Children and heaven

Eight-month-old twin sisters (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

After the death of a child or following an abortion, thoughtful people have asked, “What happens to children who die?” Where does a baby go who dies before he or she can understand right from wrong? What about the death of a person with a mental disability who is incapable of rational comprehension? Are aborted foetuses nothing more than scrap-heap refuse? Is there any after-life for them? [1]

A.  The example of King David

In the Old Testament, there is a ray of light in an incident that is surrounded by sin, distress and disappointment. King David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had arranged for the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, on the battle field.[2] The scene was atrocious–everything that one could expect from a modern movie. A son was conceived through illicit sexual intercourse.

When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”[3]

The son became desperately ill. David was distraught and wept bitterly. He fasted and pleaded with God to restore the child to health. But the child died.

It is at this point that the Old Testament gives us a glimpse of what happens to children after death. It is only a snap-shot of the eternal future, but it is enough to give immense hope to Christian believers whose children have died.

David said, “Now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”[4]

“The last comment does not mean merely that David would eventually die himself. The point of the story is that David comforted himself (and Bathsheba) after the child’s death, and there would be no comfort unless David believed that, although he could not bring the child back, nevertheless, one day they would see the child again in heaven.”[5]

David expected to see his son again–“not just a nameless, faceless soul without an identity, but that very child.”[6] This is an assurance that believers will know people in heaven.

King David’s words

    indicate a belief in the continued existence of the child, and even that David would recognize and know him in the future world. Less than this would have given no comfort to the father for his loss… He expressed a hope of conscious reunion in the future world; and the Christian, taking up the words, can express by them a fuller and more confident hope of rejoining his little children and Christian relatives and friends in a state of blessedness… `

1.  Not lost, but gone before

    ‘is a thought that is daily comforting thousands’.[7]

A reminder of the alternative is often needed to show us how far God has brought us by His grace: “How dreadful the reunions hereafter of those who have lived together in ungodliness and sin here, and encouraged and helped each other in the practice of them! Better to have died in infancy! Better not to have been born!”[8]

2.  David knew where he was going after death

Where was David going at death? Speaking to the Lord, David said, “And I–in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”[9] While Psalm 16:9-11 is Messianic, pointing to Christ,[10] it had a temporal fulfillment in the life of David:

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 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.”[11]

At death, David would experience eternal life (heaven) in the presence of God. That is where he expected to meet his infant son again.

How is it possible that eternal life is reserved for anyone who has repented, confessed his or her sin to Christ and received Christ [12], yet children who have not known how to repent are granted entry? There is a hint in Deuteronomy 1:39 when children are spoken of as those “who do not yet know good from bad.”

It is clear from the Bible that children are sinners from conception.[13] The heavenly status of children who die before reaching moral competence is a contentious one. However, it appears that the Lord takes into account the lack of moral understanding of children. Based on the following considerations, it is difficult to maintain that children are lost eternally. There are definite grounds in the Bible, although limited in detail, for stating that upon death, children go to heaven.[14]

By inference and application, surely this applies also to the mentally incompetent? We have confidence in answering the question, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”[15] with an absolutely positive, “YES!”

B.  Jesus Christ’s view of children and heaven

Christ’s disciples seemed to have a view that children were not important–“should be seen but not heard.” Jesus rebuked them and challenged their distorted views. He said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”[16] Even though it was meant as correction, Christ included an important view of a child’s place in heaven. “In principle all blessings of salvation belong even now to these little ones, a fact which was to be realized progressively here on earth and perfectly in the hereafter.”[17] An Anglican bishop from the last century, J. C. Ryle, affirmed Christ’s view that children would go to heaven at death: “We may surely hope well about the salvation of all who die in infancy. `Of such is the kingdom of heaven.'”[18]

C.  Believers will know one another in heaven

We know from an incident that happened on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus Christ and His disciples that believers who have died will be recognised in eternity (heaven). Moses and Elijah who had died centuries earlier still maintained a clear identity.[19] Peter, James and John recognised them without an introduction by Jesus.[20] This “implies that we will somehow be able to recognize people we’ve never even seen before. For that to be possible, we must all retain our individual identities, not turn into some sort of generic beings.”[21]

Jesus related another story about the rich man and Lazarus that emphasises this point. The rich man went to hell and was in torment. He lifted up his eyes and “saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”[22] There is clear recognition here of the departed. They know each other in life after death.

D.  What about foetuses that have been aborted?

murdered child

(photo courtesy

This question is related to when human life begins. There is startling evidence from biology that life begins before birth.

1.  Human Life Begins at Conception: Biological Evidence

The United States Senate Judiciary Sub-committee held hearings in 1981 on the issue of when life begins. Pro-abortionists, though invited to do so, failed to produce even a single expert witness who would specifically testify that life begins at any point other than conception or implantation.

Dr. Richard V. Jaynes wrote: “To say that the beginning of human life cannot be determined scientifically is . . . utterly ridiculous” (Ob. Gyn. News, September 15, 1981).

