David Jeremiah - What About the Children?
My first assignment after I graduated from seminary was in a rather large Baptist church in Haddon Heights, New Jersey, where I went to serve as the youth pastor and the Christian ed. director. I was working with a man I greatly admired who was a dynamic preacher and loved the Word of God. And for some reason, from the very beginning he began to trust me with a lot of responsibility that I didn't think I was ready to accept. I was fresh out of seminary in my first assignment as a youth pastor and the senior pastor decided to take a few days of vacation and I was left in charge.
Now, that may sound like that's a good thing, but if you had known me and known the size of that church, that was a pretty scary thing for them to do. I had no idea that before the week was over I would handle one of the hardest situations I have ever dealt with as the pastor. Irene, the pastor's secretary, called me and told me that one of our young couples was in great need and asked me to go over to their house. The couple had discovered their little one in her crib and she had stopped breathing. Crib death, which was much more common then than it is today, had taken this little girl away from her parents and I was sent to comfort them and bring them encouragement from God's Word. What I told them that day is what I'm gonna tell you today. Oh, I've added to my understanding of the issue from that time until this, but the core answer is exactly the same as the answer I gave them.
Today, I have the added confidence of many years of study and I believe more strongly in my answer now than I did then. I cannot think of anything more agonizing than the death of a child. Someone said the death of a child is like a period before the sentence is finished. But even more agonizing than the death of a child is the question about that child's eternal destination. As we explore the answer to this question, I want to unpack for you four reasons for believing that little children who die go straight to heaven. First of all, I would like for you to think with me for a moment about the character of God himself. The character of God. The Bible is filled with information about the character of God. That he is given the name "Father" ought to tell us something. There are many things we can summarize about the character of God that drive us to the conclusion that children who die before they can understand the gospel do indeed go to the Father's arms in heaven.
Psalm 86:15: "But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth". Psalm 145 in verse 9: "The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all of His works". These are just two of thousands of verses I could have projected which tell us that the God we serve is a good God. He is good to all and that would certainly include infants. God is fair and God would never judge anyone unfairly. Some might argue that if we believe this, that would excuse adults who have not heard the gospel. But such reasoning is flawed because both Romans and Psalms teach us that no one is without a witness, that God's Creation is a witness to his existence, and all men are held responsible for that witness. But babies are different. They cannot understand the witness of God. They cannot understand his witness in Creation, and so the grace and mercy of God intercedes on their behalf.
When the children of Israel were denied entrance into the Promised Land because of the unbelief of the people, do you remember that? When they wouldn't believe that God could help them go into the land and the spies came back and said, "We can't do this"? Interestingly enough, when the people of that generation were not allowed to go into the land because of their unbelief, the children were exempted from that penalty. Deuteronomy 1:39 says it this way: "Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it". In other words, the whole generation was going to be penalized for their unbelief, but here is an illustration where God did not hold the children responsible for the unbelief of the adults. In fact, there's a bit of irony in this passage, if you will. The spies came back and said that the giants in the land would destroy their little children and God came back and said, "No, no, your little children are the only ones who are gonna go into the Promised Land".
Do you remember the story of Jonah? When Jonah was asked by Almighty God to go and preach in Nineveh and Jonah did not want to go because he hated the Ninevites, they were a cruel and abusive people. And one of the reasons God gave to Jonah for having pity on Nineveh was the huge number of children that lived in the city. Jonah 4:11 says it this way: "Should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and much livestock"? In other words, God was saving the city of Nineveh primarily because there were so many children there and he would not punish the city, as wicked as it was, because the children there kept him from doing it. The careful study of God's Word by anyone who has an open mind reveals a heavenly Father who deals justly with us all. In his justice, he provides for children who are not old enough to comprehend the gospel.
In fact, in the book of Ezekiel, we are told that Almighty God considers all children as his: "Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me". God says, "You bore those children to me. These are my children". God is not going to do unrighteously with his own children. The character of God provides a special grace for those who cannot believe. On a number of occasions, God refers to these little ones as innocents. Jeremiah 2:34: "Also on your skirts is found the blood of the lives of the poor innocents". Jeremiah 19:4: "And have filled this place with the blood of the innocents".
