Ashley Irwin was slightly amused and slightly alarmed when her young son, Wyatt, asked her to pull down his Marvel-themed Duffel bag. “I’ve got a big trip tomorrow,” he said.
At first, Ashley thought her son was talking about church, since this all took place on a Saturday night. But Wyatt had a bigger goal in mind—a higher destination.
“I’m going to heaven,” he told his mom.
Scripture gives us four solid reasons for believing that children who die—and children who are living when the Rapture occurs—will go straight to heaven.
1. The Character of God
2. The Condition for Salvation
3. The Compassion of the Savior
4. The Child of David
In that moment, Ashley understood. Her husband, Tyler, had passed away almost two years before. Wyatt was planning a trip to visit his dad. Asking no more questions, Ashley handed the duffel to her son and allowed him to pack in private.
Later, when the boy was asleep, she looked through the bag and found a wonderful assortment of supplies. First were superhero masks and capes. Then a whistle. Then two baseball gloves and a ball. A collection of foam darts. And two wallets—one belonging to Wyatt and the other to his dad. And Wyatt’s wallet was stuffed with family photos.
Last of all, Ashley found a bottle of her husband’s cologne tucked deep inside Wyatt’s shoe.1
I don’t know if I’ve heard anything more touching than a boy packing his bag—with two gloves, not one—to meet his father on a trip to heaven. No matter how long I live, I’m confident I will never plumb the depth of a child’s imagination, nor of a child’s faith.
But Wyatt’s desire to see his father in heaven raises an interesting and important connection with the subject of this book. Namely, what will happen to young children on the day of the Rapture? What will happen to those little ones who are too young to make a decision about eternity when eternity crashes into our world? Does the Bible offer any clarity for parents and grandparents—any hope?
Yes. What happens to children when they die is the key to understanding what will happen to them should they be living on earth when the Rapture takes place.
Thankfully, Scripture gives us four solid reasons for believing that children who die—and children who are living when the Rapture occurs—will go straight to heaven.
1. The Character of God
The Bible is full of information about the nature of God—His character, personality, and attributes. Scripture calls Him our Father, and that ought to tell us something. He isn’t simply a distant force in the universe. He is, as Jesus put it, “our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9).
There’s a tender passage describing God’s fathering love in Deuteronomy 1:29–31: “Do not be terrified, or afraid of them. The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place.”
God is full of compassion, tenderness, and mercy. He carries us through tough patches like a father carrying his son. Psalm 145:9 says, “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”
If God is good to all, that would surely include infants; and if His tender mercies are over all His works, that would certainly include children. He knows, as we do, that babies cannot understand the witness of God, either in creation or in Scripture. He knows that little children cannot comprehend the truth of the gospel. Yet God loves them deeply. He loves the children, and He delights in the babies He has created. He loves the preborn and the newborn. He loves the infant and the toddler.
The word children appears more than fifty times in the Gospels alone. The Bible teaches that God knows and loves children with special tender care. Furthermore, according to Scripture, life begins from the moment of conception. Accordingly, God knows and loves the unborn baby, even in the womb.
The psalmist wrote,
On a number of occasions God refers to these little ones as “innocents” (Jer. 2:34; 19:4). That does not mean children are “sinless.” Instead, they are not yet responsible for their sins in the same way as those whose sins are willful and premeditated. And God understands the difference.
The character of God lays the foundation for the realization that children who cannot understand the gospel are enveloped within the grace and mercy of our Lord. On them, God has a tender heart. On them, His compassion reigns.
2. The Condition for Salvation
There’s another reason why children go straight to heaven when they die—and why they will be raptured into Jesus’ arms if they are living when He comes back. This second reason has to do with the condition for salvation.
Let’s ask this question: “What must a person do to be lost?”
Answer: They must refuse the free offer of God’s saving grace.
Children too young to know and understand the gospel cannot willfully reject it. As John MacArthur wrote: “Little children have no record of unbelief or evil works, and therefore, there is no basis for their deserving an eternity apart from God. . . . They are graciously and sovereignly saved by God as part of the atoning work of Christ Jesus.”2
Infants are shielded by the blood of Him who loves all the little children of the world and who is not willing for even one of them to perish.
