The account of children being brought to Jesus for His blessing is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matt 19:13-15; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:15-17).
The children being brought to Jesus were very young. Matthew's and Marks's accounts use the Greek word paidion, which, according to Strong's Greek and Hebrew Lexicon, of the several synonyms for "children" is the one that refers specifically to children of pre-school age. Luke's account emphasizes that even newborn babies (brephos) were being brought to Jesus.
Obviously the very young children brought to Jesus were not able to decide to come to Him. Yet, Jesus spoke to His disciples about the children as if they were "coming
to Him" on their own! Jesus clearly stated that little children ought to be allowed to come to Him because the kingdom of God was meant for them as little children. Jesus even declared that the little children brought to Him, including the infants, were models of how to receive God's kingdom. Jesus laid hands on the children and blessed and prayed over them.
Whenever Jesus said "come to Me," He was identifying Himself as the Source of spiritual renewal and salvation (cf. Matt 11:28; Jn 5:40; 7:37). No one comes to the Father but by Jesus (Jn 14:6). Children, even infants, need to be saved by Jesus, for without the grace of God lost in the Fall, every human person is conceived in original sin (cf. Ps 51:5; Rom 5:12-14).
If receiving the kingdom of God through Jesus absolutely requires making a personal confession of faith as described in Romans 10:9-10, how can children too young to
confess Jesus as Lord be held up by Christ Himself as examples of how to come to Him to receive the kingdom of God?
According to the Gospels, Jesus' touch, blessing and prayer immediately resulted in forgiveness of sins, and very often physical healing. This account does not indicate
any physical healing.
From the preceding, it seems clear that Jesus' ministry to the children brought to Him was nothing less than forgiving their original sin! Furthermore, it seems that Jesus was saving the children on the basis of the faith of the ones who brought them to Him. This is very
similar to the account of the paralytic who was unable (vs. unwilling) to come to Jesus on his own and was brought to Him by believing friends. "And seeing their faith," Jesus forgave the man's sins, then healed him physically as a sign of his spiritual healing (Matt 9:2; Mk 2:3-5; Lk 5:18-20).
At the birth of the Church on Pentecost, Peter declares to the Hebrew men assembled in Jerusalem that salvation through forgiveness of sins, which he clearly associates with baptism, was not only for them but also for their children (teknon, meaning offspring), without qualification regarding age or maturity (Acts 2:38, 39)! To the assembly of faithful Hebrew fathers who certainly believed in infant circumcision, Peter's message would have clearly indicated infant baptism! Furthermore, none of the biblical accounts in which entire households are baptized indicates any standard for age or for reason (cf Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8; 1 Cor 1:16). Given the ancient world's positive view of having many children, it is most likely that among these households were children below the age of reason. It is reasonable to conclude from these Scriptures that since Pentecost, Christian parents and guardians are to let their little children come to Jesus by bringing them to be
baptized, in fulfillment of the type of Old Covenant circumcision (cf Acts 2:38, 39; Gen 17:7-12).
Modern Christians think of their "personal relationship" with Jesus in almost exclusively
individual terms. But the covenants of God, including the New Covenant mediated by Jesus, are with human communities which are primarily made up of families (cf. Eph
2:11-13; 3:14-19). All families in God's covenant community have the privilege and the duty to present their children for inclusion in their covenant with God, and to raise their children to remain faithful to God according to His covenant (Deut 6:4-7; Eph 6:4).
In the New Covenant, which is based on better promises than the Old Covenant, the Old Testament types are fulfilled in Christ (cf. Matt 5:17, 18; Heb 8:6). Through baptism, the children of the Church actually obtain the gracious (i.e., unmeritted) spiritual renewal
required for entrance into God's kingdom (cf. Col 2:11, 12; Heb 10:19-22). This perfectly gracious dispensation was foreseen by the prophets and foreshadowed by physical circumcision (cf. Ezek 36:25-27; Jer 4:4).
History clearly testifies of the early Church's belief in baptism as Christ's established means of receiving all, including young children, into the New Covenant in fulfillment of the type of circumcision. For example, St. Cyprian, an African bishop of the Church of Carthage* during the 3rd century A.D., was among the numerous early Church Fathers who
promoted and defended the baptism of infants. Following is an excerpt of a defense written by St. Cyprian and a council of colleagues about six years before the bishop was beheaded** for his Christian faith:
"If, in the case of the worst sinners ... when afterwards they believe ... and no one is held back from Baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh
according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of that old death..." (Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol I; William A. Jurgens)
*Carthage was the major North African city that was home to Hannibal, the famed military genius who lived two centuries before Christ.
**St. Cyprian was martyred in 258 A.D. by the Roman Empire, almost sixty years before the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity.