Finding Grace in our Greatest Grief: The Position of Children in Grace (Matt 18:1-14) - Romans chapter 5 - JS Gillespie 

What happens when a child dies?

Where does a dead child go?

Is a child who dies saved or lost?

Do all dead children go to heaven?

These and other questions pertaining to the death of a child we wish to answer from what the Bible says and from what the Lord Jesus taught.

The position of children in Grace: 

Far greater and completely different from their position before: 

  • The law 
  • Roman and Greek society 
  • The disciples 


There is perhaps no section that deals with children which turns our thinking on its head so much as Matthew chp 18! So much so as you read through some of the commentators on this chapter you will find an almost utterly astounding phenomenon that emerges: many if not most will spend much of their time trying to explain why Matthew chapter 18 doesn't apply to children! 


  • The Place of the Child (18:1-2) 
  • The Pattern of the Child (18:3-4) 
  • The Possession of the Child (18:5) – Possessed by God not by Man 
  • The Protection of the Child (18:6-9) 
  • The Privilege of the Child (18:10) 
  • The Pursuit of the Child (18:11-14) 
  • The Promise to the Child (18:14) 


If our attitude to the child is better seen and not heard! 

If our response to the child is one of impatience and intolerance and irritation! 

If we view humanity as developing in importance as we move from childhood to adulthood, then in Matthew 18 we will find that our perspective on childhood is completely out of step with God! 

There is perhaps no day, no hour, no place and no land when this teaching of the Word of God is more needed and more timely than in our own land and in our own day; a day wherein since 1967, society, government, hospitals, doctors, nurses, mothers and fathers, politicians and voters have regarded the life of the child as so utterly expendable and disposable that should the developing life of the unborn interfere with the priorities, desires, financial prosperity of the parents to be, then that developing life can be extinguished with impunity. 

Since 1967: 7,000,000 such lives have been dealt with in that way in the UK. 

To such the Saviour speaks these solemn words, which will not go away: 


“ But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.  Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” 


One of the questions which ultimately our studies on this subject will ultimately address is this: 'where are the souls of those 7 million tonight?' Where does the dead child go? Where do the souls of the unborn go? What does the Bible have to say on the destiny of the child?


The answer I do believe is this: they stand as witnesses in the presence of God against a wicked and perverse generation! 


We cannot cut off the souls of those who have mediated access into the presence of  God and expect to live thereafter with impunity (Matt 18:10) 


The Place of the Child (18:1-2) 

“at the same time” (v1) – at what “same time”? 

When the resurrection Glory of the Lord Jesus Christ has been seen on the Mount of Transfiguration (17:1ff) 

When the Lord has spoken of the fact that: 

  • Devils / Demons (17:14-21) 
  • Death (17:23) 
  • Demands of men (17:24-27) – unpaid tax bills 

Cannot hinder the progress of His Kingdom! 

“at the same time” (v1): 

He was faced with a Demon who could not be cast out – so the Lord casts the demon out (17:14-21) 
Death (17:23) 
He was faced with the demands of men (17:24-27), and a tax bill that could not be paid, they had no money! 

“at the same time” (v1): as so many of the preconceptions that men had about the kingdom were being swept away in the mighty torrent and flood of Christ's Glory! 

“at the same time” (v1): as Christ was introducing the impossible to the eyes of the incredulous! 

“at the same time” (v1): as the disciples had missed the point and failed to appreciate that the true essence of greatness in His Kingdom was humility! 

As soon as they had been given a vision of the Glory of the Kingdom in Matthew 17 they are reminded that the Kingdom was introduced by the ministry of a child (17:10-12) – John the Baptist, a child filled by the Spirit of God from his mother's womb! 

