How can we know with certainty that young children, upon their death, are graciously welcomed into heaven? How can we know that they now stand in the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? As parents who have experienced this tragedy, we certainly understand the vital importance of this question. While almost all would agree that our loving and gracious God would certainly welcome these precious little ones into His presence, how can we know for sure? Comforting words without the foundation of Scripture offer short-lived comfort. On the other hand, the truth given in God’s Word offers a true, lasting, and enduring assurance. Therefore, we have turned to His Word to search for answers. We see it is filled with the promise and certainty that these precious children now reside with our heavenly Father in paradise.
A close examination of the Bible reveals God’s plan regarding the death of a young child. While we will direct you to where Scripture offers answers, it is our sincere hope that you do not simply take our word at face value. Instead, we encourage you to search the Scriptures yourself. Let God speak to you through His Word. Let Him be the one to encourage you and assure you that He now holds your little one in His arms. If we turn to Him, He promises to walk with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He promises to heal us.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” ~ Psalm 147:3
In order to gain a thorough understanding of God’s plan for children, it is necessary to examine a number of questions. As we search for answers, we will see that God’s Word provides great hope and certainty for our departed little ones. The answers Scripture provides can be summarized into three truths:
1. God claims ownership of all children. This includes the children of believers and non-believers, throughout the whole world, and throughout all time.
2. By His sovereign grace, God always shows compassion on those He has declared to be His innocent ones. All children who die are welcomed in the presence of the Lord and live with Him eternally in heaven.
3. Adults who turn from their sins and place their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will be eternally reunited with their precious little ones.
We hope that you are able to cling to these truths. Examination of God’s Word will demonstrate these statements to be true. While we don’t seek to offer completely exhaustive explanations, we hope to summarize the essential truths offered by Scripture. For more detailed answers and explanations we would refer you to the book Safe in the Arms of God, written by Pastor John MacArthur. We would also recommend listening to the sermon “Jesus, Friend of Children” by Pastor Skip Heitzig. Most of the insights identified in this document are a result of their teachings. Being a parent of a child whom Jesus has called home, I am so thankful for their careful study of God’s Word. Most importantly, I am eternally grateful for the love and grace that the Lord has showered on my son… and the promise that we will be reunited with him in the not so distant future.
What does Jesus teach about the salvation of children?
How does God view the death of a child?
What does the Bible teach about salvation and original sin?
What about the children of non-believing parents?
What about miscarriage, stillbirths, and Abortions?
What is the age/condition of accountability?
How did King David react to the death of his child?
What role does baptism play?
What is heaven like for my child?
Will I see my child again?
Jesus Christ demonstrates an overflowing abundance of love toward children. Examining His love for children is the most straightforward way to understand how God regards children. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ life record many occasions where He was teaching and healing. On one such occasion he was surrounded by a great multitude of people. Some of these people brought their children to Jesus, seeking His blessing upon them. Jesus’ disciples scolded the parents and tried to keep the children away from Jesus. The disciples didn’t feel that children were worthy of Jesus’ attention. This event, and Jesus’ response, is so important that it is recorded in three of the four Gospel accounts. The event is recorded as follows:
Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~ Matthew 19:13-14
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. ~ Mark 10:13-16
People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth; anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. ~ Luke 18:15-17
In these encounters, Jesus is making a very straightforward declaration. He states that young children are welcome into His presence and His kingdom of heaven. We see that Jesus readily welcomes these precious little ones into His arms. In fact, He blesses them. It is also important to note that Jesus became “indignant” with the disciples when they tried to limit the children’s access to Jesus. Jesus chastised the disciples and made it abundantly clear that children were important to Him. The disciples were utterly wrong in believing that children were unimportant and did not have a place in the presence of Jesus.