Now, listen carefully. Although children are as sinful creatures, just like all of us, they are not responsible in the same way as those whose sins are willful and premeditated, and God refers to them in that sense as innocents. That's the name he gives them; they're innocents. So we see this matter of the character of God certainly lays the foundation for the realization that children who do not understand the gospel and have never understood the witness of God, these children are provided for in the grace and mercy of our Lord. Well, let's take another look at this. The second reason I believe that children go to heaven when they die if they are not old enough to understand the gospel has to do with the condition for salvation. What is the one requirement for a person to be saved? Or to put it another way, what must a man do to be lost? All of the threats of hell in the Bible are reserved for those who have sinned knowingly and willingly.
Galatians chapter 5:19 through 21 speaks of those who end up in hell and it gives a long grocery list of all the things that they do to deny the holiness of God. Revelation 21:8 has a similar list but shorter: "But the cowardly, and the unbelieving, and the abominable, and the murderers, and the sexually immoral, and the sorcerers, and the idolaters, and all liars shall have their place in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death". Now, this doesn't mean that anyone who's ever committed this sin can't go to heaven, but it means those who continue to live this way and deny the grace of God, these people cannot go to heaven. You cannot go to heaven in your sin. That's what Revelation is saying.
Ezekiel 18:20 says it the same way only individualizes it, and it says: "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself". One writer expressed it this way: "Little children have no record of unbelief or evil works and therefore there is no basis for their deserving an eternity apart from God. They are graciously and sovereignly saved by God as part of the atoning work of Jesus Christ". Isaiah the prophet speaks about such a period of moral innocence in the life of a child and, in this prophecy, he's actually speaking about the Lord. Isaiah 7:16 says: "Before the Child know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings".
Before a child knows how to choose between evil and good. That's a period of time in a child's life, a period of time when they don't understand the difference between good and evil and when they cannot yet comprehend what the gospel is all about. During that period of time, according to what I understand from the Bible, these children are protected under the blood of the Lord.
A man that I knew years ago who wrote a great deal about theology is a fella by the name of Robert Lightner. He wrote a little book called "Safe in the Arms of Jesus," about this subject. And in that book, he says: "The debt of sin is only charged against those who reject the payment that God the Son has made and that God the Father has accepted. Those who cannot believe owe no more to God. Those who can believe but do not owe the full debt. That is why they cannot go to heaven. Their debt can never be paid by themselves. To refuse Christ's payment is to seal one's eternal destiny. But to be unable to receive it is to be covered by the payment already made and accepted by God". In the Bible, infants, little children, and others who cannot believe are neither told to believe or expected to do so. They are not classified as wicked. They are not classified as rejecters of God's grace. It is always adults who are addressed in those terms, either directly or indirectly, regarding these matters.
So first of all, the character of God teaches us that little children go to heaven. Secondly, the condition for salvation, which is to reject the gospel, teaches us that if a child is not capable of rejecting the gospel then certainly God has provided for him in grace. Now, thirdly, I want you to look with me at the compassion of the Savior. The compassion of the Savior. When you study the life of the Lord Jesus, you discover at once that he had an incredible love for children. He demonstrated that love on so many different occasions. Here are some passages in the gospels that express the compassion of Jesus Christ the Savior for children.
And I want you to notice, and I'm gonna emphasize this as I read them, how many times in these passages we read the word or the phrase, "children" or "little children". Not "children" only, but "little children". Matthew 19:13 and 14: "Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'" "Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.'"
Luke 18: "Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them," notice the word has changed from little children in this text. Now the word is a different word for children and it means infants, little babies. "Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.'" Are you getting a picture for the love that Jesus has for children? "At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' Then Jesus called a little child to Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives a little child like this in My name receives Me.'"
