“... unless you change and become like little children ..." (Matthew 18:3-4)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 18:1-4)

What does Jesus mean by, 'become like little children'?

A young child is not in control and tends to be humbled as a result. An innocent child will typically be completely dependent upon his or her parents. Theoretically, they have yet to be able to truly exercise their desires for control because their bodies are too small. So they are typically somewhat humble, innocent and trusting. Jesus is comparing this to the attitude one must have to become dedicated to God.

The phrase, 'kingdom of heaven' is not describing entering a location. He is describing entering a consciousness. The word "kingdom" is being translated from the Greek word βασιλεία (basileia), which means, according to the lexicon, "royal power, kingship, dominion, rule - not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom."

The word "heaven" is being translated from the Greek word οὐρανός (ouranos), which means, according to the lexicon, "where God dwells."

In other words, Jesus is speaking of a person becoming devoted to the Supreme Being.

This is confirmed by the major teaching of Jesus - also taught by John and Jesus told his followers to also teach it:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. (Matthew 4:17)
As defined with that teaching, Jesus (and John before him) is explaining that God is readily available. It is not a location that we have to wait until our bodies are dead to enter. We can approach the Supreme Being at any time.

This contrasts with the teachings of many institutions that teach that we have to join their sect in order to be saved. Remember that Jesus walked around preaching to people on the streets or hillsides. And John taught from the wilderness. Neither promoted the concept that we have to join a group in order to gain God's mercy.

Many imagine God to be a burning bush, a thunderous voice, or even a void. These are not accurate. Jesus and Moses taught that God is lovable. They taught that the Supreme Being is wonderful and beautiful. 

God is loveable because He is the most loving. He is the most giving. He is the most fun. He is courteous and gracious. He is perfectly worthy of everyone’s praise and attention, because He is in fact, the Supreme Person. He is, in fact, the Greatest.

Therefore, in our pure state of consciousness, our lives become focused on loving and serving the Supreme Being. In the spiritual world, each person is focused upon their specific relationships with God and with God’s other children. These relationships are not void or boring. They are complex and fun, and always blissful. About the closest we can come to in comparison within the physical world would be watching very young children play.

We can enter such a state of consciousness at any time - because as Jesus taught, God is readily available.

What does Jesus mean by 'unless you change'?

It is not surprising that Jesus was asked who was the greatest in heaven. This was a concern among Jesus' disciples, and likewise is a typical concern among those of us in the physical world. 

We all want to be the greatest. We all want to be king. We all want to dominate and rule over others. We all want to be loved by everyone and praised. This, precisely, is our disease: We want to be like God.

Most of us living within temporary physical bodies are doing so because we have this disease. We have the disease of wanting to be God. At some point, each of us became self-centered. This resulted in us desiring what God has.

In other words, we saw God getting all the attention. We saw God in control. We saw that God has the admiration and praise of others. We wanted to have those things.

This is precisely the symbolism of the apple and the tree of knowledge discussed in Genesis. Because we wanted to become like God, we sought God's position. We wanted to be in control. To be master instead of our natural position of loving servant. As stated by the serpent in Genesis:
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)
And later, after Adam ate the fruit, God said:
"The man has now become like one of Us, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:22)

What is 'knowing good and evil'?

This may not be the best translation. The two Hebrew words are טוב (towb) and רע (ra`) - which have a closer meaning of "pleasure" and "pain."

The concept of self-centeredness leads to pleasure and pain because these are related to seeking our own satisfaction - rather than the satisfaction of the Supreme Being - our innate position.

The Supreme Being and His expansions ("Us" above) innately experience pleasure and pain - but those who love and serve Him do not experience this separately because their pleasure is based upon the Supreme Being's pleasure.

Once we became self-centered, we were no longer suitable for the humble loving relationships of the spiritual world. Those relationships belong to those who are, as Jesus describes, "like little children".

