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Will everyone have a chance for salvation? What happens after death / at the resurrection / at Judgment Day?

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God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
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). But considering the masses of humanity who have never even heard the name of Christ, many Christians have wondered if or how they would have a chance for salvation. We believe the Bible teaches that all will have a real chance through the often neglected doctrine of “resurrection of the dead” and God's judgment (Hebrews 6:2 Hebrews 6:2Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
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).

Is there hope for the unbelieving person who rejected God's calling and spurned His way of life? No, a person who has knowingly refused God's calling and the way of life He reveals has only the lake of fire to look forward to, which will end his or her existence for eternity (Hebrews 6:4-6 Hebrews 6:4-6 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
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; Hebrews 10:26-29 Hebrews 10:26-29 26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace?
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). However, there is another type of unbeliever—one who never had the opportunity to choose or reject God's way of life. Many sincere people believe that we must “accept Jesus” in this life or we are lost forever. But what about the billions of people who have lived out their lives without ever hearing the name of Christ and therefore had no chance at salvation (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
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)? Is it fair for God to destroy them forever when they never really had an opportunity to understand His truth?

Many know that God will resurrect the saints at Christ's return (1 Thessalonians 4:16 1 Thessalonians 4:16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
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; 1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
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), but most read right over Christ's teachings about a second resurrection. He spoke of people from different ages coming face-to-face in “the day of judgment” (Matthew 11:20-24 Matthew 11:20-24 20 Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: 21 Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.
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, Matthew 12:41-42 Matthew 12:41-42 41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 42 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.
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; Luke 10:12-15 Luke 10:12-15 12 But I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. 13 Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to hell.
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). God will bring back to life the people of Sodom, Tyre, Sidon and Ninevah along with the queen of Sheba at the same time as those people who heard Christ speak these words in the first century. The only way for this to be possible—for people who lived literally many hundreds of years apart to live again at the same time—is for God to resurrect all of them at the same time.

A second resurrection allows a first chance at salvation

As we saw in Hebrews 6:4-6 Hebrews 6:4-6 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
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and Hebrews 10:26-29 Hebrews 10:26-29 26 For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite to the Spirit of grace?
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, the Scriptures are plain about the fact that all people have only one chance at salvation. However, a second chance at life is not the same as a second chance at salvation. Coming to life again will enable those brought to life in the second resurrection to have their only chance for salvation.

The apostle Paul implied a second resurrection in his writings (Romans 11:26-27 Romans 11:26-27 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant to them, when I shall take away their sins.
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), and the book of Revelation speaks of it as specifically as Christ did (Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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, Revelation 20:11-12 Revelation 20:11-12 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
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). These references are not about the resurrection of the saints spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
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, for the people in the above references are called enemies (Romans 11:28 Romans 11:28As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.
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) and are contrasted with the saints (they are called “the rest of the dead” in Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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).

In Revelation 20:5 Revelation 20:5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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the expression “This is the first resurrection” refers to the resurrection of the saints. We know from the above reference in 1 Corinthians that God does this at Christ's return and the beginning of His 1,000-year rule on the earth, not at the end. The first part of the verse (“But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years are finished”) is a parenthetical statement that speaks of dead who will not live again until the thousand years are over . Clearly, the first part of the verse isn't speaking of the resurrection of the righteous dead, but rather of those who died without a chance at salvation.

Great white throne: the judgment seat of God

Why do we say that Revelation 20:11-12 Revelation 20:11-12 11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
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, where God judges from a “great white throne,” refers to a second resurrection? If these people understood and obeyed the truth in their lifetime, God would have resurrected them a thousand years before—at the return of Jesus Christ (the first resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
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). Or, if they understood the truth and rejected it, the only unfinished part of God's judgment would be the death sentence. No further judging would be necessary in either case.

What's the difference between judgment and sentencing? Judgment is part of an ongoing process. God is in the process of judging Christians today (1 Peter 4:17 1 Peter 4:17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
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). Drawing a parallel with human courts, judgment involves the gathering of evidence, weighing or evaluating that evidence and the passing of a final sentence. Anyone, living or dead, whose mind God did not open to spiritual understanding hasn't begun the judgment process that ends with a decision (sentence) of eternal life or of death.

Of those to be brought to life in the second resurrection, Jesus said it would be “more tolerable” for some than for others (Matthew 10:15 Matthew 10:15Truly I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.
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). If God resurrects these people only to sentence them to death, Christ's comments wouldn't make any sense. If all were to die, judgment would not be “more tolerable” for one than for another. But clearly, their judgment is incomplete, and hence, God brings them back to physical life.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 Ezekiel 37:1-14 1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and carried me out in the spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the middle of the valley which was full of bones, 2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, see, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, you know. 4 Again he said to me, Prophesy on these bones, and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus said the Lord GOD to these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live: 6 And I will lay sinews on you, and will bring up flesh on you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD. 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. 8 And when I beheld, see, the sinews and the flesh came up on them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said he to me, Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus said the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army. 11 Then he said to me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus said the Lord GOD; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, 14 And shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall you know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, said the LORD.
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describes the second resurrection in colorful detail. It speaks of an entire nation that died without hope of life and without the knowledge of God that could lead to their salvation. God promises them two things—to resurrect them to physical life and to give them spiritual understanding (Ezekiel 37:10 Ezekiel 37:10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army.
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, Ezekiel 37:14 Ezekiel 37:14And shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall you know that I the LORD have spoken it, and performed it, said the LORD.
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). The gift of the Holy Spirit will enable them to live the Christian way of life.

Most people in the grave did not know the only name by which salvation is possible (Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
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), and God wills that all humankind have an opportunity for salvation (2 Peter 3:9 2 Peter 3:9The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
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). If there were no second resurrection, the majority of people down through history would suffer unfair condemnation to death in the lake of fire without ever having a chance at conversion. But God is fair, just and merciful.

If God is opening your mind to understand His truth, now is the time to act! There are no second chances. But it is comforting to know that He will mercifully give everyone a first chance.

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