QUESTION: “What happens to infants when they die? Do they go to heaven or is it uncertain as to what happens to them?”
ANSWER: What happens when an infant dies is far from being simply an academic matter, but it is as intensely personal as anything could be. To answer this specific question properly, it is essential to get the broad picture and there are several things to consider.
First, God loves His human creation, including infants, and wants what is best for them. He wants all people to be with Him forever and to enjoy Him and to enjoy what He has provided for them. When God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, we do witness Him demonstrating a special fondness for children (Matt. 18:3-10; 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17). The Luke account specifically includes “babies” as ones being brought to Jesus. These verses show that Jesus readily accepted these little ones (laying His hands on them was a sign of that) and saw them of great value, unlike His own disciples who at that point didn’t share His view. To Jesus, little children are excellent examples of the fact that simple trust is what brings a person to receive God’s eternal life. A proud person who is self-sufficient will not admit their need of a savior. Jesus had a special affection for these little ones.
Second, it is important to recognize that if God does take an infant to heaven at the death of that infant, it is not because the baby is innocent. The baby may well be cute and very precious to be sure, but biblically that baby is not innocent. The Bible is clear that a child is born guilty. They are sinful before God even before they commit any specific sins (we cannot be sure how young a child can be in order to commit personal sin). The Apostle Paul is quite clear, however, that everyone on this planet stands guilty before God (Romans 1:18-3:20, especially Rom. 3:9-10, 23). Other scriptures point out that we are sinners at birth and separated from God because of it (Psa. 51:5; 58:3; 143:2; Rom. 5:12-20; Eph. 2:1-3). These and other verses clearly teach that infants too are guilty before God because of inherited sin (sin nature) passed on from their parents who are also sinful, by nature and by act.
So, if God brings the infant to heaven it is essential that the issue of sinful guilt is dealt with in a way that satisfies the absolute standard of God’s holiness. They are not saved because of their own righteousness, innocence or merit. They are saved, like everyone else who is saved, based completely and only on the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. So the question is: did Christ’s death on the cross take care of the guilt of infants. The evidence of Scripture is YES IT DOES.
Jesus died on the cross; His death took care of the sin problem completely. He made a full and complete payment for all the sins of all mankind. There was no aspect of sin that was not righteously, judicially, completely paid for (John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:19-21; 1 John 2:1-2; Heb. 2:9; 9:11-14, 25-28; 10:10-14). So that guilt, possessed by all, including infants, was paid for on the cross. This settles the most critical matter of all; that of God being able to righteously bring someone to heaven. But, in order to receive eternal life and the forgiveness of sins, a person must place their trust (faith) in Jesus the God-man, the one and only savior. The work on the cross, to be applied, must be accepted by the individual. We are declared righteous on the basis of faith in Christ alone (Gal. 2:16).
What separates infants from the rest mankind is that they cannot make moral choices, since they do not have the knowledge and understanding about right and wrong. They do not have the capacity to accept or reject the gospel. They, therefore, do not fit into the category of Romans 1:18-3:20 where Paul speaks of the judgment of eternal death that is coming on everyone who does not listen to the gospel and turn to Jesus Christ for eternal life. The case is strong, therefore, that since the guilt of sin has been totally paid for, and since infants cannot choose, that God justly brings these to heaven. (I would also suggest that those people of any chronological age who mentally do not have the ability to discern right from wrong, and cannot choose to accept or reject the gospel, are also covered by Christ’s work on the cross).
Third, the Scriptures do give us the account of the death of King David’s infant son (found in 2 Samuel 12). When the baby boy died, David who had been seeking God intently, ceased praying and fasting, which surprised David’s servants. David then explained, “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” (12:23). It is the opinion of some interpreters that all David was saying was that his son cannot come back into the realm of the living, but he (David) would go into the realm of the dead. While that point is quite true, the context would point to something more to David’s statement. David says that he would go to him, not that he would go to where he was; that is, the realm of the dead. It was hardly comfort or consolation to David that he would die someday and be dead like his son. But to be with that son someday would bring very real consolation to the grieving heart of David who expected to be reunited with his baby son. Everyone would agree that at death David would be with the Lord. So the point is that David, who is headed for heaven, would again be with that son. This, of course, means that the little boy who died, being just 7 days old, would be with his father, David, when David died. This strongly points to the infant going to heaven.
We wish that there were many more scriptures which would talk about this subject, but what God has given to us gives us great comfort that these little ones that Jesus cared about and died for are with the Lord. It is, therefore, not simply wishful thinking or sentimentalism, when we state that INFANTS WHO DIE GO TO BE WITH THE LORD JESUS CHRIST and will enjoy Him forever.
- Dr. Paul Benware