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What About the Babies?

I was recently asked what will happen to children—specifically Children too young to place their faith in Jesus—at the rapture.  This same broached subject applies equally to adults who, for whatever reason, are mentally incapable of consciously putting their faith in Jesus.  Like many issues, I think there can be an unscriptural extreme on different ends of the spectrum of possibilities.

On one end you have those who emphasize the patterns deduced from the global flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the conquest of Canaan, in which it would seem children were not spared.  Sometimes those staunchly embedded in the Reformed or Catholic traditions will argue that children will—shudder—not be spared from God's wrath if, in the case of Reformed, they haven't volitionally placed their faith in Jesus, or, in the case of Catholic teaching, haven't been baptized in water.  At first glance this would seem to be profoundly unjust and unmerciful for image bearers of God who were incapable of believing in Jesus.

On the other end, you have the popular Evangelical perspective that all children under a certain “age of accountability” are assured of rapture by virtue of their being “innocent.”  In this perspective, the post-rapture world will be completely devoid of children and many mentally handicapped—at least until new children are conceived during the Tribulation itself.  I naturally gravitate toward this position, but I also have a certain qualm that this seems to be on the verge of a partial universalism where millions of people are skirting more important biblical doctrines, namely that faith in Jesus isn't a requirement for some, but for all.  Jesus is the only way.

The Bible doesn't actually address the question directly, so in order to arrive at a conclusion we have to piece together what the Bible does say.  As I attempt to piece this together, bear with me and keep reading.  You might see a point below that would seem to substantiate one or the other of the camps mentioned above, but we need to gather all the relevant information to make an informed conclusion.

1. God is worth more than all people who ever lived.  He alone is worthy (Deut. 10:21; Rev. 5:4–5).  He's worth more than you and me.  He's worth more than all the children who ever lived—precious in His sight though they are.

2. Life is a gift, not a right.  No one is entitled to life. (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:16; etc).  God gives us life and takes it away.  It was only an act of grace to begin with that any of us were given life.  Our 21st-century egalitarian, rugged individualism sometimes makes us uncomfortable with this notion.

3. No one can be saved apart from Christ, and the only way to be saved through Christ is by exercising faith in Him (Jn. 3:14–18; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Jn. 8:24).  No one gets a pass from the narrow way that is Jesus.

4. Condemnation is not first based on sin, but on unbelief in Christ (Jn. 3:16–18).  Without belief in Christ you are left to face judgment for your sins (see Rev. 20).

5. No one is good (Rom. 3:10) and all have fallen short of God's glory (3:23).  Children are not excepted from this.  How can this be?  Because everyone is conceived with a sin nature as a result of Adam's sin (Rom. 5:12; Ps. 51:5).  Sometimes the sin nature is mistaught as something that is only a potentiality until one comes of age, but the idea of original sin and the sin nature is that we sin by nature (I know that's so profound).  Apart from Christ, even from our youth we are constantly in a state of sin and sinfulness.

Infants do not have full self-awareness, but they are certainly sinning nonetheless—screaming and raging, essentially exhibiting none of the fruits of the Spirit.  As soon as children are walking around then you see other sins develop: defiance, disobedience, violence, thieving, mistrust, envy, etc.

6. In his discourse with Abraham, God essentially said he would spare the city of Sodom for any number of righteous men found.  But only Lot was found.  Lot's deeds were largely wicked, but he was counted righteous because of his faith in YHWH.  The city was not spared, but Lot was able to take the members of his household.  Likewise with Noah: only he was found righteous (through faith), but he was able to take his household.

7. No children were spared in the Flood or in Sodom, or, for the most part, during the Israelites' conquest of Canaan.  This confirms that children are not excepted from God's judgment by virtue of their being children.

8. Though an age of accountability is an often taught concept, it doesn't actually appear anywhere in the New Testament.  This doctrine comes only from assuming certain Old Testament types and shadows in the Law apply to us today (e.g., those over 20 at the rebellion couldn't enter the Promised Land; those under 20 didn't need to bring atonement at least in Ex. 30; those under 20 weren't counted in the census; etc).  Also, Jewish custom is that adulthood is reached at 12–13.  Jesus was 12 in the Temple.  So a theoretical “age of accountability” is surmised to be at around 12–13 or 20.

