The Little Children and Jesus Christ
"Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." — Matthew 19:14 (KJV)
This verse in the New Testament falls in the context of Jesus leaving Galilee for a final time and heading to Jerusalem. He is confronted by some religious leaders who ask Him tough questions about divorce. The event that follows catches the disciples off guard and teaches us an important lesson: eternal life is available to everyone.
Children were brought to Jesus, perhaps by their parents, to be blessed by Him. Serving as Jesus’ well-intentioned security team, the disciples rebuked them and tried to turn the people away. In response, Jesus called the children to Him. Then He laid hands on the little ones and blessed them.
"And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein."
— Luke 18:15-17 (KJV)
What Does Suffer the Little Children Mean?
This phrase "suffer little children" is used in three verses in the New Testament (Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16). In translations other than the King James Version (KJV), such as the English Standard Version (ESV) or the New International Version (NIV), the phrase "suffer the little children" is translated as, "Let the little children come…"
"Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" — Matthew 19:14 (NIV)
The word "suffer" in Early Modern English means to allow something or tolerate an action.
Another common phrase that uses the word in this way is "Suffer fools gladly," also from the King James Version of the Bible: "For ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise" — 2 Corinthians 11:19.
Commentary and Application
"People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 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. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them." — Mark 10:13-15 (NIV)
In an act of kindness, Jesus laid His hands on the children and blessed them. Children are not irrelevant in His kingdom. They are valuable. Jesus is equally accessible to every individual, regardless of age, gender, nationality or social status. Eternal life is available to everyone.
When Jesus said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me,” He was reaching out to a segment of society that was thought to be insignificant.
Children, in their weakness and vulnerability, have much to teach us as adults. As we grow, the hardness of the world often makes our hearts callous. Children have a humble openness to the message of Jesus and the salvation He offers. We can learn from their vulnerability.
Jesus presented a gentle openness to the children. He touched them with compassion and protected them from others. We are called to follow Jesus’ example. Children are not irrelevant, little beings to be discarded. They are to be valued, loved and shown compassion.