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How Eternal Life Will Ultimately Be Offered to All

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Death does not discriminate. The righteous and sinners all die. Jesus used two widely known tragedies of His day to acknowledge that death can be arbitrary and to draw an important lesson from it:

“There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all the other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish'” (Luke 13:1-5 Luke 13:1-5 1 There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answering said to them, Suppose you that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think you that they were sinners above all men that dwelled in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish.
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The details are unclear. Apparently some Jews were viciously slaughtered by Roman soldiers during a religious ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem. On another occasion a tower collapsed, killing some. Both incidents are examples of the random deaths of innocent people. Jesus says these people weren't any worse than others. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Similar tragic events are all around us. We're especially disturbed when children's lives are cut short by accidents, crime or illness. We shake our heads in bewilderment when an airplane crashes, a house burns or a terrorist attack kills dozens of innocent people who were simply going about their everyday lives. Victims of these tragedies were in the wrong place at the wrong time; God didn't single them out for punishment. As Solomon explained, we are all subject to the uncertainties of time and chance (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 11 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happens to them all. 12 For man also knows not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falls suddenly on them.
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Are life and death arbitrary?

In the previous chapters we discovered that God has a tremendous purpose for our temporary, physical existence: It prepares us for the eternal, spiritual life He wants to give us. Those who in this age believe in Jesus Christ and His teachings and demonstrate commitment to Him by the way they live will receive the gift of eternal life in a resurrection that will take place at His return to the earth.

In the example we just considered from Luke 13, Jesus made the point that life and death are aimless unless we repent and seek God's Kingdom. But as we asked before, what about all those who lived, did their best and died without the opportunity to make the right choices and commitments? Were their lives and deaths random, without purpose? Is there no hope or promise for them? Will they not be given an equal opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life?

Scriptures include many assurances that God is serious about His promises. Peter says that God's will is that everyone will eventually repent: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (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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). This verse assures us that God will not fail. It also implies that some were thinking that God is unconcerned and inconsistent.

Not all are called now to salvation

At times Jesus' disciples were confused and frustrated because of His teaching methods. They asked Him why He spoke to other people in parables instead of being more direct. He told them why: “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 Matthew 13:11He answered and said to them, Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.
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Many today would be shocked to consider what Jesus was saying here. It was not His intent to present salvation clearly to every person in this age. Rather, His message was meant to be understood by only some at this time.

Jesus went on to quote from a prophecy in Isaiah that foretold that people would have closed minds, not able to accept His teachings or understand who He was. Then He explained, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear” (verse 16). We can see here a difference between the disciples, who at this point had at least some faith and understanding, and the masses of people who had neither.

The people in Jesus' time frequently tried to determine exactly who He was. Was He just a rabbi? Was He the prophesied Elijah or John the Baptist? Was He a fraud, a false messiah? Was He the one true Messiah?

At one point Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was. “Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven'” (Matthew 16:15-17 Matthew 16:15-17 15 He said to them, But whom say you that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven.
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God must grant understanding

Jesus taught His disciples that God must grant spiritual insight. No one can come to Jesus unless God the Father “draws him” (John 6:44 John 6:44No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
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God originally worked with the nation of Israel, establishing a relationship with the Israelites through the Old Covenant. But as a nation they continually violated that covenant and finally rejected Christ Himself. After His own people rejected Him, the promises of the New Covenant, which Jesus came to establish, were extended to people from among all nations.

Paul had this in mind when he addressed both the religious Jews (a segment of the people of Israel) and the gentiles (non-Israelites) in his letter to the church in Rome. He paraphrased Isaiah 29:10 Isaiah 29:10For the LORD has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers has he covered.
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, saying, “God has given them [the Israelites] a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.”

Paul was explaining that even the majority of the people of Israel remain spiritually blinded (Romans 11:7 Romans 11:7What then? Israel has not obtained that which he seeks for; but the election has obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
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). In Ephesians 4:17-18 Ephesians 4:17-18 17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you from now on walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
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Paul shows that the gentiles equally share in this nearly universal spiritual blindness.

Paul in Romans 11:2-4 Romans 11:2-4 2 God has not cast away his people which he foreknew. Know you not what the scripture said of Elias? how he makes intercession to God against Israel saying, 3 Lord, they have killed your prophets, and dig down your altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. 4 But what said the answer of God to him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.
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cited another Old Testament precedent. The faithful prophet Elijah thought he was the only man alive who had not been seduced into the worship of the false god Baal. But God revealed to Elijah that He had preserved others who remained faithful to Him. Paul drew an important lesson from this example: “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (verse 5).

