The lesson Jesus was teaching was not about little children, but how grown people who had been converted and become as little children were to conduct themselves and the dire consequences of mistreating such. Jesus uses a little child to teach his lesson. The little child is the epitome of humility and he tells them that they must turn about and become like (as) the little child in order to be a part of the kingdom of heaven and to be great therein.
Notice the language, “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.” — Matthew 18:4, 5. He is not saying “he who receives a little child” but one SUCH as or who is like the little child.
He is not referring to abusing little children, but rather “one of these little ones WHO BELIEVE IN ME.” Grown individuals, devotees, who have become like kids.
The way the world responds toward such an adherent is the same as their response toward the Lord. He teaches this same lesson in the judgment scene of Matthew 25 when He tells of “’for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” — Matthew 25:35-40. The converse side of the matter is in verses 41-45.
It is dependent upon individuals to be changed over and be as simple youngsters and after that to humble themselves and serve other people who are in need as though they served the Lord.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.