That God has a kingdom in both heaven and on earth, one over which He rules with uncontested sovereignty as Lord and King, and which is inhabited by all intelligences both human and angelic which have bowed the knee in obedience to Him, is the grand theme of Scripture. This kingdom was established in Eden; endured after the Fall in all those who yielded to Him in faith; narrowed to Israel and its divine unconditional promises in the majority of the Old Testament; was enlarged upon and would one day find ultimate consummation through the many prophecies that contributed to God’s total promise; was idealized in the reigns of David and Solomon (both being in different ways a type of the ultimate Messiah and Seed of David); clung to by the remnant before, during, and after the Exile; and was the hope of the thousands of godly, saved Jews through four hundred years of silence until God sent His final OT prophet, the Baptist, to prepare the way for His incarnation. The promised kingdom was near, John cried to the penitent thousands in the wilderness. Those men and women, along with Mary, Anna, Simeon, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and many others were the godly remnant who had always carried within themselves the hope of complete fulfillment of all God had promised. They comprised the kingdom remnant in the time between the Covenants.
When our Lord burst onto the scene proclaiming the promised kingdom was here in Himself and His work, John’s remnant merged with the men and women who yielded to our Lord’s message to become the Jewish messianic remnant who believed He was the promised Messiah and intended to take that message to the world. Once He rose from the dead and ascended, the Holy Spirit came in state at Pentecost, filling and baptizing this remnant afresh and creating the Church. This Jewish remnant—both that initial group along with the thousands of Jews that would trust in Jesus over the centuries—binds Gentiles believers into one Body with Messiah as Head, with His promises and covenants now just as much for Gentiles (thus fulfilling many OT promises of Gentile salvation) as they were for Jews. Of course, this kingdom will one day be consummated fully in its millennial and eternal phases to the glory of our great God!
All this means: God has a saving kingdom over which He rules as king. It is both realm (people/place) and reign (exercised power). It is both heavenly and earthly, now and in the future. It is now and not yet. And only those who enter that kingdom will be saved from death, sin, hell, and all the wrath of God.
As such, the question of how one enters that kingdom ought to be of utmost importance to all who wish to know God and know life as He created it to be. Our Lord has not left us without answers! He tells us, in this section of Mark’s gospel, the only way to enter the kingdom and experience all its blessings in this world and the one to come.
A. The Parents’ Concern (v. 13a)
Mark moves rather abruptly from the discussion over divorce and remarriage (vv. 1-12) to a new narrative about Jesus and the children. This narrative teaches us important truth about who can enter the kingdom our Lord preached and brought.
“They” is in the masculine form, which indicates both fathers and mothers were bringing their little ones to Jesus. The Greek term for “children” is a general term (Luke’s account uses the more specific brephos, denoting infants up to about toddler age), which Mark uses earlier to refer to Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter. So it is likely that while the majority of children were younger, and thus unable to exercise personal faith in Christ and His message, there may have been older children there as well.
What are we to make of their parents? I think it is likely that many of them were true believers in the Messiah (limited though some of their understanding doubtless was). We do not see the selfish clamoring of the crowds here. We see a humble earnestness, a desire for their children to meet and be blessed by the Man who has proclaimed the saving rule and reign of God and the forgiveness of sins. I believe these men and women put their faith in that message and are doing what any believing parent wants to do: Have their child know Jesus! I look forward to meeting them in heaven and hearing their stories!
Not incidentally, it was very common for parents to bring their children to prominent or respected rabbis and teachers, or to the elders of the synagogue, for blessing. Fathers also often blessed their children, desiring them to be abundant in good works and faithful in marriage. These were pleas for God’s favor upon the child, and as distorted as the Judaism of Jesus’ day was, there were many godly men and women who desired their children to be rightly related to God, obedient to Him, and honoring to Him. In their culture, the paternal and other blessings were a means to that end (and a quite biblical one—have you ever thought to verbally bless your children and those you love?). So as these parents have come to believe Jesus is Savior and Messiah, they bring their children to Him for the ultimate blessing from the ultimate Blesser.
The blessing would be bestowed by laying hands on the child’s head; Matthew adds they wanted Jesus to pray for their children (the blessing would often be done as a spoken prayer). Jesus was a toucher, demonstrating His compassion for and identification with sinners. Doubtless Jesus hugged each child, played with them, made them laugh, and then laid His carpenter’s hands on their little heads and with passion and joy verbalized abundant blessing on each one!
