( From Chapter Six (Part 3A – The Final State ): The Judgment of God from Life, Death and Destiny)
THE FINAL STATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
In essence, there is little debate amongst Christians over the final state of those who are saved: they will enjoy everlasting, bodily (resurrected) life in communion with God and with one another, in the “new heavens and new earth” (II Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1). It is the alternative, the question of the final state of the lost, which is in most urgent need of re-examination.
Here, there are broadly three views.1
(a) Universalism. On this view, everyone will eventually be saved, even if it takes aeons of remedial suffering in a future life to bring all to sanctity. This view was advocated in the third century by Origen and has become quite common today.
In favour, there are the following points.
(1) God in His love most certainly desires the salvation of every person, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance,”2 and has provided an all-sufficient basis for salvation in Christ, “who gave himself a ransom for all”.3 Any theologian who does not desire the same, is scarcely worthy of such a God!
(2) Some texts do speak of a salvation or reconciliation that is eventually universal in scope, “so that God may be all in all.”4
(3) Up to the present time, a large proportion of the world’s population have had no realistic opportunity to respond directly to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this life.
However, these points are not sufficient to make the case for universalism.
(1) The many repeated warnings of condemnation upon the unrepentant, unbelieving and unrighteous, not only throughout Scripture, but especially in the teaching of Jesus Himself, must be taken completely seriously.5
(2) The so-called universalist texts are all compatible with final destruction of the ungodly. Although potentially worldwide, salvation is always conditional.6 God’s Kingdom will certainly be universal in scope, but it will destroy what remains opposed to it. While it is certainly God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him (Christ)”, nevertheless “the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient.”7
(3) Judgment is according to opportunity and the revelation available.8 So, on one hand, everyone is “without excuse” in any case (Rom. 1:20): there is no reason to insist that it would be unjust of God to reject those who have not heard the Gospel of Christ directly. On the other hand, there seems no biblical warrant to insist that only those who have heard directly about Jesus can be saved.9
God will not override our choice, but He will judge. In both respects, He honours our humanity to the full. We must recognise that “many” will be lost (Matt. 7:13-14) and that God will be glorified both in the salvation of the humble, who are righteous through faith, and in the destruction of the wicked.
- Careful discussion may be found in two books by Stephen Travis: Christian Hope and the Future of Man, Leicester: I.V.P., 1980; and I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982. A good historical survey of the debate is by D. J. Powys, “The Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Debates about Hell and Universalism”, in N. M. de S. Cameron (Ed.), Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. [↩]
- II Peter 3:8-9. Also Ezek. 18:23, I Tim. 2:3-4, Rom. 2:4. [↩]
- I Timothy 2:5-6. Also John 3:16; Rom. 5:18; II Cor. 5:14, 19; I Jn 2:2. [↩]
- I Cor. 15:28. Also Rom. 11:32, Eph. 1:9-10, Col. 1:19-20. [↩]
- E.g. Matt. 7:13-14, 23; 8:11-12; 13:41-42; 25:46; Luke 13:1-5. [↩]
- E.g. Rom. 11:19-22, I Cor. 15:23-28, Col. 1:21-23. [↩]
- Eph. 1:9-10, 5:5-6. [↩]
- Rom. 1:18-19, 2:16; Luke 12:41-48; Acts 10:34-35. [↩]
- See, for example, the discussion in Michael Green, Evangelism Through the Local Church, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990, pp.71-73. [↩]