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Luke 18:15-17 says,
15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He might touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them. 16 But Jesus called for them, saying, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.”
Many have expounded on this passage without seeing it in light of its context. These mini-parables and events in Jesus’ ministry were not random collections of lessons pieced together by the gospel writers. Luke saw fit to insert Jesus’ teachings in this particular place in his gospel to instruct the people in the right course of action in regard to the nation’s slide toward destruction at the hands of Rome.
As we have already seen, the first part of Luke 18 gives a parable instructing the people “not to lose heart.” Then Jesus warned against self-righteousness, the religious attitude that could not prevent the coming destruction. And then in verses 15-17 Luke inserts Jesus’ admonition to allow the little ones to come to Him.
Although this was not told as a parable but as a real event, it is apparent that the “babies” and “children” served as examples of spiritual children. In other words, those who had recently come to Christ, whether they were publicans, sinners, or aliens from afar should not be hindered in any way from a direct relationship with Christ.
It was common (and natural) for parents to learn of Christ’s teachings and then teach those things to their children. The children were expected to keep their distance and not bother the Master, for His time was valuable and ought to be spent teaching adults. This fleshly order, however, meant that the children had only an indirect relationship with Christ. But Jesus wanted even the smallest of them to enjoy a personal relationship with Him and not have to remain at a distance.
Children were on the level of servants and slaves in the natural order of things. Paul refers to this in Galatians 4:1, 2, saying,
1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father.
Paul then relates this to Israel’s position under the Old Covenant. During their time as minors, they were like the children of Hagar, the bondwoman, slave-sons who were learning obedience. This was a good relationship for minors, but it should not remain this way forever, for as a child grows, he ought to take on the character of his parents until he comes to the place of full agreement.
So it is with all believers in Christ, except that even as children, they ought to have a direct relationship with their heavenly Father.
During the Pentecostal Age, which ought to have been an age of spiritual development in learning obedience, the Church normally put its “children” in bondage to itself. Instead of facilitating their growth, the priestly hierarchy often kept them as babes, even to the point of not allowing them direct access to the Scriptures. Certainly, they did not normally allow their “children” to receive unhindered, direct revelation from God, for they retained the power to veto their revelation if it did not conform to the church creed.
To some extent, of course, we can understand the reasoning of the Church. There were many rebellious children who claimed to hear God and who set up their own sects. This could hardly be avoided. But the function of the Church was to teach the people to hear God properly, warning them of heart idolatry by which men hear incorrectly. The solution was not to remove from the people the right to hear God for themselves.
This church practice was prophesied in the actions of the disciples who tried to keep the children from having direct access to Jesus. But Jesus understood that one’s status as a child or a spiritual child ought not to hinder him from having direct access to his heavenly Father. After all, even Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman, had a direct relationship with his father Abraham.
It is unfortunate that the priesthoods of church denominations have so often hindered the children from coming to Christ. They have misunderstood the purpose of priesthood. The priesthood was supposed to point the way to Christ, but instead it became the barrier to Christ. Authority was used to keep people in bondage to the priesthood, rather than to set them free into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Instead of helping them to hear God’s voice for themselves, they told their spiritual children to hear only the voice of the priest who would tell them what God had said.
This perversion of priestly authority was precisely what Jesus was correcting in Luke 18:15-17. Jesus said to His disciples, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them.”
It is apparent that such perverted use of priestly authority occurred not only in subsequent Church history, but also in the religion of the temple in Jesus’ day. The priestly control over the people was vast, and all of the common people were treated as children. These children were regulated, and if they stepped outside of the religious norms, they could even be punished as rebellious children.
It was on these grounds that Jesus was hated and ultimately crucified, for the religious leaders resented His familiarity with His Father in heaven. They resented His revelation that broke through the barriers to God that the priests had erected. In fact, the dividing wall in the temple court had kept women and aliens from approaching God beyond a certain point. Jesus tore down this wall with His teachings (Ephesians 2:14, 15), so that all of God’s children could come to Him without hindrance.
Hence, we see that Luke inserted this short incident to set forth the important principle of having a direct relationship with Christ. This passage thus forms an essential step in his narrative, for it gives instruction on how to avoid the disaster that was soon to come upon Jerusalem. Whereas many of the priests and rabbis had taught that it was the will of God to rebel against Rome, the children might receive a better revelation if they but had direct access to God and could hear His voice directly without being threatened with excommunication or even death.