1 of 3 remarkable children in scripture involved with revival: 

  • Samuel – a child priest 
  • Josiah – a child King 
  • John the Baptist – a child prophet 

This glorious Kingdom was introduced by the ministry of a child (Isa40) 

As the disciples as the question: “who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” the Lord will take them back to the principle established at the beginning of the preaching of His Kingdom; introduced by a child. Filled by the Spirit of God, with a ministry: “to turn the heart of the fathers tot he children” (Lk1:17) 


Here is something utterly amazing – down through the years as commentators and preachers have come to Matthew 18, as they have watched the Saviour place the child in their midst, listened to the mistake of the disciples and heard the teaching of the Saviour, one of the first things which these commentators and preachers have done is to immediately miss the point and make the same mistake as the disciples by attempting to exclude the child from the promises of this chapter. 


These promises only become the possession of adult 'child like' believers because they were first the possession of the child whom they have become like. 


In society, in the world and even before the disciples the child had little if any place: 


Before the world: Luke 9:54 : “maid”: 3816: “pais” possibly from 3817: “paio” : to hit or to strike; a child or servant could be hot or struck with impunity. 
Before the disciples: the disciples seemed to have little regard for the child: Matt 19:13-15; Mk 10:13ff; Luke 18:15ff. Perhaps more than a hint of this too in the way the gospel writers record numbers; the feeding of the 5000 – was the feeding of 5000 men plus women and children, the feeding of the 4000 wasn't the feeding of the 4000 at all but the feeding of 4000 men plus women and children! 


The teachings of Christ are no reflection of the social and religious ideas of His day! 


In His teachings and in His person He is once again set apart as a man amongst men. 


As an aside, beware of the idea that before you interpret the scriptures you need to be familiar with the social, political and religious context of the passage! 

You need to be aware of the biblical context: “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2Tim2:15) comparing like scriptures with like but beware the Word of God is not and never has been a product neither of the social, the political nor of the religious context in which it is set, the teachings of Christ on the salvation of the child are a point in case! 

The Bible is a message for all peoples, at all times, in all places, it is not bound! 
The teachings of this book may well occur within the setting of human society but they are not the product of it 
The real danger and threat of attempting to interpret the Word of God within the social, political and religious context in which we find it is that it fundamentally the shifts the authority of the Word of God away from the Word of God, applied by the Spirit of God to the hearts of the people of God to those who claim to hold the mystical key that unlocks the supposed historical, political and social context. 

What place does Christ give to the child? 

“...and set him in the midst of them” (18:2) 

“in the midst” is a place of privilege and of prominence: 

  • Christ in the midst of the church (Matt 18:20) 
  • The High Priest in the midst (Mk 14:60) of the courtroom 
  • Christ in the midst of the doctors (Luke 2:46) of the council 
  • Christ in the midst (Luke 5:19) 
  • Christ in the midst of the disciples (Luke 24:36; John 20:19; 20:26) 
  • Christ in the midst at Calvary (John 19:18) 


But here the child is not placed in the midst of the: council, the courtroom nor of Calvary but the child is in the midst of the disciples (18:1). 

Not only is this a place of privilege and of prominence but it is also a place , which in the gospels is uniquely reserved for Christ! 

In the gospels it is only ever Christ who is to be found “in the midst” of His disciples: Matt 18:20; Luke 24:36; John 20:19; 20:26 except here.... 

Where it is a child in the midst of the disciples! 

Elsewhere in the NT Christ is still found pre-eminently in the midst of His disciples (Heb 2:12; Rev 1:13; 5:6) except in Acts 1:15 when Peter is in the midst of the disciples! 

What a place of privilege the Lord places this child into! 


The Pattern of the Child (18:3) 

If there is one reason above all others that the mind of man struggles and wrestles with the salvation of a child it is surely this: 'how can a child in the absence of learning and understanding come to exercise faith in Christ and so come to be saved?' 


In other words man's greatest problem with the salvation of the child is this: 'how can a child become like an adult to be saved as an adult is saved?' 


This appears on the surface to be perfectly reasonable but it does of course contain a very serious error: namely that salvation can be hindered by personal inability. If this were true then salvation would be in part dependant on the possession of personal abilities and if that were true salvation would not be entirely of Gods Grace at all. 