It is interesting to note that the Greek word for children in the Matthew passage is perhaps better translated as infant. Mark refers to the “little children” and Luke refers to “babies.” There is no question that these passages are talking about very young children. These children obviously could not understand the implications of who Jesus was or what He could offer them. Despite this, Jesus promises, “the kingdom heaven of belongs to such as these.” Jesus is stating, in no uncertain terms, that children are readily welcomed into heaven. On another occasion, Jesus also stated:
“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven… In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” ~ Matthew 18:10, 14
Jesus loves children. He recognizes a level of dependency and trust in children that is often lacking in adults. Children are humble, eager to learn, willing to forgive, quick to obey commands, and they openly express their love. In many ways, Jesus likened our becoming believers to becoming like children. Jesus used children as an analogy to teach His disciples, and all of us, the importance of these qualities. Jesus repeatedly used a child as His best illustration of a redeemed believer. Just like a child, we must be completely dependent on the Lord for everything. While this reasoning certainly holds true, this has led some to believe that Jesus intends for children only to be an example of how adults may become part of God’s kingdom. And further, that the promise “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” does not apply to actual children. However, this directly contradicts Jesus’ statement, and therefore cannot be true. In order for the implied or secondary meaning to hold truth, the literal or primary meaning must also hold truth. In his book “Safe in the Arms of God” author and Pastor John MacArthur explains:
“Let me quickly point out to you that an analogy works only if it is rooted in truth! If children are not readily and fully received into the kingdom of heaven, the analogy to spiritual conversion would be a very poor one. As it is, the analogy is a great one! Children are readily accepted into the kingdom, and because of that, we are wise to become like children in our spiritual dependency upon the Lord so that we, too, might be readily accepted… These were real children Jesus was holding in His arms, and He said of them, “Of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). Jesus blessed those in His arms because from heaven’s perspective, they were counted among the blessed righteous ones whose rightful eternal home was heaven.” (p. 59-60)
If there were no other place in Scripture that referenced God’s plan for children, the above passages would be completely sufficient to assure us that our precious little ones now reside in the presence of Jesus in heaven. However, as we will see, the Bible is full of places where God demonstrates His love for children. There is no place in Scripture that teaches the eternal separation of infants from God. The damnation of young children cannot be found in Scripture. Instead, every reference to deceased children, whether direct or indirect, gives us reason to believe that they are now residing in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost… Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Following the death of a child, the feelings of loss and grief experienced by parents and family are simply overwhelming. It’s certainly the most despaired-filled, lost, broken time we will ever experience. But how does God view the death of our child? The Bible teaches us that God does not view the physical death of our child in the same way we tend to. As parents, we see the moment of our child’s death as the worst of all possible tragedies. Yet it is at this very same time that God graciously welcomes our children into His presence. They leave this broken, sin-filled world and enter a perfect world. They enter a world where they are completely cared for, completely fulfilled, and in a direct relationship with their Heavenly Father. The Apostle John gives us a glimpse of what it’s like to stand in the direct presence of Jesus Christ:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” ~Revelation 21:3-4
As we read earlier, Jesus graciously welcomes children into His presence. We will also see that He claims them as his own. He promises that they will have eternal life and that He will be with them forever.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. ~John 10:27-28
It’s important to understand that God was not surprised or caught unaware regarding the death of your child. The Bible tells us that God knew your child even before conception. He knew exactly how long he or she would live. He continues to intimately know every detail of his or her life. He also fully understands their eternal purpose. This is echoed in the book of Psalms:
Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! ~Psalm 139:16-17
God sees our children in the context of eternity, not simply in the context of this temporary world. He is not limited to the rules that govern our world. Your child has been given a unique and eternal purpose tailored directly by God. This purpose is precious and is greatly valued by God.
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. ~Psalm 16:11
Unfortunately, we as humans have a very difficult time understanding eternity. In all likelihood, the implications of God’s eternal plan do not make sense to us now. Even though we cannot understand, the Bible reassures us that God’s purpose for our children is always for their eternal good. It also assures us that if we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, we will one day stand with our children in His presence and begin to gain an understanding of His eternal plan.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. ~1 Corinthians 13:12
God understands the pain parents face in this separation, but He also understands that the death of a child is not an eternal tragedy. While it may be hard to acknowledge as we mourn, our moment of deepest despair is our child’s moment of greatest victory. Our children now stand in the presence of their Heavenly Father. God loves your child and is holding your precious little one in His arms. God also loves you dearly. Through His son Jesus Christ, He has a plan for you to be reconciled with Him and reunited with your child.