Typical of the overwhelming majority of those who testified at the 1981 hearings were the following:

a.  Dr. Jerome LeJeune, former professor of genetics at the University of Descartes, Paris, France (d. 1994):

“When does life begin? I will try to give the most precise answer to that question actually available to science. . . Life has a very long history, but each individual has a very neat beginning, the moment of conception. . . To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion. The human nature of the human being, conception to old age, is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.”

b.  Dr. Watson A. Bowes, Jr., of the University of Colorado Medical School:

“The beginning of a single human life is from a biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter–the beginning is conception. This straightforward biological fact should not be distorted to serve sociological, political or economic goals.”

c.  Dr. Alfred Bongiovanni of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School noted that the standard medical texts have long taught that human life begins at conception:

“I am no more prepared to say that these early stages represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty. . . is not a human being. This is human life at every stage albeit incomplete until late adolescence.”

d.  Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth, research associate of Harvard University Medical School:

“It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive. . . It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception. . . Our lives, one function of which is to help preserve the lives of our people, should be based on accurate scientific data.”

e.  Professor Hymie Gordon, chairman of the Department of Medical Genetics at Mayo Clinic, [Rochester, Minnesota]:

“By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception.”

f.  Dr. McCarthy De Mere, practicing physician and law professor at the University of Tennessee:

“The exact moment of the beginning [of] personhood and of the human body is at the moment of conception.”[23]

Not surprisingly, the Bible agrees:


1. Unborn babies are called “children,” the same word used of infants and young children,[24] and sometimes even of adults.[25]

2. The unborn are created by God[26] just as God created Adam and Eve in his image.[27]

3. The life of the unborn is protected by the same punishment for injury or death[28] as that of an adult.[29]

4. Christ was human (the God-man) from the point he was conceived in Mary’s womb.[30]

5. The image of God includes “male and female”[31], but it is a scientific fact that maleness or femaleness (sex) is determined at the moment of conception.

6. Unborn children possess personal characteristics such as sin[32] and joy that are distinctive of human beings.

7. Personal pronouns are used to describe unborn children[33] just as any other human being.

8. The unborn are said to be known intimately and personally by God as he would know any other person.[34]

9. The unborn are even called by God before birth.[35]

10. Guilt from an abortion is experienced, therefore, because a person has broken the law of God (sinned), “You shall not murder.”[36] Forgiveness can be received through confession to Jesus Christ.[37]

3d-red-star-small “Taken as a whole, these Scripture texts leave no doubt that an unborn child is just as much a person in God’s image as a little child or an adult is. They are created in God’s image from the very moment of conception, and their prenatal life is precious in God’s eyes and protected by his prohibition against murder.”[38]

Since human life begins at conception and concludes at death, we may therefore conclude that the death of a human being by abortion means that the infant will experience the same eternal life as the child who dies after birth (evidence above). There is one important difference between the aborted life and that of a child who has been born. The aborted child was not known personally to the mother, father and others. Or, will the situation be similar to Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration who were known by the disciples without having met them? Will the aborted children in heaven be known by the parents who are Christians? We have no biblical evidence to support the knowledge we will have of aborted children in heaven. One thing we do know–the unborn child is known to God. The psalmist explains in poetic language:

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Ps 139:15 NIV).

(photo courtesy public domain pictures)

Works consulted

James Montgomery Boice 1986. Foundations of the Christian Faith (revised in one volume). Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press.

Millard J. Erickson 1985. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Norman L. Geisler 1989. Christian Ethics: Options and Issues. Leicester, England: Apollos (Inter-Varsity Press).

William Hendriksen 1973. The Gospel of Matthew (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh (Scotland): The Banner of Truth Trust.

John F. MacArthur 1996. The Glory of Heaven. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

J.C. Ryle 1977. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Volume One, Matthew-Mark). Welwyn, Herts., England: Evangelical Press.

Landrum B. Shettles with David Rorvik 1983. Rites of Life: The Scientific Evidence for Life Before Birth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell (eds.) 1950. The Pulpit Commentary (Volume 4: Ruth, I & II Samuel). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


1. These kinds of questions have been asked of me after I’ve preached, led a Bible study, interacted on a Christian forum online, and in other circumstances.

2. Read the story in 2 Samuel, chapters 11 & 12. All quotations in this article are from the New International Version of the Bible.

3. 2 Samuel 12:13-14.

4. 2 Samuel 12:23, emphasis added.

5. Boice (1986:718).

6. MacArthur (1996:138).

7. Spence & Exell (eds.) 1950: 290, 324 (II Samuel).

8. Ibid., 324.

9. Psalm 17:15, emphasis added

10. See Acts 2:27; 13:35.

11. Emphasis added.

12. See John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 17:30-31.

13. An example is Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”

14. Erickson (1985:638).

15. Genesis 18:25.

16. Matthew 19:14, emphasis added.

17. Hendriksen (1973:720).

18. Ryle (1977:236).

19. Matthew 17:3.

20. Matthew 17:4.

21. MacArthur (1996:139).

22. Luke 16:23.

23. The above quotes on “biological evidence” were given at the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, report to the U.S.A Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st session, 1981 on the issue of when life begins. They are quoted in Shettles & Rorvik (1983:113-114) and Geisler (1989:148, emphasis added).

25. 1 Kings 3:17.

26. Psalm 139:13.

27. Genesis 1:27.

28. Exodus 21:22.

29. Genesis 9:6.

30. Matthew 1:20-21; Luke 1:26-27.

31. Genesis 1:27.

32. Psalm 51:5.

33. Jeremiah 1:5 LXX; Matthew 1:20-21. The original Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew, with a few passages in Aramaic (a Hebrew dialect). The LXX is the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

34. Psalm 139:15-16; Jeremiah 1:5.

35. Genesis 25:22-23; Judges. 13:2-7; Isaiah. 49:1, 5; Galatians 1:15.

36. Exodus 20:13; Matthew 5:21; 19:18; Romans 13:9.

37. 1 John 1:9.

38. From Geisler (1989:148).

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 April 2020.