Question Box: Who are the little ones (with angels)?

Question or Topic Scripture
Who are the little ones (with angels)? Matthew 18:10

Please explain who are the "little ones" who are said to have their own angels, (as referred to in Matthew 18:10): "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven".

Answer


To begin our study of this question, we will look first at the term "little ones." This expression is relatively common in the Old Testament, where it is translated from various Hebrew words. Depending on the context, the term can refer to a babe, a young child or to children. It is also used to represent family. In the New Testament the term appears only 6 times in the Authorized Version (KJV).

In each case it is translated from a single Greek word, mikros {mik-ros'}. The word means small (in size, quantity or simply least, less, little, or small. This word does not seem to be related to age.

It is interesting that in both the Old and the New Testament, the English uses two words, (little ones) to translate a single original word. As we proceed with the consideration of our question, we will concentrate on the use of this expression in the context of Matthew 18.

Little Child

The chapter in question begins with a very powerful lesson:

  1. Matthew 18:2-3
  2. Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
  3. 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.

The word "little" in verse 2 and the word "children" in verse 3 are both translated from paidion {pahee-dee'-on}, which means a childling (of either sex), ie. (prop.) an infant, or a half-grown boy or girl.

Jesus was teaching his disciples that there are special qualities that children possess that would be necessary for them to learn. He elaborates on these qualities in the verses that follow.

  1. Humility: "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:4).
  2. Respect for those who are least esteemed: "And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me" (Matthew 18:5).
  3. Absolute Faith: "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me ..." (Matthew 18:6).

The little child was chosen as an example because he demonstrated the qualities that the little ones should develop. Jesus used the child as a living "visual" to graphically illustrate his lesson. It would be a mistake to conclude that the little child is the intended object of the spiritual lessons in the discourse that followed.

Little Ones

We believe that there is a clear distinction between the "little child" (which refers to a a young child), and the "little ones" (which may simply have reference to the least esteemed in the flock). We will take a look at the actual context of the term in the chapter at hand.

The first use of the term "little ones" is in verse 6: "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." The word "offend" in this verse means to "trip up" or "entice to sin". I would think that this language would be more appropriate when applied to a disciple and not to a small child.

The term little ones appears later in the same chapter in reference to those sheep or members of the flock that go astray. "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14). Again, it seems logical to apply this to the disciples.

Despise Not the Little Ones

In our subject verse we are told: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." When we apply the meanings that have been presented for the Greek word mikros we are led to conclude that these little ones are not little children. They may be "babes" in Christ, members who are the least esteemed. It is interesting that Timothy was apparently one of these little ones (because of his youth?). Paul at one point counseled the Corinthians: "Let no man therefore despise him: but conduct him forth in peace, that he may come unto me: for I look for him with the brethren" (I Corinthians 16:11).

We must never look down on others in the household, no matter what their status may be. It is a fundamental teaching that God is not a respecter of persons, and that if we have respect of persons we commit sin (see James 2:1-9). We note that Matthew 18:10 is followed by the statement: "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11). Jesus may have been presenting the idea that if one of the "little ones" has strayed from the flock, our obligation would be to seek that which is gone astray, never despising those that are weak. Never thinking, or voicing the opinion that "we are better off without them."

Their Angels

The exhortation to "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones;" is obviously intended to be greatly enforced with the information that is added concerning the position that "their angels" have in the presence of God. ("Their angels" is from the Greek angeloi auton - translated as "the messengers of them").

The implications of this verse, (especially with the use of the term "their"), provides us with an obvious temptation to conclude that we all have our own guardian angels. This may be implied, but there is very little information anywhere else in scripture that would support that conclusion. We understand that this notion was a common tradition among the Jews of that period.

There is one other example that is often used as a cross reference to Matt. 18:10. That is during the incident when Peter was brought out of the prison ( by an angel). The disciples, who were having difficulty accepting the report that he was at the gate, said "It is his angel" (see Acts 12:15). The word "angel" can refer very simply to a "messenger". The disciples may have thought that Peter had sent a messenger to them.

Some commentaries indicate that the word "angel" (in this case) should have been translated as "spirit". (This would fit better with the superstition that was being manifested in the statement. Jews during that period of history had already been influenced by the false notion that when a person died, he became a spirit or phantom.)

If this were the case, it would be surprising to see this superstitious reaction among the disciples. We must remember however, that this incident was very early in the course of the formation of the early Ecclesia, and they still had a long way to go to be guided unto all truth.

Ministering Spirits

We may not be able to positively define whether or not the angels have personal charges, or whether our children are included in the scope of their responsibilities. We do know for certain that angels are used in the development of the saints.

We are clearly told that angels are assigned the task of being "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Hebrews 1:14).W e also have many examples that provide us with the assurance that children, who are sanctified by their parents in the Lord, will also be cared for.

Our Lesson

It was appropriate for the Master to warn his followers (and us) that any of our actions, either for or against the least of these their brethren would be known to our Heavenly Father. We should recall his lesson from Matthew 25:34-36, where we are plainly taught that our reward is dependent on how we have treated the "least of these my brethren."

If we have failed to minister to the little ones in their need, his teaching is clear: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me" (Matthew 25:40). When we despise one of the little ones, we despise him, and the angels are likely to be present to observe our actions and report them on high.

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