This next section seeks to illustrate that God’s gift of heaven and salvation is based solely on His grace, not by human works or deeds. God’s gift of salvation is His to distribute based on His plan, His pre-conditions, and His sovereign will. This applies to all people, both adults and children.
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” ~Matthew 19:25-26
The Bible teaches that when a person dies, they will either spend an eternity in the presence of our God in heaven (salvation or saved) or an eternity separated from Him in hell (damnation or lost). In light of this, the question must be asked: How does one receive salvation? In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul writes:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” ~Ephesians 2:8-9
These two verses are incredibly rich in explaining God’s plan for our salvation. The first truth Paul explains is that people are saved through faith and trust in Jesus Christ. He further clarifies this in his letter to the Romans.
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” ~ Romans 10: 9-11, 13
Paul explains that we are “saved, through faith… not by works, so that no one can boast.” This means that there is absolutely nothing we can do, child or adult, to earn our salvation. There is not a checklist of deeds or rituals we can perform to make ourselves righteous before God. It is only when we put our total faith and trust in the completed works of Jesus Christ that God chooses to credit us with the righteousness of Christ.
The second truth explained in Ephesians is that any faith we possess is “not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.” This means that even our ability to have faith is a God-given gift. God is the one who plants the seed of faith in every person’s heart. Therefore, if salvation is received through faith, and faith is a gift of God, salvation is also the gift of God.
Finally, Paul tells us that we are saved by grace. This means that God has sovereignly decided to present us with the gift of salvation that we do not deserve. He has chosen to credit us with the righteousness of Christ when we place our God-given faith in Jesus. It is very important to understand that we have not earned our salvation once we put our faith in Christ. Furthermore, God is in no way obligated to offer us salvation once we put faith in Christ… yet He chooses to anyway. It is only by His sovereign decision that God has lovingly chosen to declare us righteous. This is very important because we see that God’s plan of salvation is not based on our merit but instead based on His grace and love.
It is only when a person chooses to reject Jesus Christ, and therefore chooses to reject the faith that God has placed in their heart, that God allows that person to be held accountable for their sins. The Bible calls the ultimate, final, and complete rejection of faith in Jesus Christ the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the one sin for which the Bible offers no forgiveness.
…but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. ~Luke 12:10
Those who make this choice are saying that they want nothing to do with God, His son Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. This is a deliberate, total, and complete rejection of the Holy Spirits’ offer to receive Jesus Christ as one’s personal LORD and Savior. It is very important to note that while adults are able to make the choice to reject faith in Jesus Christ, children are unable to make this choice.
In the case of an adult, God places the seeds of faith in a person’s heart. That person either allows those seeds of faith to grow into a full trust and belief in the completed works of Jesus Christ or chooses to reject the seeds of faith and reject God’s plan of salvation. In the former case, even though the person is sinful and undeserving, God declares him righteous and innocent based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God was not obligated to make this decision, yet by His grace he chose to. In the latter case, the God-given seeds of faith are rejected, and therefore trust in Jesus Christ is also rejected. Ultimately, God’s plan of salvation is rejected. God allows this person to be accountable for their own sins. The wage of sin is death and eternal separation from God.
So how does God’s plan apply to young children and infants? Does God gift children with faith? Do children allow the faith God has planted in their hearts to grow, or do they reject it? Does God choose to declare them righteous and innocent of sin based on the completed work of Jesus Christ?
Does God Give Children Faith?
