During my usual daily dose of Wretched Radio this past week I heard guest host Mike Abendroth talking about the necessity of Jesus' obedience to the law. He stated that not only was Jesus' death important for our salvation, but so was his life - his perfect life, that is. Jesus' perfect law-keeping was necessary for the application of his righteousness to our account so that we could be seen by the Father as perfect. This is the great exchange of the gospel: believers get Jesus' perfect righteousness, and Jesus gets the believer's sin. It's the most unfair exchange ever conceived. So not only is Jesus' perfect death necessary for our salvation, but so is his perfect life - his perfect law-keeping. Jesus kept the law that we could not, and thus, his righteousness is applied to those who would believe.
But what makes this doctrine even more interesting (to me, at least) is when we consider the infancy narrative recorded in scripture of Jesus' childhood. In Matthew 2 we read that Herod, not wanting a Jewish king to rise to prominence, "...sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men." (Matthew 2.16) But before that happened, "…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." (Matthew 2.13) God foresaw Herod's evil scheme, and in order to both save their lives and fulfill prophecy, hewarned Joseph with enough time for him, Mary, and the infantile Jesus to escape to Egypt.
While this is a familiar story to most of us, it confirms what I said earlier about Jesus' perfect life being essential for salvation. If all that was required was the death of the God-man, then God could have (and you could argue, should have) allowed him to have been killed while he was still an infant. After all, if all that is required is the death of the Son of God, and if Jesus was fully God and fully man from the moment of his conception, then what does his age at the time of death have to do with it?
But a perfect death was not all that was required - the Father also required perfect obedience to the law. And this Jesus accomplished on our behalf, but it was something that he could not accomplish as an infant. Why not? Because he was fully human, and fully human infants are not held accountable for their breaking of the law, nor is their keeping of the credited to them in any way. That is, Jesus' death as an infant would not have been satisfactory to pay for sin and make righteous those who believe because he had not yet had the human occasion of choosing between sin and obedience, which he would encounter numerous times later in life (Hebrews 4.15). In order for Jesus' obedience to the law to be effectual on our behalf, he had to knowingly and consciously resist temptation and obey the law of God, which infants simply can't do.
This, I think, has some significant implications, especially when we think about the matter of infants who perish. Many who have undergone such an experience as parents have often wondered what happens to their young child after death - does God hold them accountable for their original sin? Are they able to realize their sinfulness at such a young age? Is it possible for a baby to repent and believe the gospel? And what about babies who perish as a result of miscarriage?
Many persuasive biblical arguments have been made that argue that children who die are immediately present in heaven, and I believe them to be accurate. One author offers biblical evidence from the Old and New Testaments as to why he believes the Bible teaches that infants who die go to heaven. Albert Mohler similarly argues that infants who die are among the elect (see Mohler's differentiation between original sin and those sins committed "in the body"). Mohler takes a similar stance as the one that I am supporting here, although he does it with texts completely outside of this narrative, and he is very persuasive. I believe, however, that we can add this narrative of the flight to Egypt to the already existing biblical support for the notion that children who die in infancy (or even before birth) are among the elect, and find their place in heaven upon death.
For this reason and many others that you can read about if you follow the links, those parents and families that grieve the loss of a infant or even a pre-born baby can grieve with hope: Jesus kept the laws that their children never had the chance to keep - and he kept them perfectly on their behalf.