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Jesus with the little children - Artist Unknown

The disciples went to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus with the little children - Artist UnknownJesus called a little child to him and placed the child among them. He said,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me.”

“If anyone causes one of these little ones, those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fires of hell.”

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father.”

What the story means to us today

The humble Christian attitude

Jesus offers multiple lessons using the little children he holds dear as an analogy for Christians. Children begin life as a blank slate and possess a kind, accepting, trusting spirit that embodies humbleness and humility. The same unpretentious attitude is expected of Christians. We should not be concerned with our status in society or how we are accepted by others but rather, focused on serving those in need. Ultimately, our humility leads to greatness.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Don’t worry about being the greatest on earth – aim to be the greatest in heaven

Jesus with the little children - Artist UnknownMark and Luke recount the same story but add that the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in heaven. Jesus tells them “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”.

Children are innocent, kind, and have no concern for social standing or what others think about them. Without a humble attitude, one will travel down a path of jealousy, unruly competitiveness, suspicion, fear, uncertainty, loneliness, distrust, and envy. It is in a Christian’s best interest to be humble.

Woe to those who cause the children of God to stumble

In these verses, Jesus continues his discussion using children as a metaphor but now, it is clear that his reference to “children” is a reference to Christians, the “little ones” who live by his name.

Jesus tells us that those who welcome Christians welcome Jesus because Christians operate under Jesus’ authority. But those who reject Christians, reject Jesus’ message and thus, reject Jesus himself.

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The woe is doubled for those evil enough to entice Christians to sin. Avoiding sin is already difficult for all human beings. Someone who purposely entices a Christian into sin is especially egregious.

Do we all have a guardian angel?

Guardian angel - Marcus JulesVerse 10 says others should not treat Christians unkindly because “their angels in heaven always see the face of God”. The concept of a guardian angel for each Christian derives from this verse.

It is clear that angels are closely related to God and sometimes are sent to earth to work under his authority. Whether or not each person has their own guardian angel is not clear from these verses, but we can be assured God watches over us and has angels on hand to help protect us when needed.

Christian spirits standing by God in heaven

Jesus says,

“Do not despise one of these little ones (Christians) for I tell you, their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Although some may consider “their angels” to be a reference to a guardian angel, Jesus may be referring to “their angels in heaven” as a means to emphasize our importance to God. In other words, others should not mistreat Christians because they are important to God and ultimately will reside in heaven by his side.

What happened to verse 11?

In a few translations, verse 11 is missing. The story jumps from verse 10 to 12. This is because some translators believe verse 11 was inserted by a copyist, likely transferred from Luke 19:10. The missing verse says, “For the Son of Man came to save the lost”.

Should we really cut off our hands if they cause us to sin?

Jesus told the disciples,

“If your hand or foot cause you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away for it is better to live life maimed than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire”.

Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation. This biblical story is chock-full of metaphors and hyperbole, deliberate exaggeration used to make a point. Just as Jesus is not referring to little children literally falling down, he does not mean we should cut off our “sinful” body parts. Sin comes from the heart, not from a specific body part. To take a single line from the story and interpret it literally while recognizing the remainder of the story as metaphor would be a deliberate misinterpretation of scripture – a hearty sin in itself.

Jesus with the little children - Artist UnknownThe science and history behind the story

The “millstone”

Jesus says it would be better for one who causes a child of God to stumble to have a “millstone” hung around their neck. In ancient Israel, millstones were a large flat rock used to grind grain. Grain would be placed between an upper and lower millstone. A donkey would turn the millstone to grind grain into flour. They probably weighed several hundred pounds.

Notes on Biblical translation

If anyone cause those who believe in me to “stumble”

Jesus tells us,

“If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to hang a large millstone around their neck and be drowned.”

The original Greek word that translates to “stumble” also translates to “sin”. Jesus is issuing a dire warning for anyone who causes a Christian to sin. The same word is similarly used in other verses in this story. For example, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away for it is better to enter life maimed than to have two hands and be thrown into the eternal fire.”

Bible Text

NIV

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11]

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Holy guardian angel - Artist UnknownThe NET Bible

18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 18:2 He called a child, had him stand among them, 18:3 and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! 18:4 Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 18:5 And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.

18:6 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea. 18:7 Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! It is necessary that stumbling blocks come, but woe to the person through whom they come. 18:8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into fiery hell.

18:10 “See that you do not disdain one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

6 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!

8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.

10 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

Guardian angel - Pietro da Cortona (1656)The Message

1 18 At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom?”

2–5 For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.

6–7 “But if you give them a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck. Doom to the world for giving these God-believing children a hard time! Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do.

8–9 “If your hand or your foot gets in the way of God, chop it off and throw it away. You’re better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owners of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You’re better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell.

10 “Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

18 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 11 For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database
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