Robert Jeffress - Are Children Who Die In Heaven?
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. We know that salvation through faith in Christ is the only way to heaven, but does God's plan of salvation make room for any exceptions? For example, what happens when infants or small children pass away before they're able to place their trust in Jesus? What about unborn children? Or those who are childlike because they are mentally challenged? Does God welcome them into heaven? Well, we're answering the question, are children who die in heaven? On today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
One of the most painful assignments any pastor has is trying to console parents who have lost a child, either through an accident or through an illness. You know, if the parents are Christians, they naturally want to know, will I ever see my child again in heaven? Of course, anyone with an ounce of compassion would want to offer consolation to such a parent and give them that assurance that indeed their child is going to be in heaven, but the fact is there is no verse in the Bible that tells us one way or the other what happens to a child when they die.
Well, I'm gonna start with my conclusion first of all today. I'm convinced that children and infants, and those who are infants who are childlike because they are mentally challenged, they are all welcomed into heaven. How do I come to that conclusion? Well, that's what we're gonna talk about today. First of all, God has a special love for children. God's love and concern for children began before a child is ever born. From the moment of conception, God views that child as a human being, even while that child is being formed in his mother's womb. David expressed God's love and concern for him while he was actually in his mother's womb, long before he was born.
Turn over to Psalm 139:13-16. David wrote, "For thou didst form my inward parts: thou didst weave me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: wonderful are Thy works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought", underline those words, "In the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance: and in thy book they were all written, the days which were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them". David's words reveal that in God's eyes, that fertilized egg in the mother's womb is not just some biological blob. That fertilized egg is a child, a child whom God loves.
Turn over to Mark 10:14-16. Some parents brought their children to the Lord. They wanted the Lord to bless their child, and some of the disciples said, "Our Lord doesn't have time for stuff like that", but what was Jesus' response? Look at Mark 10:14-16. "But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and he said to them, permit the children to come to me: do not hinder them: for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all. And he took them", that is the children, "in his arms and he began blessing them, laying his hands upon them".
Pastor and author John MacArthur offers some very helpful insight on this. He said, "I don't know of any place in the New Testament in which Jesus blesses unbelievers. There's no place in which Jesus blesses the cursed, or the damned. Jesus blessed those children in his arms because from heaven's perspective, they were counted among the blessed righteous ones whose rightful, eternal home was heaven". Now, again, this isn't evidence in and of itself of what happens to children, but it's the first building block. God's special love for children.
Add to that number two, the fact that God views the inherited sin of children differently than he views the willful sin of adults. Let me say that again. God views the inherited sin of children differently than the willful sin of adults. Now, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, because of Adam's willing disobedience, the Bible says death spread to all people because all of us inherited Adam's sin. In Romans 5:12, Paul explains it this way. "Therefore, just as through one man", that is, Adam, "sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned".
You know how you know you've contracted the sin virus? You know how you know you're guilty before God? Because you're gonna die. Death is the proof we've inherited sin. Now, let me ask you the question, do children die? Yes. Do babies die? Yes. The fact that anyone dies is proof that he is guilty before God. Nevertheless, God distinguishes between that inherited sin that children have received, and the willful disobedience of adults. You know, I have people ask about, and perhaps you've wondered about this phrase, the age of accountability. The age of accountability. There's no phrase the age of accountability in the Bible, but there is the truth that God holds people responsible for their sin when they are able to distinguish between good and evil. That's the moment of accountability before God, when we have the ability to distinguish good and evil.
A great illustration of that truth is found in the Old Testament. Remember the story of the Israelites? After leaving Egypt, they finally made it to Kadesh Barnea, the entry point into the Promised Land, and they sent 12 spies into the new Land of Canaan to see what obstacles they might have to overcome. The spies came back and 10 of them made this report. They said, "The land is as full of blessing as God promised, but there are giants in the land and we'll never overtake them". Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb said, "Yes, there are challenges but God will be faithful to give us the land, just as he promised".
The Israelites chose to believe the majority report, and because of that, God was filled with anger because of unbelief, and he said, "No one of you, except Joshua and Caleb, is going to enter into this Promised Land. Instead, you're gonna wander in the wilderness without ever entering into my rest, and you will die because of your unbelief". But there is one group God exempted from that horrible judgment. That group is named in Deuteronomy 1:39. God said, "Moreover, your little ones who you said would become a prey, and your sons, who this day have no knowledge of good or evil, shall enter there, and I will give it to them", that is, the land, "To them, and they shall possess it".
Now, even though these children were guilty of Adam's sin, they had contracted the sin virus, God viewed their sin differently than he viewed the sins of their parents who willfully rejected God, and that leads to a third truth, and that is, children have not rejected God's revelation. Because these children in Israel had not yet reached that age where they could be distinguishing between good and evil, they could not be charged with the same sin of their parents and that sin was the sin of unbelief. Now, if you don't hear another thing I say today, I want you to hear this. In the Bible, unbelief is more than simply failing to believe God's promises. Unbelief is the deliberate decision to reject God's revelation. Let me say it again. Unbelief is more than simply failing to believe God. In the Bible, unbelief is the deliberate decision to reject God's revelation.
