(14) When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
(15) Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.
Mark 10:14–15, NIV
Dear Father in heaven, how shall we thank you for all you give to us, your children, for the great wisdom and power you hold in readiness for us if we are childlike? We want to be glad in your presence. We do not want to weep and complain, though tears often threaten to come. We simply want to ask you to protect us, your children. Protect all your children on earth. Let the pain that breaks over them be taken away, for the sake of the whole world. Even when we must follow a hard road, let all the suffering we endure become part of the fight that brings in the kingdom of heaven, bringing your purpose to the earth and great mercy to the peoples, bringing to all the world the wonderful forgiveness that enables men to be reborn, until at last all are called your children. Sustain us. Help us. Bless us. May the Savior always live among us, reviving and strengthening us in body and soul. Amen.
The context of the words of Mark 10:14–15, NIV
Mark 10:13–16 continues Mark's depiction of what Christ-followers look like by showing Jesus' attitude toward children. While in Capernaum, Jesus taught the disciples that in the kingdom of God, the powerless, like children, are most welcome (Mark 9:36–37). The kingdom is open to those who come humbly with no illusions that they belong there. Here, Jesus says that leaders in His ministry must not only accept the powerless, they must recognize that they are powerless, as well. This story is also recorded in Matthew 19:13–15 and Luke 18:15–17.
In this passage, Jesus again confronts the Pharisees by clarifying God's views on marriage and divorce. He reminds the disciples not to dismiss the spiritual perspective of children. This chapter also records Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler, who becomes an object lesson in why wealth makes it hard for people to rely on God. After this, Jesus deftly sets aside an arrogant request from James and John, and again predicts His impending death. Just prior to the triumphal entry of chapter 11, Jesus is sought out by Bartimaeus, whom He heals of blindness.
Meaning of the words
"When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these"
In the Beatitudes, Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). The "kingdom of heaven" and the "kingdom of God" refer to the same thing: any manifestation of the glory, power, sovereignty, and authority of God over His creation. To be "poor in spirit" means to be spiritually bankrupt. To have no spiritual currency, nothing to recommend you before God.
As we become more spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable, we tend to overestimate our standing and abilities before God. We see those who are not as far along and try to use the Bible to control them into right behavior—behavior more in line with what we think is appropriate in the kingdom of God. Too often, we build a kingdom of our own with half-understood truths and pressure others to fit our expectations, much like the Pharisees.
Soon, James and John will ask for positions of authority in Jesus' kingdom. The disciples expect Jesus to restore the kingdom of Israel with Himself at the head and themselves in appropriately grand positions. In their minds this kingdom certainly doesn't include giving deference to the powerless. Jesus compares their attitude to that of the Gentile rulers who lord over their subjects (Mark 10:42). He tells them, once again, that He is there to manifest the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of Israel. He is certainly not there to manifest the kingdom of John, or of James. In the kingdom of God, the powerless are the most welcome of all and the leaders are not gate-keepers but servants (Mark 10:43–45).
"Indignant" is from the Greek root word aganakteō, which is used for irritation or exasperation. In modern terms, it refers to someone who is "irked." Mark uses the term two other times. First, in the disciples' response to James and John's request for positions of authority in Jesus' kingdom (Mark 10:41). Second, of observers of the "waste" of the expense of the perfume Mary of Bethany used to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:4; John 12:3). Jesus gets indignant when children are kept away from Him; the disciples when someone threatens their power or even money.
This is not to say all expressions of anger or annoyance are acceptable. Many years later, Jesus' half-brother James will write, "For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20), using the Greek term orgē.
"Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it"
This verse can be easily misinterpreted. It does not mean that children are absolutely and perfectly sinless, as any parent can attest. It does not mean that children have special knowledge that earns them the right to receive God's blessings. It means that those most eligible to experience God's glory and sovereignty in their lives are the people who have no presumption that they legally or spiritually deserve it.
In Mark 9:37, Jesus says that His followers will accept children in His name, and in so doing, accept Him. In Mark 10:14, Jesus says that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children. Here, Jesus commends those who receive the kingdom of God like children. When presented with a great gift they do not deserve, children will generally accept it gratefully and unselfconsciously. They have no thought of earning it or even feeling guilty about receiving it. They just want to enjoy it.
In our hyper-competitive world, characterized in equal amounts by pride and shame, we can quickly get to a place where we believe we must work to earn God's favor. We feel pressured to be successful in the world, with a steady income and an influential job, and successful in the church, able to serve, provide wisdom, and at least present the facade of a good family and righteous life. It's exhausting. And it's not what Jesus plans for us.
Our obedience to His will is to come out of a place of love for Him (1 John 5:3). That's all (John 14:15). And even so, He knows that we will not always obey. Our status in His kingdom is not dependent on how much we do. It's on how we love Him and how we know we can come to Him as the still-flawed children of God, with humility, boldness, and relief that He knows us and loves us anyway. It is then that the Holy Spirit can do the work in us that brings us a bit closer to holy (Philippians 2:13).