Jesus addresses small children of the covenant extensively in Matthew 18, and briefly in Matthew 19 and the corresponding passages of Mark 10 and Luke 18. I believe these passages are critical to the debate over infant baptism.
Matthew 18:1-14 18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9 If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.
10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] 12 “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
This is a big passage with a lot going on, but in brief summary:
– Adults must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven (verse 3) – not the other way around.
– The humility of children is the mark of greatness in the kingdom (verse 4).
– We (the church) are to receive children in Jesus name – it is equivalent to receiving Jesus himself (verse 5).
– Great condemnation is reserved for those who cause little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble (verse 6). The word stumble is key in this passage. It refers to the sin of apostasy, or falling out of the faith (i.e. breaking the covenant). This is demonstrated by Jesus’s use of it in verses 8 and 9, which describes the results of stumbling as being “cast into the eternal fire,” and “the fiery hell.” The fact that little children are capable of stumbling out of the faith indicates that the are in the faith to begin with.
– They have guardian angels in heaven, who continually see the face of God the Father (verse 10).
– It is not God the Father’s will that any of these little one’s perish – i.e. fall into eternal judgement (verse 14).
Matthew 19:13-15 and it’s corresponding passages in Mark 10 and Luke 18 are even more explicit in regards to covenant children. The words and actions in these verses all take place within the context of Jesus interacting with God’s covenant people (Israel). Further, it is clear the parents believe in Jesus’s message since they are bringing their children for His blessing.
Matthew 19:13-15 13 Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 After laying His hands on them, He departed from there.
Mark 10:13-16 13 And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” 16 And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.
Luke 18:15-17 15 And they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would 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 will not enter it at all.”
The kingdom of God is Christ’s New Covenant rule over the world, as manifested in His church. Jesus is stating that this kingdom belongs to the children of believers, as a class. In fact, He makes it clear in Luke 18:17, that unless adults become like children (presumably in their dependence and trust), they cannot enter the kingdom! If the kingdom belongs to children (down to infancy) and adults must become like children to enter the kingdom, then we have things backwards when we require children to become like adults in order to enter the kingdom through baptism. This certainly does not mean that it is impossible for a child of believers to grow up in unbelief and hypocrisy and NOT inherit the kingdom of God. It would be foolish to imply that, since it is obvious that all who are baptized are not ultimately faithful Christians. However, the expectation in faith of Christian parents, based on God’s word, is that their children belong to God and His kingdom, and will grow and develop in faith, repentance, and love.
A question for consideration: if you are not a paedobaptist, then how do these verses fit into your belief system? What does it mean that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”? Also, why did the Holy Spirit prompt Luke to provide the detail that it is not just children in general, but even babies that are being brought to Jesus?