In this short passage we see that God is no respecter of persons—not in the sense that he could not care less about them, but rather he cares for all of them. In ancient culture, children could be seen but not heard. They were left on society's fringe until they were old enough to be useful. This fringe role magnified the impact of what Jesus says here. If he has time for children, he has time for anyone.
The child's age is indicated through a combination of terms. Though brephe usually refers to "little ones" who are babies (so NIV here), the other term used, paidion, seems to indicate that at least some of children are beyond the toddler stage. Second Timothy 3:15 uses the term "little one" to refer to Timothy's age when Scripture was read to him, so we need not think these were all infants. Mark 10:16 has some of the children small enough to be picked up by Jesus.
Yet whatever their age, they were too young to be considered important by some in the crowd. The disciples saw the attempt to bring children to Jesus as inappropriate. Surely there was a better use of his time and energy. Such trivialities should be prevented.
But the disciples had it wrong. They should not hinder the children's approach. Jesus turns the event into a two-level lesson, one about children, the other about disciples.
The lesson about children is that they are welcome in God's kingdom. He is available to them. God's care for them shows that he cares for all. The kingdom is not only for adults.
The lesson for disciples is that children are good models for a disciple. Children trust their parents and rely on them. So disciples should rely on their Father. To be a part of the kingdom, we must receive it in the way a child walks through life. Entry is blocked to those who do not trust the Father. God accepts those who run into their Father's arms, knowing that he will care for them.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.