9. An age of accountability is almost completely arbitrary.  Teenagers and even younger children willfully sin all the time and can disbelieve in Jesus just as much as adults can.  There is an irony that many who argue for an age of accountability argue such because of the inability of children to choose Christ of their own volition, yet the only ages they garner from the Bible are well above when a child can understand the difference between right and wrong and choose Christ.

If you believe that an age of accountability exists and the reason it exists is because children can't place their faith in Jesus, then to be consistent in your view you'll have to set the theoretical limit much lower than 12 or 13.

Now that I've shared about the absolute universality of sin and the absolute necessity of faith in Jesus Christ (Jesus is the only way), hang on for #10.  There's good news...

10. Mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas. 2:13).  Jesus came full of grace (Jn. 1:14).  He didn't come to condemn, but to save (Jn. 3:16–17).  Jesus loves the little children (Lk. 18:16).  Do you look on an infant and condemn them for their sin nature?  Or do you look at a helpless child with pity, affection, and love?  Do you think you have more pity and love for children than the God who made them does?  How twisted can our thinking be that we would mistrust the care of children to the same God who demands we care for the orphan? 

Little children and many of the mentally handicapped are incapable of rejecting Christ.  They sin just as we all do, but have no consciousness of it.  They are not aware.  They cannot believe in Christ, but neither can they disbelieve in Christ.  They cannot decipher right and wrong.  They sin, but do not carry guilt.  They sin, but have no iniquity.  They are guileless.

So without faith in Christ they would, like all, die in their sins.  Paul is clear sin exists both under and outside the Law (Rom. 2:12), but the Law was given to make us aware.  But even though they would die in their sins (as we see happened in the Flood, Sodom, Canaan, etc), they have no guilt, no iniquity.  There is no faith that can result in salvation, but there is also no sin that can be rightfully judged—they were unaware and slaves to their sin nature.  Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

1 Peter 3:18–20 describes in unequivocal terms Jesus, after His atoning death and resurrection, preaching to the imprisoned spirits in Hades who disobeyed in the time of the Flood.  Other passages allude to a similar event.

. . . also because Christ suffered once for sin—righteous for unrighteous—that He might lead us to God, indeed having been put to death in the flesh, but having been made alive in the Spirit, by which, having gone, He also preached to the spirits in prison, who sometime [ago] disobeyed when once the long-suffering of God waited, in [the] days of Noah—an ark being prepared—in which few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water . . .

As Scripture says, man is appointed to die once and then judgment, but that final judgment occurs in an era long after death.  The final judgment occurs sometime after the 1,000-year millennial reign of Christ.  What has happened to spirits from the time of Adam to the time of Christ?  They were kept in Hades, both the righteous and unrighteous (e.g., Lk. 16:19-31).  But after Christ completed His atoning work on the Cross and rose again, the whole dynamic changed.  Now believers are gathered to Heaven (2 Cor. 5:6–10; Eph. 4:8; Acts 7:54–60; Rev. 6:9–11; see also Lk. 23:43; Mt. 27:52–53).

I firmly believe there are no second chances after death as universal reconciliation teaches.  Blaspheming (rejecting) the Spirit with which Christ came is not a forgivable offense, neither in this age nor in the age to come (Mt. 12:30–32).  But there are first chances.  There are those who never heard the good news in days past and I have full assurance the God who made them and loves them will give them their chance.  He's willing—in the perfect, rather than permissive sense—that none should perish and all come to conversion.

Lest we become too legalistic in our interpretation of “die once and then judgment,” a judgment is a verdict.  The verdict can be either good or bad.  Exoneration or sentencing.  In terms of the judgment of salvation, the judgment is already over for those who believe in Christ (Jn. 3:18; 5:24).  If someone from ages past who had no opportunity to believe the gospel dies and then, by God's grace, is given the opportunity to believe, then places their faith in Christ, their judgment is passed as well.  Hebrews 9:27 is still upheld.

But a word of warning from Paul in Romans 1:18–32: there are also those in ages past who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.  They may never have heard the gospel as plainly as we do now, but they are yet without excuse because of their suppressing the little truth of God they did know.  They rejected the Spirit of God who would have otherwise enlightened them.

But little children and the mentally handicapped are not among them.  These never rejected or suppressed the truth.  These are precious in His sight, predestined for Heaven, and granted the faith which they need for salvation.  But the question is merely timing.

