To understand this passage we need to look first at Matthew 18:1-4 which says, “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them. 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. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Even though Jesus’ disciples were true believers, they still had wrong thoughts regarding the kingdom of heaven. In their thinking they wanted to have a prominent position in the coming kingdom that would be established on earth, but Jesus turns their thoughts to the kingdom in its “inner reality” where one enters in through true conversion to Christ. He uses a little child as an object lesson to show them that one must be humble to enter the kingdom and that “the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” This would serve as a rebuke to the disciples who were entertaining worldly thoughts of wanting to be “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

The Lord Jesus goes on to say in verses 5-6, “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth Me. 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.” As we saw earlier, a little child is precious in the eyes of the Lord, for he is characterized by humility. Here we see that he is also marked by a “child-like faith.” The Lord identifies Himself with them because they trust in Him and so if one receives a little child who follows Christ they are actually receiving Christ. The “little ones, which believe in Me,” could also apply to older ones who had “become as little children” through conversion and being born again. They too should be marked by “humility” and a “child-like faith” in Christ. The Lord identifies Himself fully with them as well and if one receives them as a follower of Christ it is equivalent to receiving Christ Himself.

A solemn warning is issued to those who “offend one of these little ones.” To “offend” is to “stumble,” or to “cause one to fall into sin.” This may be done in many ways. I recall a time when I was passing out tracts to some young children and a man came up with a diabolical grin on his face and said, “Don’t listen to him kids. He’s telling you lies, for there is no God.” He went on to try to convince them that there is no place called hell that they have to worry about and I felt led to open my Bible and read Matthew 18:5-6 to him. God used those verses to silence him and I was able to continue telling those dear children about Jesus Christ and how He had come into this world to save them. Many are trying to turn little children and older believers from following Christ, and God will surely judge them for this. It would be better to die a frightening death such as drowning in the sea than to lead a little child into sin. Verses 7-9 go on to tell us why drowning at sea would be better than causing offense, for those who offend are in danger of being “cast into everlasting fire.” (167.4) (DO)