In Matthew’s Gospel, the figure of a child features prominently in the teaching of Jesus. It:-
- expresses a doctrine of revelation and election. The Father and the Son are made known to the least likely, to “babes” (nēpioi, Mt 11:25–26); those, that is, who recognize their weakness and utter dependence upon divine grace and accept the invitation of Jesus as the Wisdom* of God (Mt 11:27–29).
- expresses a requirement of membership in the kingdom of God: radical humility (Mt 18:1–4; cf. 5:3–5).
- provides a way of talking about pastoral care in the Christian community (Mt 18:5–14): the leaders of the church are to avoid at all costs (antinomian) teaching or behavior which would lead the “little ones” (mikroi) to stray from the narrow path of righteousness.
- expresses a concern for persecuted followers of Christ and, in particular, early Christian missionaries. This seems to be the sense of the reference to “these little ones” in Mt 10:42, as also of the reference to “the least (elachistoi) of these my brethren” in Mt 25:40 (cf. Mt 25:45).
(S.C. Barton, DJG, 1st ed., art. ‘Child, Children’ [reformatted])