In many cultures, children are not really recognised as persons in their own right. In Western society, it took authors such as Lewis Carroll to begin portray children as creative and playful.
In New Testament times, children were seen as relatively insignificant and unimportant. This is hinted at in the Gospels, where Jesus as a child is rarely mentioned by name (Matthew refers to his as ‘the child’ eight times, and Luke does the same for both John and Jesus – see Lk 1:76; 2:48).
Jesus himself reversed this. While his disciples viewed children as nuisances, he asserted not only that adults should assume certain child-like traits (Mt 18:1-6), but also implying that the kingdom of heaven was actually for children (Mt 19:14).
The main exception to the prevailing view on women and children was in connection with the Passover. Women and children had to attend, and there was even a special role for the youngest child (in asking three questions of the head of the family).
It is interesting, then, that Jesus modelled the Lord’s Supper on the Passover.
The above is based on the work of David Instone-Brewer, who notes: ‘Leonardo da Vinci painted Jesus eating the Last Supper with twelve men. But where are the women and servants who cooked the meal, and where are their children? Unless Jesus stopped in the middle of the meal to throw them out, they would still have been there. I think that Jesus deliberately chose this meal so that everyone would be included.’ The Jesus Scandals, (p. 30).
[After the above, helpful thoughts, Instone-Brewer goes on to commit what I think is an extraordinary lapse. He says that Jesus ‘was overjoyed to see young children leading the worship.’ The children, according to Instone-Brewer, were leading the chanting of Psa 118:25-26. When the Pharisees demanded that Jesus stop the children, the Lord replied: ‘”If they kept quiet, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40).’ Trouble is, none of the four Gospels mentions children at all in connection with this incident. Either Instone-Brewer knows something that I don’t, or he is engaging in wild conjecture.]
Now here’s a helpful summary of what Jesus did for children:-
1. He illustrated the ideal of childhood in his own life. He shared the same pleasures, sorrows, interests, and difficulties. Yet without sin. Note his all-round development, Lk 2:52. “For he is our childhood’s pattern”.
2. He demonstrated his affection for children in his teaching, Mt 19:13-15; Lk 7:32; 11:11-12; 14:26.
3. He asserted for children a place in his kingdom. N.b. the examples of Samuel, Jeremiah, John (Lk 1:15).
4. He chose the condition of childhood as a type of the character of the recipients of the kingdom.
5. He adopted the relation of childhood as an image of the relation of God’s people to their God.
(after B.B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol I, 223ff)