Imagine that upon your birth, you learned that the purpose for your life is to die for the wrongful actions of others. Your life is to be a sacrifice to redeem the lives of people—many of which, will never care or even thank you. This was the purpose for the body which had been prepared for Jesus Christ. He was born to die.
Hebrews 10:5 Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me.”
When the angel came to Joseph and announced that Mary would bear the Son of God in her womb who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he told him that His name would be “Jesus” and that the purpose of His birth was to “save His people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:20-21 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
We do not know the point at which Jesus knew who He was or when He understood the purpose for His life. The Bible does not tell us much about the early days of Jesus’ childhood. The following is the entire testimony of Jesus’ adolescent years, until He reached the age of twelve.
Luke 2:40-52 And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him. Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” And He said to them, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” But they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them. Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
The age of accountability
It is at the age of twelve that a young Hebrew boy enters adulthood. Many believe that the age of accountability is twelve, when God holds an individual responsible for his action or inaction in receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior. At twelve, a young boy or girl is no longer covered by the clause in the Law of God which protects them from judgment based on innocence or lack of knowledge. A baby or young adolescent may have the benefit of being covered exclusively by the Grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus for all sins, up until the age of twelve. No one knows this for certain, but it is postulated that this is the age of accountability for all human beings.
Romans 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Romans 4:15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
Babies and the mentally incapacitated
The principle of innocence is best understood when we consider a person who has a diminished mental capacity, or is completely incapable of understanding sin or the requirements of God to repent and receive Jesus Christ. What happens to those who die as infants or in the womb? What of those who are mentally retarded, mentally ill, or have no capability to understand the Gospel by their lack of mental capacity?
Because the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross has paid for the sins of all people for all time, God can cover with His Grace any of those who cannot, of their own, understand the gospel and be saved. It would be inconsistent for God to send a baby, a young child or a mentally incapacitated person to hell. God wants to save people, and He will save those who cannot act to save themselves through confession and repentance because they cannot understand sin and the need for salvation. In these cases, where there is no law, there is no transgression. The clause in Romans 3:20 states that—it is when a person comes into the knowledge that he is a sinner, that the law is then applied to him. The age of accountability may vary from person to person depending on their own ability to understand the gospel. According to God’s word, all adults are aware that they are sinners and that He has required an accountability for their sins.
Romans 1:19-20 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…
The only example that we see in the Bible for an age of accountability is in Luke chapter 2:20-52, where at twelve years of age, Jesus came into the public view as one who was full of the knowledge of God’s purpose for His life and that purpose was to die for the sins of the world. There is a subtle hint, as to the purpose of Jesus’ life, even at His birth.
Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths…
The strips of cloth that Mary wrapped Jesus in as a newborn were traditionally used to bind a child tightly. This served to comfort the child and to keep him still. As Jesus is bound by these cloth strips at His birth, this same procedure will be repeated later in preparation for His burial. This may be a hint for us that this King, who was born as a baby in Bethlehem, was born to die for the sins of the world. This was the purpose of Jesus in coming as the promised Messiah. At His first arrival on earth, He came as the Savior of all people. At His second coming, He will be arriving as a great conqueror who will rule the whole earth by absolute power and dominion.