Many people ask the question “do children go to Heaven when they die?” To answer this we must ask another question “What does the Bible say about children going to Heaven?” When we do this we do not find a direct answer, which means we should not be dogmatic about it. However, we do find some truths in the Bible that seem to support the idea of an “age of accountability” and “age of innocence.”
The “age of accountability” is the age at which a young person is mentally able to truly understand the Gospel. (When he knows that: that he does things that his God-given conscience tells him are wrong, that he is a sinner, and that he must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died in his place, as his substitute in order that he might be saved by grace through faith).
The “age of innocence” is the length of time leading up to the “age (or point) of accountability.” It is important to note that this so-called “innocence” does not mean that a child is free from sin. All children are sinners. All of mankind are “shapen in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5), as they inherit a sinful nature from Adam. This “innocence” is not moral innocence. It is the relative “innocence” of one who is unable to truly comprehend and embrace the Gospel.
The age at which a child transitions from this innocent state to this accountable state is unknown to man. Only God knows when a person is accountable. For some it is likely very young, for most a bit older. For others it is likely never (some mentally handicapped people, for instance).
What does the Bible say about Children going to Heaven?
First, we see the case of King David’s infant son who was taken from him due to his sin with Bathsheba. This child was conceived in that adulterous relationship. God chastised King David by taking his son. As the child laid sick and near death, David fasted and mourned heavily in deep depression. But after the child died, David rose and ate. He came out of his depression and ate bread. Responding to his surprised servants, he said:
2 Samuel 12:22-23 “While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
This seems to strongly support the idea that small children are not accountable, since an infant is obviously not able to understand the Gospel, let alone believe. David was comforted by this knowledge. It seems to be the very nature of God that through the blood of Christ He shows mercy and provides forgiveness to those who are unable to believe.
There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that all people who are able to understand and believe are condemned already (John 3:18). These must repent and believe the Gospel. They must be saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). but 1 John 2:2 and Romans 1:18-21 and also Romans 5:13 seem to support the possibility of some being safe (not saved) until knowledge of sin by the law (whether by the conscience or by Scripture). Those “some” would seem to be all who are unable to comprehend and believe the Gospel (most children and many mentally handicapped adults).
1 John 2:2 “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
In other words, this verse seems to imply that our holy God can remain holy … completely good and just, while still saving some who did not believe, due to mental incompetence. This does not mean that Jesus Christ is not the ONLY way. He remains the Only Way (John 14:6). It is only through Him, because of His blood, that ANYONE (including kids and mentally handicapped adults) can be saved. There is no other way!
With all of this being said, it is important to recognize the fact that the Bible does not make any direct statements on whether children go to Heaven when they die or not. We (and many Bible scholars) strongly believe that children, who are unable to have saving faith, are safe if they die in that state, but no one should be dogmatic about this or any other position that is not clearly stated in the Bible.
What we do know for a fact is that God is good in every way. He never has, and never will, do anything that is not 100% good. We can rest in that fact and completely trust in Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.