In 1 Corinthians 7:14 we see the pattern of Noah and his family and Lot and his family applied to our present situation.  The children of a believing parent—even one believing parent—are set apart, sanctified.  Assuredly this is because they have been exposed to the gospel through their parent and on some level share their parent's faith.  In addition, all three Persons of the Godhead dwell within every believer, including Jesus.  This means the children of a believer are connected, through their parent, to Jesus in some sense.  If we who believe will be transformed into Christ's likeness in a moment of time, at the rapture, then by all means our sanctified (set apart) children who are too little to understand will certainly be made in His likeness, too—given, in an instant, the gift of faith as we ourselves already possess.  And our precious loved ones with impairments preventing volitional faith in this life, will be given faith as well.

So let me wrap this up and summarize what I think:

1. No one can be saved without actual faith in Christ or else we are denying our central and most important doctrine: the gospel and exclusivity of Jesus for salvation.

2. As we saw in the cases of Noah and Lot, children of believers, in their household and under their care, will assuredly be rescued along with their believing parents as an act of God's grace.  There are a number of ways to reconcile this view with #1—perhaps they already have a primordial faith that would blossom into a saving faith in adulthood; perhaps during the rapture they are given faith and glorification at the same moment.  Remember, Scripture says even faith is a gift!  (e.g., Eph. 2:8–9; 11:18; 13:48; 16:14; Rom. 12:3; 1 Cor. 12:9).

3. While I like the idea that children of unbelievers will also be raptured, I don't see a strong case for that.  Children in similar situations were not excepted before (e.g., the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Canaan, the Holocaust, etc).  How many children perished in all the wars and plagues throughout human history?  Children are not excepted from judgment and suffering just by virtue of being children.  They also sin.  They also need a Savior.  They also have to believe.  The children of the righteous somehow have this faith imparted to them by proximity, by God's grace, at the moment of the rapture event when glorification occurs.

4. But, little children and the mentally impaired relatives of unbelievers, who have no guilt or guile, which would be most or all of them, cannot be justly judged for sin.  Nor can they be condemned for unbelief, because they had no capacity for belief or unbelief.  They would die once, as Scripture says, but experience a saving faith after death that leads to eternal life in Christ Jesus after the general resurrection of the dead at the Great White Throne judgment of Revelation 20.

Here's a final caveat: I could be wrong about some of this.  It's true that the dynamic changed in a big way after Jesus rose again.  Now believers are gathered in Heaven, rather than on the “good” side of Hades with Abraham.  Jesus has, apparently, already preached to the imprisoned spirits who perished in the Flood (1 Pt. 3).  Perhaps post-Christ all children who die young, even of unbelievers, are given faith immediately after death and are immediately ushered into Heaven.  Before Christ came children were not yet given entrance.  They had to wait along with all of mankind.

So I do reach my conclusion with humility.  I think we can be assured that all miscarried and aborted babies, all little children, and the mentally handicapped, will be saved.  There's simply no coherent scriptural argument otherwise.  And this can only occur after they obtain, by grace, a saving faith in Jesus after death.  They will receive the gift—not right or obligation—of eternal life.  The question is merely timing: will they receive it at the rapture or at the general resurrection of Revelation 20?

Remember, without faith it is impossible to please God.  Everything apart from faith is sin.  God demands faith from all.  But the result of faith unto salvation is the indwelling Holy Spirit who regenerates our dead spirits and unites us to Christ.  Everyone, children included, need this faith, which is the gift of God, in order to be regenerated and restored.

One problem with assuming the children of unbelievers receive eternal life at the rapture rather than at the post-Tribulational or post-millennial resurrections is the simple fact more children will be born, both during the Tribulation and during the Millennial Kingdom.  What about the children of unbelievers who perished before the rapture?  What about the children of unbelievers who perish after the rapture?

The resurrection and rapture is a special event for the body of Christ, those who are presently in Christ.

So our gracious God will set all things right with perfect justice and overflowing grace, but it's in His timing.  Our job is to trust Him with our lives and entrust Him with the lives of others.  He loves them more than you do.  He made them.  He died for them.

Further reading:

What does the Bible say about Hell?

Animals in Heaven?

What will the rapture be like?

What will Heaven be like?

This post first appeared on UNSEALED - World News | Christian News | Prophecy, please read the originial post: here

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What About the Babies?


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