What does Jesus mean in Matthew 18:1-4 (our text for Sunday) when he says that we must first become like children in order to enter the Kingdom of God? In a debate over a different issue, John MacArthur comes to our text and gives a good summation. Here it is:
So this is not a Scripture that deals with anything that deals with actual children and their role in the Kingdom, but rather using a child as an illustration of the necessity of entering His Kingdom as a child would. What does that mean? With no achievement and no accomplishment, having done nothing, learned nothing, gained nothing, accumulated nothing, bringing nothing to bear upon that entrance. He is simply saying you come the way a child comes, and a child has nothing to offer, having achieved nothing, to come bare and naked with no accomplishment and no achievement and you come totally dependent. I think that’s the issue that He’s talking about, offering nothing to commend yourself to God, realizing your utter bankruptcy, it’s really a Beatitude Attitude.
His reference to the first Beatitude in Matthew 5 is perfect. We could also add all of the miracle stories. In each, there is a sense of desperation that drives their faith. They, that is the leper, the Gentiles, the sick, the paralyzed, the deaf, the blind, the mute, the demonized, and the dead, are desperate for healing and thus knowing, in full faith, that Jesus is their only hope, they come humbly to Jesus.
The context of Matthew 18:1-4 regards pride. So in short, when we realize that we are like children and cannot contribute to our own salvation, we come to Christ humbled and in the spirit of humility, we enter the Kingdom of God.
John MacArthur - Case for Believer's Baptism: The Credo Baptist Position
We Are Children: MacArthur Introduces Matthew 18:1-4