3. The Compassion of the Savior
When we read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, we discover that our Lord had an incredible love for children, and He demonstrated that love on many occasions. One example is so important that it is recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here is Matthew’s account: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven’ ” (Matt. 19:13–14; see also Mark 10:13–14 and Luke 18:15–16).
Additionally, we have a wonderful passage in Matthew’s gospel that is as definitive as any verse in the Bible on the eternal love that Jesus has for children: “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (18:14).
This is a good place for me to deal with the subject of children who perish before they are even born. What about babies that are never born because of miscarriages or abortions? Will they be present with God in heaven?
Yes. Our conviction about this is based on the biblical belief that a child is a person from the moment of conception. Since that is true, all preborn babies who perish—whether through miscarriage, abortion, or tragic accidents—go straight to heaven.
This is not a book of doom and gloom or a sensational read about setting dates, but one of hope and joy as we see the promise of God’s plan unfold all around us and grasp the power of the prophetic text surrounding the Rapture.
J. Vernon McGee wrote, “I believe with all my heart that God will raise the little ones such that the mother’s arms who have ached for them will have the opportunity of holding them. The father’s hand which never held the little hand will be given the privilege. I believe that little ones will grow up in heaven in the care of their earthly parents if they are saved.”3
If you have had an abortion, I want to tell you that God knows how to pour His forgiveness and healing into your life through the merits of Christ. Abortion is not the unpardonable sin. God not only forgives you; He goes far beyond that. Because of His mercy, that little one now lost will be waiting for you in heaven, and you will enjoy an eternity of loving fellowship with that precious child.
Jesus loves you, and He loves every child from conception. In fact, He loves us from before time began.
4. The Child of David
The pages of the Old Testament tell the sordid story of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his conspiracy to have her husband killed. For a year after those foul deeds, David had this sin in his heart, but finally the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to confront him. Nathan predicted that the child conceived by David and Bathsheba would be taken away in death. When the child got sick, David pleaded with God for the child’s life. He fasted and lay all night on the ground. The child was sick for seven days before he finally died.
When David found out that the child had died, he did something that seemed very strange at the time. “So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Sam. 12:20).
If you are confused by David’s actions, you’re not alone.
“Then his servants said to him, ‘What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food’ ” (v. 21).
David’s answer to his questioning servants has brought peace to many grieving parents. Here is what he said: “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (vv. 22–23). The last sentence in that passage—2 Samuel 12:23—is arguably the greatest sentence in the Bible on the subject of what happens to children when they die. David’s hope at that moment resided with eternity in heaven. He knew he would see his child again. He said in essence, “I cannot bring the child back, but one day I will go where my child is, and we will be reunited.”
David wasn’t talking about being united with his child in death, because the attitude behind his words was one of hope and cheer. It was the thought of an eternal reunion that buoyed him. Where did he think the reunion would be? Not in the grave. Not in hell. David was anticipating heaven! He expressed the belief that his baby had gone before him to that blessed place, and the idea of meeting his child in heaven so encouraged David that he quit weeping and fasting, dressed himself, and went out to meet with people.
David knew this truth: when little ones die or the Rapture happens before they understand the gospel, they go straight to heaven.
There was a family whose baby boy had died. Their little girl came to the mother and asked her where her baby brother had gone. “To be with Jesus,” answered the mother.
A few days later the mother was visiting a friend. “I am so grieved to have lost my baby,” she told her. The little girl, overhearing the remark, came to her mother and said, “Mama, is something lost when you know where it is?”
“No, of course not,” replied the mother.
“Well, how can a baby be lost when he has gone to be with Jesus?”
Isn’t that a wonderful truth to remember? If we know where they are, they’re not lost. We’re just waiting for the time when we will be reunited in the future.
1Genny Glassman, “TikTok Mom Sobs After Seeing What Her Son Packed for His Trip to ‘Heaven’ to Visit His Dad,” Café Mom, February 3, 2022, https://cafemom.com/parenting/tiktok-son-packed-for-his-trip-to-heaven.
2John MacArthur, Safe in the Arms of God (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 81.
3Quoted by Woodrow Kroll, “Is My Child in Heaven?” (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible, 1996).
This article is an excerpt from The Great Disappearance.