Now, I want you to notice this next phrase: "Even so". Let's read this out loud together. "Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish". Now, if I didn't have anything else in all the Bible but that one phrase, I'd be okay. "It is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish". There you have strong evidence, a strong, unambiguous statement of the Savior. He is not willing that one of these little ones should perish. If that was all I had, I'd build my hope on that alone. The Lord Jesus has compassion for little children and infants and is not willing that even one of them should perish.
Perhaps this is a good place for me to answer the question concerning the unborn. What about babies that are never born because of miscarriages or abortions? I remember how important that was to Donna and I because before we had our four children, we lost a little baby in a miscarriage. And that might seem, you know, not very important to people who've never been through it, but if you've ever been through that, you know that is a very, very sad situation. We had not had any children. We'd been praying for children, and it looked like God had answered the prayer and then 5 months into the pregnancy, we lost the baby. And we laid on the bed and cried. I don't need to apologize for that. We did. What happens to those little ones? We've talked about that this week, that we have a child in heaven that we've never met, and that one day, according to the Scripture, we're going to see that baby and we're gonna know that child.
It's not true to say we only have four children; we have five. One of them's already in heaven. I believe, as do all who accept the authority of God's Word, that a child is a person from the moment of conception. Since that is true, then all of these unborn ones, for whatever reasons they have been unborn, will be taken by the Father to heaven. These principles apply to those who in days past perhaps in weakness or in fear or in unbelief allowed an abortion. There is no one I know who is more sensitive to this issue than a woman who has had an abortion.
And I wanna say to all of you gals, if that's happened to you, God has forgiven you. That is not the unpardonable sin. God has forgiven you and he's even gone beyond that. He is so gracious to you that one day that little one that was aborted, you will hold in your arms and these principles also apply to those who, while they are mature physically, have never matured mentally or emotionally. They may be in the body of a mature person, but their mind has been impaired to such an extent that they have a mind of a child. As far as heaven is concerned, they are children and they will be taken to heaven when they die. One author wrote: "I cannot imagine the same Savior who blessed little babies and said, 'Of such is the kingdom of heaven,' secretly intending to deny them that mercy".
So I am absolutely certain from these first three points, the character of God, the condition of salvation, and the compassion of the Savior, that little babies who die before they're old enough to understand the gospel go to heaven. But that is not the most powerful reason. There is an incident in the life of David that is fundamental to the question we are answering today. So if you have your Bibles open, look down in the 12th chapter of 2 Samuel and this section of Scripture records the events that happened in the life of David immediately after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan.
Now, I have to not assume that everybody here knows the Old Testament, so let me just tell you briefly the story. David committed adultery with Bathsheba. You all know that. And you know that, in the process, he also had Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed. And for a whole year, David hid this in his heart and nobody knew it but him. And one day, Almighty God came to Nathan, his prophet, and he said, "Nathan, I have an assignment for you. You are now to go and confront David". I've often thought how awful it would have been to be Nathan. "You want me to go confront the king"? "Yes". So Nathan goes and he confronts David concerning his adultery and the murder of Uriah. And among other things, Nathan told David that the child that he and Bathsheba had brought into the world would be taken away in death.
Now, I want you to pick up with me your reading of this text in 2 Samuel chapter 12 and verse 14: "'However, because of this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child who is born to you shall surely die.' Then Nathan departed to his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them. Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, 'Indeed, while the child was alive, we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He may do some harm!' When David saw that his servants were whispering, he perceived that the child was dead. Therefore David said to his servants, 'Is the child dead?' And they said, 'He is dead.' So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. And he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, 'What is this that you have done, David? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and you ate food.' And David said," listen to this, "While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?' But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me".
What was David's confidence in that moment? That he would see that child again. He said, "I can't bring the child back, but I will go to the child". Now, some people say, "Well, what David is talking about here is that, just as the child went to the grave, David would go to the grave". But wait a minute, it was this thought of a reunion with his child that cheered David. But where did he think this reunion would be? Was it going to be in the grave or in hell? In heaven. He believed that he himself would go to heaven after death and consequently he meant to express the belief that this child had gone on before him to that blessed place and the idea of meeting his child in the unconscious grave would have had no rationally emotional comfort for him. He could not have thought of any good thoughts if he thought the child was in hell. No, he said, "I am encouraged. I'm gonna go to that child," so much so that he quit weeping and fasting and he went in and dressed himself and he came out and met the people.