All through the Bible, God invites us to come to Him as children under his loving care. During His time on earth, Jesus treated children in the highest regard. One day the disciples approached Jesus and asked Him, “Who will be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus responded by pulling a young child from the crowd and said:
“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. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” ~ Matthew 18:3-4
As stated earlier, Jesus likened our becoming a believer to becoming like children. Jesus repeatedly used a child as his best illustration of a redeemed, saved, heaven-bound believer. Jesus taught us that we must have faith like a child (dependency, humility, affection, and simple trust) in order to come into a right relationship with God. Based on the model Jesus described, if children do not have sufficient faith to enter God’s kingdom, none of us will have sufficient faith to enter God’s kingdom. Furthermore, Jesus tells us, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” The question that must be asked is this: Would Jesus ask us to do something that He is not willing to do himself? Would he refuse to welcome a little child? The answer is most certainly not.
How do children respond to the faith that God has placed inside them? The book of Psalms gives a very direct answer which is repeated by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise. ~ Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16
Note that Jesus tells us even infants offer praise to the Lord! Tiny, tiny infants offer worship to their Heavenly Father. Certainly all would agree that infants are not capable, in and of themselves, of consciously making such a decision. Most infants are not even able to support the weight of their body, let alone make a reasoned decision to praise their Creator. So how can this be? The answer, as the apostle Paul tells us, is that faith is a gift from God. It is not earned. Faith is planted in the child’s heart by God. Somehow, in some way that we cannot fully understand, God’s Word tells us that children respond to the faith that has been planted in their heart. Just as infants and young children are unable to consciously make a decision to worship God, they are also unable to consciously make a decision to reject God’s gift of faith. Scripture tells us that only adults are able to make a conscious decision to reject God. There is no place in the Bible that even remotely suggests that young children consciously reject God’s truth.
Does God plant seeds of faith in children? The answer is a resounding yes! Jesus even uses children as his best illustration of a redeemed believer. Do young children respond to the faith planted in their heart? Again, the answer is a resounding yes! Do young children make a conscious decision to reject God’s will for their life? Absolutely not!
Are Children Innocent?
Before reading this next section, you should again be assured that God has welcomed your beloved little one into His arms. However, to understand God’s plan for your child, it is necessary to look at some biblical truths that may be initially unsettling. This may be difficult to do during a time of mourning, but it will ultimately provide a foundation of certainty regarding your child’s place in heaven. With that said, we turn to the question: Are children innocent?
The Bible clearly states that there is no person, in and of themselves, who is innocent or lacking an inborn sinful nature. This statement not only applies to adults, but it also applies to children. Scripture teaches that every person is born morally corrupt with a bent toward evil. The idea that a child is born morally neutral without a predisposition to sin is completely contrary to the teaching of the Bible. The following verses are a short list of many that make this abundantly clear:
Every inclination of his [man’s] heart is evil from childhood ~ Genesis 8:21
They sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin. ~ 1 Kings 8:46
Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. ~ Psalm 58:3
For no one living is righteous before you. ~ Psalm 143:2
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. ~ Romans 3:10-12
The Bible clearly declares that all people are sinners from conception. It is important to understand that sinfulness is not a condition that comes upon people when they are old enough to make choices and decisions for themselves. Instead it is our condition from before birth. It is the nature of the human heart. God’s Word tells us our sin nature is an inherited trait stemming from the deliberate disobedience of Adam in the Garden of Eden. The Apostle Paul writes:
Through the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners. ~ Romans 5:21
The disease of sin is within the heart of all humans, and given enough time, it will ultimately manifest itself into deliberate disobedience of God’s will. Any child who lives to the point of making a responsible moral choice will make the choice to sin. This is true of all children and all adults. Paul goes on to tell us the wages of any and all sin:
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. ~ Romans 6:23
The fact that infants die is ample evidence that even the youngest are born with a sinful heart. If young children were not sinful or morally corrupt, they would not die at all.
Therefore, we cannot say young children go to heaven because they are innocent, meaning free of original sin. Babies, based on their own merit, are undeserving of heaven. However, the Bible teaches us that babies who die go to heaven because God is gracious. As we will see, God, by his love and grace, declares young children to be innocent. God sovereignly chooses to apply the righteousness of Jesus Christ, attained through His death and resurrection, to the credit of all small children.