Justification would be by faith and a certain quantity of intellectual, mental, and spiritual ability! 


We cannot supplement Christ without supplanting Christ – Jack Hunter 


Romans 5 was very clear on this that personal inability and weakness does not disqualify us from the Grace of God in salvation but rather it is a prerequisite: 

 “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Ro 5:6) 

Salvation was: 

By His strength 
In His season 
By His Son 

It is in fact a direct consequence of justification by faith that if Gods way of salvation is all of Grace and not of works then He must be the God who can save those who are unable to do anything whatsoever about the matter of salvation. 

Their inability does not impact at all on Gods saving ability, it only serves to make His saving work all the more glorious! 

As a result of this those who have had most doubts over the centuries concerning infant salvation are those who have compromised on justification by faith and added in works or merit of some sort – Roman Catholicism, which has had to come up with doctrines of limbo and baptismal regeneration to compensate for the infants inability to undertake any good works. 

We might then from our studies in Romans anticipate that the answer of the Lord Jesus to this age old question of 'how can a child be saved?' would prove very interesting indeed, but I wonder if we would have anticipated just how interesting His answer would be! 

The answer from the lips of the Saviour is little short of startling: not how can a child become like an adult to receive salvation on the same footing as an adult does but rather how can an adult become like a child to receive salvation on the same footing as a child? 

“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3) 

We ask how can a child become like an adult to be saved? 

Christ asks how can an adult become like a child to be saved? 

The Possession of the Child (18:5) – Possessed by God not by Man 

A remarkable statement, for: 

To 'receive' the disciple was to 'receive' Christ (Matt 10:40; John 13:30) 
To reject the disciple with Christ's gospel was to reject Christ 
To receive the Son is to receive the Father who sent Him (John 5:43; Matt 10:40; John 13:20) 
To receive Christ is to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) 
“And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” 

Lets not miss the import of this statement – to receive this child in His name, is to receive Christ! In the same way that receiving  a believer in Christ's name is to receive the Lord Jesus Himself! 

Such a statement is only possible “because ye belong to Christ” (Mk9:41) 

To be received in Christ's name is to belong to Christ! 

Some have so stumbled at this statement of the Lord Jesus that they have resorted to Biblical gymnastics to contort these verses into something other than they plainly mean. 

Some have correctly pointed out that in verses 3 & 4 the Lord Jesus has drawn a pattern from the dependant faith of the child, as a pattern for all who would come in faith to Christ, they then claim that from verse 5 onwards the Lord is not speaking about little children at all but rather of believers who have become as little children to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Let's just spend a moment to reclaim these verses about the little child for the little child. 

I think that it would be safe to say that if it were not for verses 3 & 4 of Matthew 18 that no one would ever have reached that conclusion. So if it were the case that verses 3 + 4 were not there we could conclude with confidence that the little child who is received in verse 5 is a literal and physical little child? Consider Marks summary of this event: Mark 9:33 -37; consider Lukes summary of this event : Luke 9:46-48 – there is no reference in either of these sections to an adult becoming as a little child but the reception of that little child is still linked with the same dignity and blessing. 
Who is it that is receiving the “little child” in verse 5? The audience is that of believers: “disciples” (v1). If these “little ones” are believers then why does the Lord have to exhort the disciples to be prepared to receive disciples?? 
I think if we understand the setting given to us by Mark in his account we will see that no confusion could possibly have arisen in the minds of the disciples, for as the Lord utters Matthew 18:5 He has just a few seconds before picked up the little child of whom He is speaking and held him in His arms (Mark 9:36-37) 

What is the Lord saying then in Matt18:5? 

If I as His disciple extend my arms on His behalf to the objects of His affection I receive Him! 

I am not saying and Christ is not saying that every child is indwelt by Christ, for one thing there is a condition attached to the reception of the child, they are not received simply because of what they are but they are received “in my name” 

To receive Christ is by definition to receive the Father (John 13:20) – no qualification is required but to receive Christ in receiving the child a condition is attached : I must receive the child in His name! 