David knew something that we now know, that when little children die before they understand the gospel, they go straight to heaven. And no matter what anybody says, the tenor of the Word of God, the character of God, the consequences of believing, and all of that bring together this truth: that children who die before they can understand the gospel go to heaven.
Now, let me answer a couple of other questions that are always a part of this discussion. What about the age of accountability? We say that children are protected until the age of accountability. People are always asking me the question, "What is the age of accountability"? They want a chronological number. Well, the age of accountability is as different as the ability of your children to comprehend. How many of you have more than two children? Let me see your hands. How many of you would say that your children all developed mentally along the same line perfectly so that they understood things at the same age, anybody? I don't think so. Not even twins.
So the age of accountability is a different age chronologically for each child. It simply means a time when children can understand the gospel. Are little children innocent until they reach a certain age? No, they are not innocent in the sense of their sin. They're sinners. They are covered by the blood until they can understand that, and then they become responsible. The Bible is very clear that we are born in iniquity and shaped in iniquity. We are born with a sin nature. But what age is a child when he becomes responsible for his relationship with God? Isaiah refers to such a time that we mentioned earlier for "before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good". The important thing here to remember is that the Bible does not make any reference at all to an age of accountability, but there is a time in the life of every child when they are able to understand God's love, when they comprehend what it means to be a sinner, and for some children that knowledge comes at a very early age and for some it may take more time. The age of accountability is not a chronological measurement; it is a reckoning of spiritual understanding.
So let me just pause here for a moment and say to parents, "How do I know when that time comes"? If you raise your children in the context of the gospel, they will ask you the questions. Almost without exception that happens. You get into a conversation, they come to church, they hear the gospel. I grew up in a pastor's home. I went to church every Sunday. I heard my dad give the gospel and preach, and oftentimes I saw people come forward and I would go home and I'd ask my father about that. We'd have this discussion. I think it's also very fair for me to say that often in Christian families, there are what we might call pre-conversion experiences where children have a sensitivity to the Lord and they may pray the prayer but later on realize that there was more that they needed to understand and so they pray the prayer again. You should never ever feel badly about that.
I know that happened in my life two or three times. I was actually baptized twice because the first time I was baptized as a little child and I realized later as I grew up that I didn't really understand the gospel at that time and I wanted to be sure that I had this in the right sequence, so I was baptized once I knew what the gospel was all about. But normally, the age of accountability happens when a kid's in Sunday school or he's in vacation Bible school and somebody presents the gospel and they know that they need to be saved. And so you share the gospel with them. What a privilege it is for a parent to lead their child to the Lord. Every one of our children has had a different experience. But all have come to the age of understanding at a different time. And you as parents need to be sensitive to that and that's one of the reasons why we dedicate parents when we have our dedication services. We don't dedicate children, we really dedicate the parents and you'll hear me ask them, "Do you agree that you will rear your children in such a way that at the earliest possible age, they will hear and understand and receive the gospel"?
That's what your hope is, that you help them understand it, you bring them to an understanding of it, and at a certain age, you realize that they do understand it and then they receive Christ. People ask me, "When should a child be baptized"? Only when they can understand the gospel and explain it. When they can share with you how they know they're a Christian, then they should be baptized. There is no guarantee that when a child reaches the age of accountability they're just automatically gonna become a Christian if you don't live in such a way and honor the Word in such a way and share the gospel in such a way that they will understand. And especially do I wanna say this to dads.
If you want your son to be a Christian, then the probability is you're going to have to become one yourself because you cannot impart what you do not possess, and children will not understand the gospel if it is not lived out before them in flesh and blood. What about the age of accountability?