Thus we have an apt comparison. There are those who want to be, "like little children," and then there are those of us who want to be, "like God." This is the essence of the contrast between these two types of souls.

For those in the latter type, God gave us this physical body and this physical dimension where we could seek out our self-centered happiness:
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)
Did the Supreme Being go out and make fur coats for Adam and Eve or something? Don't be ridiculous. This is a symbolic story of how we all fell into the physical world. These "garments of skin" are the physical bodies each of us occupies.

Why can we forget God here?

Some will challenge God's existence (those who are not like little children) suggesting that God cannot exist because we can't see Him with our eyes.

Here in this physical dimension, within these physical bodies, we cannot see God because these physical bodies were designed not to be able to see into the spiritual realm. Why?

So that we can forget the Supreme Being exists. We can go about trying to get pleasure for ourselves. We can try to dominate and rule over others. Here we can find our own little niche and have others praise us as being great.

Here, we can assemble our own little "kingdom" where we rule the roost. This might be our house and family members, or perhaps we are the boss of a little office of people. And if nothing else, we can get a pet or two and be their king.

Or perhaps we even become famous as an actor or politician, and we can rule over many others or have many fans.

In some way, we get to develop our little kingdom where we try to rule over and/or be respected and praised by others. Even unsuccessful people get to find some kind of group we can have the illusion of control over, even if it is simply a couple of pets or some children.

We can go pretty far here pretending that we are the greatest. This, in fact, is what most of the self-help gurus teach us: They want us to think: "I am the greatest. The world revolves around me. I can do whatever I want."

These are all the illusions of someone who is jealous of God’s control. These are the desires of someone that wants to be in God’s position.

The only problem is that we are not in control. We are not in God's position. We do not really rule over others. We might think we are ruling over others or someone, but we can never really control others.

This is because those we are trying to control also want control. They might pretend they respect us, but really they are thinking they are in control, as they manipulate us with their feigned expressions of respect. In other words, we are all in a mutual illusion that we are somehow in control of something.

Aren't we in control?

None of us really has any control. We cannot control the weather. We cannot control our environment. While we try to manipulate others, we cannot really control them, because they will always have the freedom to at least think as they wish. Even oppressive governments cannot totally control their people, though they may try pretty hard. At some point, people begin to get out of hand.

And even if the dictator or emperor remains in power throughout his lifetime of 60-75 years, the dictator will still be subject to disease, old age, and finally death. So even a great ruler such as Caesar or Napoleon never achieved complete control, despite their thirst for it. They could not control time. They could not prevent their own demise.

In other words, they only had a temporary illusion of control.

The only control we have is the freedom to choose our direction in life. We can choose where to focus our attention. We can choose what we aim for. We can choose whether we want to serve God or serve ourselves.

If we choose to serve ourselves, we end up serving the physical body and the forms of the physical world.

Can we humble ourselves like children?

We can not enter into the consciousness that Jesus is teaching with an attitude that we are the greatest. We cannot enter into the world of loving God with an attitude of self-centeredness. Such an attitude is like being a bull in a china shop.

We might compare this to an adult trying to enter into a game that a group of small children is playing. The adult just would not fit in. The adult would be not only too big physically, but they likely could not relate well with the game or the children. The adult would probably over-emphasize the rules and the scoring system to enable someone to win, while the children would likely not care who scored the most points. The children want to just ‘play.’

Jesus' analogy is not perfect. Children often attempt to manipulate their parents to get what they want. Children can be very self-centered. We can also assume that children were probably better mannered during Jesus' day compared to modern children with regards to respecting elders. Therefore, it is safe to say that the child Jesus had stood before the group as he talked was better behaved and humbled than many children in modern society.

While we have this disease of wanting control, each of us is, deep within, naturally meek. This is evidenced by the respect we tend to give to those who act humbly, and the disdain we give those who act proudly. This is because within, we relate with being humble.

The ultimate act of humility is love. This is actually Jesus' primary instruction:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Matt. 22:37-38)