In the first three verses of this section Jesus is thinking of children as examples of humility, which he demands of those who would be saved. But in the next two verses he seems to be thinking of children not in terms of their humility but as those “little ones” who are weak or helpless. He is not thinking of children literally. He is thinking of believers who, because they have become like children in their humility, have come to “believe in me” (v. 6). What Jesus is concerned about and warns us about is harming such a believing person spiritually.

What will the citizens of the kingdom be like? “They will be something like children,” Jesus explained, as he called a little child to him and set the child in the center of the group.

Pity the disciples! They were with true greatness in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was great as only God is great. They were not. They had not been born great. They had not achieved greatness. They had not had greatness thrust upon them. Yet they wanted to be great so much.

In looking at Jesus’ answer to the disciples in vv. 11 and 12, we realize that he is making clear that the work of Elijah had been done by John the Baptist and that because the people had not repented at his teaching, the only thing they could reasonably expect from God now was a terrible final judgment. Moreover, since the leaders had mistreated and killed John the Baptist, why should Jesus expect any different treatment? By calling their attention to this pattern Jesus was reinforcing his teaching that it was necessary for him to be crucified. This was the second most important thing he had to teach them after he had taught them who he was. Peter, James and John had been given a glimpse of glory on the mountain, just as we have been given a glimpse of future glory in the last chapters of the book of Revelation, but that is for later. This is now, and what is needed now is that the followers of Christ deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow him. Before glory there must always be a cross.

On the way down the mountain the next morning Jesus told the disciples to keep quiet about what they had seen until after the resurrection. The reason is obvious. He did not want them to relate stories that would fan a misguided messianic expectation. He needed to go to the cross before the nature of his work could be rightly and fully known.