All right, here's the next question. How old are children gonna be in heaven? Everybody go, "Hmm, hmm". Well, there are all kinds of different views concerning this question. And there's no absolute answer given in the Scripture. Some believe that when we are in heaven we will all be mature in body and mind and spirit, and the thought is like this. If babies cannot fully enjoy this life, how could we expect them to fully enjoy eternal life with God if they're still babies?
One proponent of this view argues that the book of Revelation describes worship in heaven as it involves everyone who is there. Therefore, whoever is in heaven will be of such an age as to be able to participate in the eternal worship of Almighty God and will have to be old enough to do that. Alister McGrath says, "As each person reaches their peak of perfection around the age of 30, they will be resurrected as they would have appeared at that time. Even if they had never lived to reach that age, the new Jerusalem will be populated by men and women as they would appear at the age of 30 but with every blemish removed". Now, for all of you who are 30 today, this has got to be a great... you know? You are at, according to what they say, the peak age. Some have increased the age to 33 since that was the time when Christ was crucified so if you're 33, you're okay. From then on, it's downhill, you know?
Others that I have read believe that children will be allowed to grow up in heaven and they support this view this way: if the Millennium is the prelude to heaven, we know something about the Millennium that's true and that is that there are children in the Millennium. Remember, Isaiah 11: "A little child shall lead them. A nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and a weaned child shall put his hand in the viper's den". So if the Millennium is part of heaven, then there's some reason to believe that perhaps children will be in heaven and some people believe that children will be in heaven and allowed to grow up until they get to the age of 30 and then they'll be frozen at 30.
Now, wouldn't that be something? That is heaven just to think about that, isn't it? I don't know the answer to that except J. Vernon McGee who was such a quaint teacher once said, "I believe with all my heart that God will raise the little ones such that the mother's arms who have ached for them will have the opportunity of holding them. The father's hand which never held the little hand will be given the privilege. I believe that little ones will grow up in heaven in the care of their earthly parents if they are saved".
Well, I've tried to deal with this subject in a sensitive way and I hope that what you have understood from what I've said is if you have one little one who is gone and you're no longer with them, they died, that little one is with the Lord. I believe that with all my heart. On the authority of the Word of God I can tell you that. I can also say, "Don't lessen your vigilance for the children God has given you and watch over them as a mother hen watches over her chicks. Bring them to a knowledge of Jesus Christ at the earliest possible age".
There was a family whose baby boy had died and their little girl came to the mother and asked her where her baby brother had gone. And her mother said, "He has gone to be with Jesus". A few days later the mother was visiting with a friend and she was saying to her friend, "I am so grieved to have lost my baby". The little girl heard her remark and came to her mother and said, "Mama, is something lost when you know where it is"? "Well, of course not," replied the mother. "Well, how can baby be lost when he has gone to be with Jesus"? asked the little girl. A baby is not lost when you know where that baby is.
Finally, there's one more difficult question and then we will close this session. The question I have asked today is, "Will your baby be in heaven"? But I wanna ask one that's really pertinent to every one of us here and that is, "Will you be in heaven with your baby"? Your baby is gonna be in heaven, I can tell you that without any doubt. But I don't know about you. You are not under the special blessings of the Lord. You are above the age of accountability. You are a morally responsible adult and you must make a decision about heaven.
The children of born again parents do not automatically go to heaven; neither do the parents of children in heaven automatically join them there. If you want to see your child and enjoy a heavenly reunion, you must be born again. You must come to know Jesus Christ. Almighty God sent his Son Jesus Christ into this world to be your Savior. He has done all the work. He has done everything that needs to be done. He only asks you to accept it and believe him and receive him into your life.
If you do that, you become a Christian and you will spend eternity in heaven with God and with those children who have gone on before. If you refuse to do that, you will not go to heaven. This does not apply to adults. It applies only to children before they can understand. So my plea with you today is do you know Jesus? Are you sure that if you were to die today, you would stand before God with the right answer and be able to enter into heaven? If you have never made that decision to trust him, I'm gonna ask you to do it today.