At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18:1-4 ESV)
Just a few verses ago, Jesus told His disciples that He was going to be killed when He went to Jerusalem [Matthew 17:22-23]. And while they were distressed over this, apparently they weren’t distressed too much because at that time they ask Jesus which of them will be the greatest in the kingdom that they believed Jesus was going to establish. They were more concerned about their own positions in the earthly kingdom they mistakenly thought Jesus was going to establish than they were about Jesus’ impending crucifixion.
This isn’t all too uncommon in the human race. We’re all kind of selfish. We are more concerned about our own advancement than we are about the plight of others. This is why poverty and other dreadful human conditions exist – and have existed for centuries – all around the world
Notice that Jesus does not initially address the disciples’ question. Instead of addressing who will be the greatest in the kingdom He tells them how to enter the kingdom. There’s no point in worrying about being the greatest in heaven if one isn’t going to be there.
This, of course, implies that we are born outside of God’s kingdom. No one is, by birth, a member of God’s family. In fact, just the opposite is true. We are all born as part of Satan’s family [Ephesians 2:2; John 8:44]. We must turn and become like children to enter God’s kingdom.
The Greek word for the child that Jesus used as a living illustration implies that the child was a toddler, perhaps no more than two years old. When we think of such a person we think of someone who is incapable to taking care of themselves. They don’t question authority. Instead they trust his/her parents to provide. This is the type of attitude that opens the door to heaven [Matthew 3:3].
The word “become” implies change. One does not have to “become” something if they already are that something. As we grow into adults we become more self sufficient. But God calls on us to cease our pride and again become humble, like a child. King David spoke of such humility in Psalm 131.
This means that we don’t take our lives into our own hands but instead let God lead us. It means we don’t worry about tomorrow. Instead we trust God to provide our daily needs [Matthew 6:11]. In short, it means turning from ourselves as our source of hope and peacefully resting in God’s grace.
God often refers to believers as “children”. Jesus is God’s begotten Son. We are God’s adopted children. This is because it’s only with a child-like attitude that one can accept God’s forgiveness for sin and as a result join His family and enter heaven.
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