A remnant is just a trace, a remaining vestige. And the “election” Paul mentioned refers to a relatively small part of mankind. Clearly, God has revealed that He will call only a few to salvation in this age. Notice how Jesus explains this: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14 13 Enter you in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
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God doesn't take this approach so He can exclude most of mankind from His promises. In fact, God has chosen this method to ultimately extend His promises to all. “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Romans 11:32 Romans 11:32For God has concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all.
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Paul acknowledged that this method may seem illogical at first glance, but in His wisdom God knows exactly what He is doing. Our place is not to advise God on how He should accomplish His plan. Instead, we can exclaim with Paul: “Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does? 'Has anyone known the thoughts of the Lord or given him advice? Has anyone loaned something to the Lord that must be repaid?' Everything comes from the Lord. All things were made because of him and will return to him. Praise the Lord forever!” (verses 33-36 , Contemporary English Version).

Because God created life, He has the authority to take and restore life. And He has the power to provide the opportunity for salvation at the time of His choosing—whether in this age or in an age yet to come.

The future Kingdom of God

Consider again a scriptural passage quoted in the preceding chapter: “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This [the one at the beginning of the 1,000 years] is the first resurrection” (Revelation 20:4-5 Revelation 20:4-5 4 And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
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, NIV).

As noted previously, John is writing here principally of the same resurrection Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4, calling it the “first” resurrection. Since it is called the first and not just “the” resurrection, at least one more resurrection must follow. John also states that the rest of the dead will live again after the 1,000 years.

Let's consider what will transpire during the 1,000-year period (commonly called the Millennium, Latin for “thousand years”) and the responsibility those in the first resurrection will have at that time.

Daniel 7 gives a prophetic overview of mankind's history. Daniel briefly describes a series of great empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome) that would dominate the Middle East from Daniel's time forward. Those powers are represented respectively by a lion, a bear, a leopard and a “dreadful and terrible” beast.

Finally, Christ will return and set up a kingdom to succeed all of these—God's everlasting Kingdom, which will never be usurped: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14 Daniel 7:13-14 13 I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14 And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
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The prophecy continues: “Those great beasts, which are four, are four kings [or kingdoms (see verse 23)] which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (verses 17-18).

The world transformed

Jesus Christ will return to the earth with power and authority. He will establish God's Kingdom, replacing the human kingdoms under the sway of Satan the devil. Satan, who now deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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), will be removed from the scene (20:1-3). The “saints of the Most High”—all the faithful people of God then resurrected at Jesus' return—will reign with Jesus over the earth. Assisted by His resurrected followers, Christ will fill the earth with the knowledge of God “as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9 Isaiah 11:9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
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The apostles taught that Jesus will return and reestablish the nation of Israel. At that time He will also offer the gift of salvation and eternal life to all of mankind. Said the apostle James in Acts 15: “And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 'After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David [the royal house of Israel], which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD who does all these things'” (verse 15-17).

James here quotes the Old Testament book of Amos, which goes on to describe the conditions that will be extant after Jesus reestablishes the nation of Israel. Note what God reveals in Amos, starting with the words quoted by James in Acts:

“'On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom [ancient Israel's adversarial national neighbor], and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,' says the LORD who does this thing.

“'Behold, the days are coming,' says the LORD, 'when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,' says the LORD your God” (Amos 9:11-15 Amos 9:11-15 11 In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: 12 That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, said the LORD that does this. 13 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that sows seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt. 14 And I will bring again the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. 15 And I will plant them on their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, said the LORD your God.
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What a beautiful picture of the prosperity and peace the nations will at last be led to enjoy after Jesus returns!

All will learn God's way

As appealing and satisfying as physical blessings of abundance and security are, God is working out a far greater purpose. Everything physical is temporary, including the physical prosperity of the Millennium and even human life. God has much more to offer than just a comfortable physical life.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks not just of a physical restoration (Jeremiah 31:1-4 Jeremiah 31:1-4 1 At the same time, said the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. 2 Thus said the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest. 3 The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying, Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you. 4 Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin of Israel: you shall again be adorned with your tabrets, and shall go forth in the dances of them that make merry.
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), but of the spiritual restoration Jesus will also accomplish when He returns: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (verses 31-33).

Remember James' words in Acts 15. Speaking of the physical nation of Israel, he says that God promises to “rebuild its ruins” and to “set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD” (verse 17). This physical and spiritual restoration will spread from Israel and Judah to the rest of the world. God plans to use the Israelites to extend His promises to all mankind (Galatians 3:26-29 Galatians 3:26-29 26 For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
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The spiritual restoration is the most important work Jesus Christ will accomplish at this time, offering the gift of salvation to everyone. No more will worldly politics confuse people, because Jesus will rule over all the nations (see Revelation 11:15 Revelation 11:15And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
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; Daniel 7). No more will religious confusion be found on the earth, because at that time God will open the minds of all people and draw them to Christ (Ezekiel 36:26-27 Ezekiel 36:26-27 26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.
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; Isaiah 11:9 Isaiah 11:9They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
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; 25:7; Joel 2:27-28 Joel 2:27-28 27 And you shall know that I am in the middle of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed. 28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
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Those in the first resurrection are given a vital part to play in this great work. Raised to glorified eternal spirit life at Christ's return, they will reign with Him as kings and priests on the earth, assisting in the teaching of God's truth to all humanity (Revelation 5:10 Revelation 5:10And have made us to our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
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; 20:6; Isaiah 30:20-21 Isaiah 30:20-21 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not your teachers be removed into a corner any more, but your eyes shall see your teachers: 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
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What about those who never really knew God?

