What happens to infants or little children when they die?
For those who want the conclusion first - this article will reason that they go to be with Christ, irrespective of nationality or parental beliefs. Some of the scriptures used are:
2 Samuel 12:23, I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.
Genesis 18:5, Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?
Matthew 18:11, For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Matthew 18:14, So it is not the will of your Father who is in the heavens that one of these little ones should perish.
The Problem. The question arises due to the fact that we inherit a fallen nature from Adam. Many scriptures describe our lost condition. In Psalm 51:5, Behold, in iniquity was I brought forth, and in sin did my mother conceive me; Job 25:4-6, “Or how should he be clean that is born of a woman?...and the stars are not clean in his sight. How much less a man…”; Job 15:15, Behold, he putteth no trust in his holy ones and the heavens are not pure in his sight. We could also quote from the new testament. The Roman Catholic system calls this “original sin” and the answer they propose is baptism. They claim that baptism washes this away – which it doesn’t. Our Lutheran brethren claim that baptism confers all the benefits of the gospel on the little ones – which it doesn’t. Hence the reader can understand the anxiety of those folk to have an infant baptized quickly so that if such die, they are not lost eternally. In a similar way, the Anglican creed states that baptism makes a person a member of the body of Christ – which it doesn’t. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit does that; see 1 Corinthians 12:13, “by one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body...”
The importance of little ones. Several times during the Lord’s ministry here he refers to them as being important and uses them as examples. In Mark 10:13-16 he took the little children in his arms and blessed them and declared that “of such is the kingdom of God”. In Matthew 18, the first fourteen verses are occupied with the little child and the little ones. In verse 10, “their angels in the heavens continually behold the face of my Father who is in the heavens”. They are represented before the Father, showing his continual and unfailing interest in such. Their “lost” condition is not overlooked, but Christ’s death is sufficient - see the other verses in Matthew 18 quoted at the beginning of this article. In the parable of the lost sheep in this section, it is noteworthy that there was no work of faith in the one rescued. It was all from the shepherd’s side.
I suggest that this group includes not only infants and children but also persons who are intellectually impaired. God measures responsibility and will always be justified in his actions – see Genesis 18 quoted above.
Their destiny. In 2 Samuel 12:23, “But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me”. The baby born to Bathsheba and David died. David knew his own ultimate destiny – blessing. He would finally be with the infant in that place, awaiting the resurrection. David knew that he was not just going into a grave. He, like Abraham, knew the God of resurrection. Amongst the Jews at the time of Christ, it was only the sect of the Sadducees that denied the resurrection.
The little ones will have an eternal portion of blessing, but I do not see that they will form part of the church, the bride of Christ. The Holy Spirit is given to those who believe. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that constitutes us members of the body of Christ – see Ephesians 2:-22, 4:4, etc. God will have them as a family. In Ephesians 3:14-15, For this reason I bow my knees to the Father [of our Lord Jesus Christ] of whom every family in the heavens and on earth is named… In this context the word “family” means a group of persons who have come from a like situation, not just your family and mine. When we have our glorified or spiritual bodies (see 1 Corinthians 15) we will be as angels of God, not having the same connection with our natural relatives that we do now. See also Luke 20:34-36. For example, the church is a heavenly family, while Israel is an earthly family. Those who are saved in the great tribulation will comprise another family. Those of this period (since Pentecost) who have not heard of the grace of God and the salvation which is in Christ Jesus, but have given God glory, responding to the testimony that is in creation, I am sure will have a portion of blessing although not in the “church” family. Notice that Ephesians 3:15 speaks of every family in the heavens and on earth. Even in eternity - as distinct from the millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ - there will be inhabitants of heaven and of earth.
The little ones are precious to God. He has given them life and Christ’s finished work will secure such for eternal blessing.
MM June 2007