How can I receive a child in His name? 

Consider those who: 

Gather “together in my name” (Matt18:20; 1Co5:4) 
Belong to Christ and receive gifts in His name (Mk9:41) 
Pray “in my name” (John 14:13; 14:14; 15:16; 16:23,24,26) 

“in my name” implies at the very least the idea of belonging and perhaps even more the idea of fellowship. 

We can only receive a child in “His name” if it is true that such a child belongs to Him! 

If I as His disciple extend my arms on His behalf to the objects of His affection I receive Him! 

As I read the scriptures to my children, grand children, nieces and nephews, teach the Sunday School class, I as His disciple extend my arms on His behalf to the objects of His affection, I thus receive Him! 

The Protection of the Child (18:6-9) 

Because that child belongs to Christ 

Created for a Divine Purpose, enjoying Divine privilege and afforded Divine protection 

From the moment of birth I am His by right 

His by Creatorial Right: 

Psalm 139:13-16, consider particularly: “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.” (Psa 139:13) – God has creatorial rights over the individual. 
Isa 43:1,7; 44:2;21 – God has creatorial rights over the redeemed of the nation of Israel 
Isa 46:3-4; 44:19-21 – God has creatorial rights over the whole nation of Israel 
Psalm 100:1-3 - “all ye lands” - God has creatorial rights over all peoples. 

His by Creatorial Purpose: 

Created for His glory (Isa 43:7) 

Is it just some who have been created for His glory? Consider Rom 3:23; Rev 4:11 – Gods expectation and design for all of His creatures! 

If we do not want to be for His Glory He has no part for us in His Universe! 

If He has power to form the vessel and create the vessel He has power to make the vessel again (Jer 18:4)! 

The fact that that vessel was damaged did not mean that it was dammed! The difference between the damaged vessels and the dammed vessels of Jeremiah 18 lay in their attitude to the Potter. 

His by Creatorial Relationship 

Psalm 100:1-3 

Luke 15 – the prodigal son – was he a backslider? Was he an unbeliever? 

Quite clearly a lost sinner! 

Context: Luke 15:1-3 – this is a parable to lost sinners 
Character of the son (15:13) - “if we say that we love Him and keep not His commandments...” We could only regard him as a backslider if we develop a creedal view of Christianity. This would be completely unbiblical. Consider the Biblical view of Christian character in Luke 6! 
Condition of the Son (Lk 15:24,32) – he was “dead” 

But this boy starts off with a relationship with the Father! 

He belonged by right at the beginning of the parable and by grace at the end! 

No one ever suggests that the sheep or the coin was a backslider but they belonged to the fold! 

God retains His creatorial rights over His creature in spite of the fall! 

He is able to claim those rights and redeem His creature! 

Eternal ruin and loss come when we reject His claims and His rights on our life and we render ourselves unprofitable. 

From the moment of conversion I am His by redemption 

The Privilege of the Child (18:10) 

A privilege which parallels that of the believer and yet it is distinct from it 

The believers access to the Father is not by angels! 

Angels were linked with the old covenant (Acts 7:53; Gal3:19) 

This was a temporary and transient arrangement for access to God. 

Our access to the Father is not by angels but rather by the Son (Heb 4:14)! 

This access by angels indicates a temporary or transient arrangement, which is either lost when a soul rejects Christ or is superseded by direct access through Christ at conversion. 

The Pursuit of the Child (18:11-14) 

Compare Matthew 18:11 “for the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost” - as spoken of the child to to that spoken of Zaccheus: “the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10) 

Note the absence of seeking with the child! 

No voluntary departure or rejection?? 

The Promise to the Child (18:14)


Notes from our bible study teaching series of messages preached systematically, verse by verse, through Paul's letter to the Romans, on the subject of the eternal destiny of the child who dies. Free to download audio mp3 recordings of this sermon and other sermons are available at the end of this blog and on the website page.    

Yours by Grace in Christ    

Dr J Stewart Gillespie