“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
Wessel and Strauss note that the phrase, “Truly I tell you,” is used by Jesus 13 times in Mark’s gospel. It functions as a signal to let us know that something important is about to come. In this case, it’s the truth that we must receive the kingdom as a child.
But what exactly did Jesus have in mind when He said this? The child part was clear enough—but what specific aspect of a child did He have in mind? Since He didn’t specify, we have to work with the passage a bit to find some meaningful specifics.
He spoke these words in response to the disciples’ impudent behavior (v. 13-14), so good place to start would be to identify the attitudes they displayed. They had been arguing about which of them “was the greatest” (9:34). Then they had exhibited a narrow, exclusionary spirit in complaining to Christ about the person driving out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not “one of us” (v. 38). The coup-de-grace was trying to prohibit the little children from coming to Jesus. Putting it all together, they were calculating, controlling, self-centered, exclusive, and prideful.
Little children, generally speaking, are not these things. But we can do better than what they are not. Jesus is specifically addressing how little children receive things.
1) Little children receive with a sense of awe, wonder, and joy. Who doesn’t love to watch a small child open a gift? They are the definition of delighted. This is how we are to receive the kingdom—not in a lukewarm fashion because are too busy comparing ourselves to others but in deep gratitude.
2) Little children receive in simple trust and complete dependency. The Life Application Bible Commentary says, “Children do not feel supremely powerful, perfectly righteous, or totally autonomous. These are adult fantasies.” So true! Children are well acquainted with their helplessness and need for others.
3) Little children receive with no pretentiousness. Children are who they are—they don’t overcomplicate or overthink things. We are in God’s kingdom not because we’re great, but because He is!
This is how we are to receive the kingdom of God!