One of the characteristics of God is that He is able to take the most tragic and heart-breaking situations and use them for the good of those who place their faith and trust in Him.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28
With regards to our precious little ones, the simple fact is that we will not fully understand God’s plan for their lives this side of eternity. However, God can and will use every situation for the good of those who love Him. While this promise is true, it doesn’t necessarily relieve the pain we are currently forced to live with. The death of a child is a tragedy, but it is not an eternal tragedy. For those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, a wonderful reunion is being planned for you and your child.
In the Old Testament books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, God takes incredibly tragic situations and uses them to declare two wonderful truths. The first truth, found in Jeremiah, is that God declares children who die to be innocent in His sight. Secondly, in Ezekiel, He claims ownership of all such children. During the time of these prophets, many in the land of Israel chose to reject God and instead worship false idols. In an attempt to appease their false idols, they chose to incorporate the killing and sacrifice of their own children. On two different occasions, God sent His prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to declare His judgment on this horrific practice. God told Jeremiah to say the following:
There proclaim the words I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and people of Jerusalem. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Listen! I am going to bring a disaster on this place that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.’ ~ Jeremiah 19:2-5 (emphasis added)
On another occasion, God sent Ezekiel to say the following:
“And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols. In all your detestable practices and your prostitution you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, kicking about in your blood.” ~Ezekiel 16:20-22 (emphasis added)
In these verses, God undeniably claims ownership of young children, infants, and babies. He also declares them to be innocent. And the best part is that when God declares someone to be innocent, they are completely 100% innocent. There is no partially innocent and partially guilty in the eyes of the Lord. It’s one or the other. The Bible tells us the only way to be declared innocent is to receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ, based on His death and resurrection. Therefore, in proclaiming children innocent, we see that God has sovereignly chosen to apply Christ’s righteousness to young children… even though they don’t necessarily deserve it. While children are undoubtedly born with sinful hearts, God chooses to wash those hearts in the blood of Christ. It is only through God’s love and grace that He declares them to be innocent of sin, and welcomes them into His presence at the time of their death.
Are Children Righteous?
Once again we will see how God is able to take a tragic situation and turn it into a promise of hope for many grieving parents. The Old Testament book of 1st Kings tells the story of the wicked King Jeroboam. King Jeroboam was responsible for implementing and encouraging the worship of false gods throughout the land of Israel. It was under his rule that false priests instituted the burning of children as sacrifices. In fact, the Bible tells us that King Jeroboam had done more evil than any before him. He had hardened his heart against God, and God finally sent judgment. God spoke to Jeroboam through the prophet Ahijah:
You [Jeroboam] also have done more evil than all who were before you, and have gone and made for yourself other gods and molten images to provoke Me to anger, and have cast Me behind your back – therefore behold, I am bringing calamity on the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every male person, both bond and free in Israel, and I will make a clean sweep of the house of Jeroboam, as one sweeps away dung until it is all gone. “Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs will eat. And he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat; for the LORD has spoke!” ~ 1 Kings 14:9-11
God pronounced judgment against King Jeroboam and his heirs. All were sentenced to the most disgraceful death possible; one where their bodies remained unburied and left for animals to scavenge. This was true of all Jeroboams’ heirs except for his infant son.
“Now you, arise, go to your house. When your feet enter the city the child will die. “All Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he alone of Jeroboam’s family will come to the grave, because in him something good was found toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. ~1 Kings 14:12-13 (emphasis added)
While the infant son would also die, he would die a seemingly natural death. His death would be mourned by all of Israel and given a burial befitting a prince. Most importantly though, the Bible tells us God found “something good” in this little one. Another way to say this would be to say God found something righteous in this little one. Furthermore, God does not reject that which he has sovereignly declared righteous. As a result, when Jeroboam’s son died, he was immediately welcomed into heaven