. (v. 13)
Who is the “they” who began bringing their children to Jesus in verse 13? Although the text does not specify, we can at least conclude that they were people who believed that Jesus was worthy of committing their children for this purpose: “that He might touch them.” The touch of Christ is a rich theme in Mark and the other Synoptic Gospels. Just as Jesus touched a leper (Mark 1:41), a deaf man (7:33), and a blind man (8:22) in order to make them whole, these parents must have been aware that Jesus had both the ability and the desire to bless their children with salvation by the touch of His all-powerful hands.
The fact that the parents saw their children as needing Jesus Christ’s touch says something about the state of children. Because they inherit our sin nature, children are not born innocent, but they need rescue from the penalty and the power of their sin. “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.” (Ps. 58:3, ESV). It is striking that in the parallel account in Luke 18:15, Luke does not use the word for children (παιδία), but the word for infants (βρέφη), which he uses elsewhere for baby Jesus (Luke 2:12, 16) and the Israelite infants in Egypt (Acts 7:19). Just as those with diseases (3:10) and a discharge of blood (5:28) longed for His healing touch, it is safe to conclude that these parents believed that their children were in desperate need of contact with Jesus. The “they” who brought their children to Jesus were those who not only believed their children needed to be saved, but they believed in Christ’s saving power for their children.
2. Jesus includes believers’ children in the Kingdom of God. (v. 14)
Unfortunately, the disciples reacted by rebuking the parents for bothering Jesus with their children. “Why pester the Lord of Glory with your annoying, loud, sloppy, dirty, sinful children?” How does Jesus respond in verse 14? He is indignant that His disciples have attempted to prevent the children from coming to Him, and He grounds His reasoning in this fact: “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” While Jesus uses children as an example of how to humbly receive the kingdom of God with child-like faith in verse 15, first in verse 14 He declares that children of believers actually possess the kingdom of God, since they are a part of it.
The kingdom of God arrived when Jesus began overthrowing Satan in the wilderness (Mark 1:15), and it will arrive in its fullness at His second coming (14:25). But in the meantime, the kingdom of God on earth is expressed through His Church, where the resurrected and ascended Christ is present by His Holy Spirit to bless His people through Word and sacrament (Matt. 16:18-19). Note the correlation in verse 14: to come to Christ is to possess His kingdom.
One commentator puts it like this:
The fact that the Lord regarded these little children that were brought to him as being already “in” the kingdom, as being even now members of his church, must not escape our attention. He definitely did not view them as “little heathen,” who were living outside of the realm of salvation until by an act of their own they would “join the church.” He regarded them as “holy seed” (see 1 Cor. 7:14). (William Hendriksen, 384-385)
Therefore, we must not exclude, but include the children of believers as being a part of His kingdom people - even from infancy, as we saw from Luke 18:15 above. Parents must bring their children to Jesus through prayer (Matt. 19:13) and by teaching them His Word (Gen. 18:19, Eph. 6:4), both in the home and to Church where they can hear the Word preached.
God has not changed in His character regarding His faithfulness to show covenant love to the parents, and to their children, to a thousand generations (Ex.34:7). Recall that our passage is following Jesus’ teaching on marriage. God has ordained that families in His Church whose parents teach their children the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ, be the ordinary means by which God powerfully brings children to faith in Jesus. The children of believers are “in the Lord” (Eph. 6:1) until they otherwise deny the faith. Though Jesus could have said that the kingdom owns them, His grammar of choice is that they own the kingdom. It belongs to them. And therefore, the king of this kingdom is their covenant Lord. We must receive the kingdom like them (v. 15), because Jesus receives them into His kingdom (v. 14, 16).
This does not mean that every single child who grows up in a Christian home will be saved in the end. Until Christ returns, the kingdom of God is a mixed bag of good and bad fish (Matt. 13:47-50). Before the Second Coming of Christ, while His Church is still in a wilderness state of temptation and testing, one can temporarily be a part of the covenant community by appearing to be “wheat” while really being a “weed” who gets thrown into the fire (Matt. 13:24-30). Being in Jesus’ kingdom in this wilderness era does not always equate with having salvation; for one can outwardly be in the kingdom through church membership and taste of the goodness of the Word of God (Hebrews 6:5), then fall away from Christ in the end. Some “sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12, ESV)
However, until a child in a Christian home grows up and rejects Christ permanently, parents should not assume their children are outside of the kingdom—but rather that the kingdom belongs to them!
3. Jesus blesses the children by laying hands upon them. (v. 16)
In order to demonstrate His point in verse 14 regarding children possessing the kingdom of God, Jesus “embraces” the little ones, which is a word only used here and in Mark 9:36 when Jesus embraces a child in His arms. If that is all Jesus did, it would have been a sufficient display of His embracing love for believers’ children. But He does more.
After Jesus embraces the children, “He began blessing them by laying His hands upon them.” What kind of blessing did Jesus give these children, and why is it given by the laying on of hands? A helpful way to answer that question is to ask another question: when else in Scripture did someone lay hands on children and bless them?
The answer is in Genesis 48:8-16 where Jacob, now called Israel, asked Joseph to bring his sons to him so that he might embrace them and bless them. When Israel blessed Jacob’s sons, he laid his hands on them and declared the very blessings God promised his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, which he then passed down to Joseph’s offspring.
The Living God blessed Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to multiply and spread His kingdom of godliness throughout the earth. After their fall into sin, God picks back up with that program by blessing Abraham to become exceedingly fruitful and to multiply God’s kingdom (i.e., kings would come through Him; Gen. 17:6). Just as Isaac laid his hands upon Jacob to pass on to him the blessings God promised his father Abraham (Gen. 27:27-29), so Jacob did the same with the next generation as he laid his hands upon Joseph’s children, Ephraim and Manasseh. These patriarchs were declaring that the legacy of godliness would be passed on to their children, so that they may also have YHWH as their God and Savior to be fruitful (physically and spiritually!) in expanding God’s kingdom.
Like His human forefathers, Jesus Christ is applying God’s covenant blessing by laying His hands upon these children and blessing them in Mark 10:16. The Administrator of the Covenant of Grace is showing that the New Covenant does not discontinue God’s blessing of being our God and our children’s God. After all, it is in the various New Covenant passages that God promises He will circumcise our children’s hearts and put His Holy Spirit within them (Deut. 30:6, Isaiah 59:21). For this reason, it is fitting that the sign of the covenant of baptism be applied to them as well, as we trust our faithful Father to circumcise their hearts of stone, replace them with a heart of flesh, and sprinkle them with the cleansing waters of the Holy Spirit and the blood of Christ (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jer. 32:38-39).
As we instruct our children in the Word of God, let us prayerfully, confidently trust our Covenant Lord that He will cause our children to sit down with us, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – and the Lord Jesus Christ – in the coming kingdom of God.