Go back to these Israelites for a moment. These adult Israelites did more than simply not believe God. They chose to reject the revelation that God had already given to them. The writer again, in Hebrews 3, quotes Psalm 95, written a thousand years earlier, to describe the sin of these Israelites. In quoting Psalm 95, he says, "Today, if you hear God's voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried me by testing me, and they saw my works for 40 years".
Think about it. For 40 years, these Israelites had seen God's miraculous care for them, and yet they deliberately rejected that knowledge of God they had received, and chose to reject God's promise of deliverance, and therefore, they are without excuse, unlike the children, who were so small and young, they couldn't put it all together. They couldn't understand what was happening. They had not made the deliberate decision to reject what God had revealed to them. The same thing is true today. There is no one who is without excuse, because everyone who has ever lived has received a revelation of God.
Look at Romans 1:18-20. We've looked at it often. Paul writes, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, for since the creation of the world, God's invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen being understood through what has been made, so that we and they are without excuse". You know, I've said over and over in this series, no one, no one is going to be sent to hell for rejecting a Gospel they've never heard. The reason people will end up in hell is for rejecting whatever revelation God has given to them.
Contrast that to small children. They've received that revelation as well, they can look around, but they can't put it together, and so therefore, God views them differently. They have not rejected God's revelation, they just haven't accept it yet. The most important task we have is to rear our children to trust in Christ as Savior, and to follow him. Don't allow your children to be guilty of rejecting God's revelation. That leads to a fourth truth of why I'm convinced that children are in heaven, and that is, salvation is based on God's grace, not on our faith. How are children saved? They're saved the same way, that those in the Old Testament before Christ were saved. They're saved the same way that you and I are saved today. We're all saved the same way. We're saved by God's grace.
The fact that a small child isn't yet capable of exercising faith, that's no problem for God whatsoever, because that child is still saved by God's grace. Perhaps this illustration will help clear it up or you. Let's go back to that woman we talked about a few weeks ago. This unfortunate woman is trapped on the third floor of a burning apartment building. She's out on the ledge. She knows she's about to die, but fortunately, below her is a group of firemen who are holding a net. She's got a need, the firemen have the provision to meet that need, but the only way for her to access that provision is to be willing to take that leap of faith, so to speak, that lands her in the net.
Now, let's change the illustration for a moment. The apartment building is on fire, but a fireman goes up to the third floor to search for any potential victims, and as he goes from room to room of that burning floor, he finds a three-year-old toddler by himself. That toddler can't comprehend what's going on. He sure doesn't understand how to get out, and he's incapable of jumping, so what does the fireman do? He scoops up that child in his arms, he goes to the ledge, he looks below at the net, and he takes that leap into the net. What is it that saved that child? The same thing that saved the woman. It was the net. The only difference was, the fireman is the one who scooped him up into his arms and allowed him to access the provision below. I think that God does the same with small children who are incapable of exercising faith. What does he do? He simply scoops those children up in his arms and carries them safely into heaven. How are they saved? The same way we're saved. By God's grace.
That's the answer to me of how children are saved, and that leads to a fifth reason that I believe children are in heaven, and that is the promise of 2 Samuel 12:21-23. Remember the sordid story of king David and his one-night tryst with Bathsheba? David repented of his mistake. He sought and he received God's forgiveness, and although God's forgiveness erased the eternal consequences of David's sin, God's forgiveness did not erase the temporary consequences. When the child was born, he was immediately sick, and so David went into a time of mourning and praying and fasting, asking God to heal his son, but then, word came to David that his son had, in fact, died and surprisingly, when David heard that news, he stood up, took a bath, put on new clothes, began to eat, and, well, almost had a party of celebration, and his men were perplexed.
They ask him in 2 Samuel 12:21, "Why, David, did you fast and weep while your child was alive, but now you are going on with your life when your child has died"? David answered in verse 22, "While the child was still alive I fasted and wept: for I said, who knows, the Lord might not be gracious to me, that the child may live. But now that he has died: why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me". Now, here's the point. If that child of David's was on his way to hell, then David would be saying, "My child can't come back to me, but I'm gonna go with him and be in hell forever". Anybody wanna celebrate that? Is that any reason to have a party at all? Of course not.
The only sensible interpretation of this verse was David saw as a reason to celebrate the fact that his son was in heaven and in the presence of God, and he rejoiced in the fact that, one day, he would also be in heaven, to be reunited with his son and his Lord. Now, admittedly, this passage in and of itself doesn't make the air-tight case that children are in heaven, but I think when you take this truth and add it to all of the other truths we've looked at today, and then you couple that with the knowledge that God is loving, just, and merciful, and as Abraham said, "Can be trusted to do what is right", I think we can say with absolute certainty that God welcomes children into heaven.