So far we've seen that salvation is offered to some people in this age—prior to Jesus coming to rule the world. We've also seen that when Jesus returns to reign He will offer salvation to mankind in general.

But, as we've previously asked, what about all those who have died, or will yet die, in this age without ever being called to salvation? This group represents the majority of all people who have ever lived. What is their eternal fate?

John said those not resurrected at the time of Jesus' return (“the rest of the dead”) will live again at the end of the Millennium: “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished” (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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A few verses later comes some description of this later resurrection period: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened.

“And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades [the grave] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” (Revelation 20:11-13 Revelation 20:11-13 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. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
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Jesus spoke of a future period of judgment when all will understand His teachings—when people from all generations will live and be judged at the same time: “Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: '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 [ancient pagan cities], they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.

“'And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom [the depraved city that God destroyed], it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you'” (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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).

The ancient wayward pagans mentioned here lived and died without ever coming to know God and His offer of the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Note that Jesus says they would have repented if they had been given the opportunity the cities of His day had. Is it fair, then, that they would never receive such an opportunity?

In similar examples, Jesus refers to the long-dead people of the pagan city of Nineveh, to the queen of the South (of Sheba) of Solomon's time and again to ancient Sodom along with Gomorrah, these serving as the epitome of wickedness (Matthew 10:14-15 Matthew 10:14-15 14 And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when you depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. 15 Truly 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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; 12:41-42). God doesn't tolerate perversion and sinfulness, but it is evident that He has not finished working in the lives of the people of these ancient generations. This requires that they be resurrected—brought to life again—and at last instructed in God's ways.

Jesus was describing a time during which people from all past ages—the long-dead people of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh and the biblical “queen of the South” from Solomon's time will rise with those from Christ's generation and live at the same time. Together they will come to understand the truth about who Christ was and the purpose of life. Those from different generations will find it remarkable that the people of Jesus' time rejected Him.

A resurrection to physical life

From the prophet Ezekiel we learn that those who are part of this resurrection are not yet transformed into immortal spirit beings, as are those in the first resurrection, but are instead initially restored to physical, fleshly, mortal life. Ezekiel was given a vision concerning this astonishing future event—a resurrection in a valley of ancient bones (Ezekiel 37:1-7 Ezekiel 37:1-7 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.
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The prophet watched as the dry bones appeared to reassemble themselves into skeletons, then were covered with flesh and stood as a great multitude of resurrected people (verses 8-10). These represent the multitudes of ancient Israel, whom God will bring out of their graves to then place His Spirit within them (verses 12-14).

Yet it is evident that more than Israel will be included. When we put this account together with Christ's statements about ancient pagans being raised to life at the same time as those of the Jewish cities of His day—and with John's statement 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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that those not revived in the first resurrection will live again at the end of the Millennium (the first 1,000 years of Jesus' eternal reign), it becomes clear that not just Israelites but people of all nations from past ages will return to life in this resurrection.

They are restored to only mortal life at this time, because they will not yet have chosen the way of eternal salvation through Christ and demonstrated commitment to God. But once restored to life they will finally have that opportunity.

At the end of the Millennium, then, all who have not yet been accounted for in previous steps of God's plan will stand before Him. In Revelation 20:12 Revelation 20:12And 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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the “books” (Greek biblia, from which we get the word “Bible”) being “opened” at that time evidently refers to the books of Scripture being opened to their understanding (compare Luke 24:32 Luke 24:32And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?
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). For the first time in their lives they will be led to correctly comprehend God's Word, the teachings of the Bible. God will thereby offer them the opportunity to receive eternal life.

Note that “another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” ( Revelation 20:12 Revelation 20:12And 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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; compare Philippians 4:3 Philippians 4:3And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.
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). And they, like each previous generation, will be judged by their works—that is, their works at that time.

Judgment takes place over time

What does it mean to be judged in this context? Will people be immediately rewarded or condemned at the time of their resurrection based on what they did in their past lives before coming to understand God's truth?

Judgment is more than the final decision to reward or condemn a person. Judgment is a process that takes place over time and ultimately culminates in a final decision.