B. The Disciples’ Rebuke (v. 13b)
But the Twelve—as we often do—think they know better than Jesus. Doesn’t He have more important things to do than bestowing honor and significance upon children? He is too important and too busy for this! So they attempt to intercept the doubtless long line of eager parents. The word “rebuke” is a strong one. It is the same word used to describe Jesus’ response to demons when exorcising them! The word means a sharp, pointed reprove or censor, with an intent to stop whatever is going on. I think the disciples were annoyed, curt, irritated. This was supposed to be the close of Jesus’ public ministry. He was supposed to be personally training them for post-cross ministry. And here He is, pulled aside by the thousands and their incessant needs.
They still do not have the heart for people—especially lost people—that Jesus has and that He wants them to have. O that we would be interruptible! Author Edith Schaeffer once canceled a prominent book signing in Manhattan because she stopped to comfort a weeping chambermaid in her hotel, pray with her, and give her the gospel. O that we would have such a sensitivity to the real needs of people and their ultimate remedy in the Lord Jesus and His comprehensive salvation!
Jesus gives the disciples a rebuke of His own, to which we now turn.
C. Jesus’ Indignation and Response (vv. 14–15)
We do not have many instances of Jesus being angry in the gospels. This is one of them. The Greek term—used only here of Jesus—denotes being irate, outraged, greatly displeased. There is a point at which we are to know better and are thus inherently culpable for whatever stupid or sinful decision we make, and the disciples have reached that point.
The Greek text is something like “Start allowing them/stop preventing them.” And why? Because the kingdom of God—the kingdom of the redeemed which the King in heaven rules—belongs to such as these. MacArthur makes an important point I wish to highlight. Jesus does not say “to these,” meaning these specific individual children (though the truth He teaches includes and applies to them). He says “to such as these”—meaning both the class of people who has childlike characteristics, and the general class of people to which these children belong. While Jesus’ primary point is that true believers are like children in their humble, dependent, yielded faith, His anger at hindering these specific children makes little sense if they are mere symbols of a spiritual reality. No, the Twelve are wrong to rebuke the parents and hinder the children because—like those capable of faith who manifest childlike qualities of humble, dependent faith—these little ones are included in the kingdom.
Jesus does not teach infant baptism here. While doubtless many of the parents are believers, our Lord teaches no such notion of proxy faith (or, for that matter, infant faith), which is a logical inference based on a prefabricated theology. Everywhere in the NT baptism is understood as the climax of conversion; it is faith-repentance-baptism, it is conversion-baptism. It is never performed apart from personal repentance and faith. As such it cannot be administered to infants. Even covenantalists who are Baptists understand that there is no room in Scripture for covenant children or unregenerate church membership, and as such correctly teach credobaptism. Rather, Jesus is making a point about the kind of faith that welcomes one into the kingdom…and, I believe, His welcome upon children too young to exercise personal faith, as an act of divine mercy towards sinners. This is not because they aren’t sinners—they are (1 Kings 8:46, Psa. 58:3; Eccl. 7:20; Gen. 8:21; Isa. 48:8; Rom. 5:12)—but because God shows mercy to sinners too young to trust Him personally. I believe that is part of what Jesus teaches here, if not the primary point.
Young children are the perfect picture of salvation precisely because they cannot do anything. They simply receive. They trust their needs will be met. This kind of humble, non-self-sufficient, dependent trust is the kind of faith that opens the kingdom wide to all who desire it. For our Lord says if we do not receive the kingdom in that way, we will not enter it at all (v. 15). Only those with humble, dependent, repentant faith in Christ will enter.
D. The Personal Touch of Jesus (v. 16)
Having rebuked His errant men, our Lord goes back to welcoming these little ones—as themselves, and the believers whose humble characteristics they share. Having called back their dejected, embarrassed parents (Luke 18:16a), Jesus continues to take each little one in His arms. I am sure He smiled big at them, eyes crinkling, asked their and the child’s name, and then with all His heart laid His hands on them and unleashed mighty and overwhelming blessing on each soul. The Greek text has “fervently blessed”—used only here in the NT.
Two things leap out at me. (1) He touches them. He is personal, intimate, near. (2) He unleashes divine blessing upon them. Both of these—personal touch and almighty blessing—are true of each believer as well. Jesus has personally blessed you, Christian, unleashing God’s favor upon you in more ways than you can fathom. He loves and welcomes you because of the cross. May we be like little children in completely resting in His arms, and may we face the death of small children with hope that they too are safe in His arms forever—by the same omnipotent grace that welcomes us there.