This is a difficult passage unless you remember that Jesus was here dealing with Jews and that the things he said applied doctrinally to them. The latter part of the passage [11-14] has often been applied to soul winning, spiritually. However, it too is doctrinally to Jesus’ Jewish “little ones.”
The whole passage centers on the topic of little children, so we will teach it as it pertains to little children either literally or in type.
1. Little children illustrate humility in the kingdom of heaven – 1-4. The disciples were discussing who should be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven [Matt 20:20-28]. The Lord said to enter the kingdom of heaven they had to become “as” little children and be converted [Matt 13:15]. And to be the greatest in this kingdom they had to “humble” themselves as little children.
2. The little ones have divine protection – 5-6. Jesus mentioned one “such” little child, which refers to Jews “which believe in me,” in the context. These would not be “infants” but rather “converts,” [v.3]. To receive a convert then would be to receive Jesus, not in the sense of Jn 1:12, but in the sense of Matt 10:40-42. The nations of the world, for instance, who receive the Jews according to this promise, will inherit a kingdom in the kingdom of heaven when they are judged [Matt 25:31-40].
Contrariwise, for someone to offend “one of these little ones” is worse than being drowned in the sea with a millstone around his neck. These promises are apparently based upon Gen 12:3.
3. Those who offend them wind up in hell – 7-9. For instance, the nations who offend “one of the least of these” will be cursed and spend an eternity in everlasting fire [Matt 25:41-46]. Therefore, Jesus said it would be better to cut off a hand or a foot or to pluck out an eye rather than offend and wind up in everlasting fire [see Matt 5:28-30 in the context of adultery]. Jesus was not advocating self-mutilation; he was simply emphasizing the importance of not offending.
4. They have angels in heaven – 10. This is where the misconception of guardian angels comes from. However, these angels are in heaven and they are beholding the face of the Father. The principal angel for the Jews is Michael [Dan 10:21, 12:1; Rev 12:7]. Angels, on instruction from God, have done mighty things for the Jews, as in the case of 2 Chr 32:21. They also took care of Jesus [Ps 91:11; Matt 4:11; Lk 22:42-43].
5. The Lord Jesus Christ came to save them – 11-14. At this time, Jesus still limited his ministry to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” [Matt 15:24]. Thus, his ministry was to find “lost sheep,” and that not “one of these little ones should perish.” He succeeded [Jn 17:12]. Note: Gentiles are never referred to as “lost sheep.”