As we saw before, Jesus addressed the fact that there is more than one resurrection by stating that “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation [or judgment]” (John 5:28-29 John 5:28-29 28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation.
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).

The more common meaning of the word krisis, translated “condemnation” in this verse, is judgment, as it is usually translated. This word refers to a process of evaluation rather than an act of sentencing or punishment .

Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines it as “the process of investigation, the act of distinguishing and separating, … a judging, a passing of judgment upon a person or thing” (1985, p. 119). Krisis is typically distinct from the related term krima, which refers to “the sentence pronounced, a verdict, a condemnation, the decision resulting from an investigation” (ibid.).

In Revelation 20:12-13 Revelation 20:12-13 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. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
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, the word for “judged” is a form of the related Greek verb krino, meaning “to separate, select, choose” (ibid., p. 336). While this could mean rendering a final decision, it can also include the evaluative process beforehand that goes into coming to the decision—as it surely must when we consider that God's judgment of people takes place over time. 

As we saw earlier, those who are called in this life and respond by believing and heeding God will be given eternal life at Christ's return. For them it will not be necessary to undergo evaluation during the Millennium or afterward (John 5:24 John 5:24Truly, truly, I say to you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life.
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). That's because they are being judged now (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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), not later. This current judgment is an ongoing process, with those called by God responding faithfully to His truth and bearing fruit over time (John 15:2-8 John 15:2-8 2 Every branch in me that bears not fruit he takes away: and every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches: He that stays in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you. 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; so shall you be my disciples.
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; Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
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)—or turning from that calling (2 Peter 2:20-22 2 Peter 2:20-22 20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it is happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
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).

When Jesus returns, He will reward each according to His works (Matthew 16:27 Matthew 16:27For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
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), the fruits that result from an accumulated attitude and character developed over time. Many scriptures describe the results God is looking for in our lives (see Romans 12; Colossians 3-4, Ephesians 4-6; James 2:20-24 James 2:20-24 20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
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; Revelation 22:14 Revelation 22:14Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
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).

God is concerned with our hearts, our innermost thoughts and motivation. He looks on the heart, seeing what we are really like (1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
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). God expects us to emulate Jesus Christ in all we think and do (Philippians 2:5 Philippians 2:5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
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; 1 Peter 2:21 1 Peter 2:21For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:
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). Someone who is Christlike is genuine. His or her outward actions—conduct and works—reflect the heart, the inward person. We all will be judged for our habitual actions, for these show what we have become (2 Corinthians 5:10 2 Corinthians 5:10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad.
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). The way we live—how we treat others and respond to God's laws—reflects what we believe and value, demonstrating whether we are in harmony with God's ways or not.

Same standards and opportunity

Eventually all will be judged in the same sense, “for God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14 Ecclesiastes 12:14For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
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).

Being judged according to works does not imply that one earns the gift of salvation. It simply means that a person demonstrates by his life that he believes in Jesus Christ and is willing to obey God (Matthew 7:21 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
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). A person living that commitment will naturally demonstrate in his life the positive results of that choice and way of life (Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
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; James 2:14-26 James 2:14-26 14 What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, 16 And one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? 17 Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. 18 Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble. 20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? 23 And the scripture was fulfilled which said, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. 24 You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. 25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
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).

God will give sufficient time to those resurrected after the 1,000 years to prove by their actions and decisions that they do indeed believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and are willing to submit to His way of life, surrendering their own will—just as He gives those called now the period of their lifetimes today.

With Satan the archdeceiver removed permanently at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:10 Revelation 20:10And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
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), those who are part of the second or general resurrection that follows will at last have their formerly closed minds opened to the truth of God's plan. They will then have the opportunity to decide whether they will do the Father's will or not.

After having had their spiritual eyes opened and this truth revealed to them, they will be judged according to their works, their response to their new understanding. They will be given the same responsibility that was extended to others at earlier stages of God's plan. They will have the opportunity to develop faith in Jesus Christ and demonstrate their belief and commitment by the way they live.

It should be clarified that the second resurrection is not a second chance for salvation. Rather, those in this resurrection will receive their first and only opportunity to really know and serve God.

Those in this resurrection who remain faithful to God will in the end be raised to glory to join those in the first resurrection—being likewise transformed into immortal spirit beings to live with God as His divine family and Kingdom forever.

The plan of God, just as He promised, is a perfect and complete plan—and one that is totally equitable and just. Through His plan, He will ultimately offer the gift of eternal salvation to all who have ever lived (Ephesians 1:9-10 Ephesians 1:9-10 9 Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he has purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:
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).

What of those who reject the offer of salvation?

Sadly, some—by their choice—will not receive the wonderful gift of eternal life. Describing their fate, John wrote: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15 Revelation 20:14-15 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
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).

The second death is utter destruction from which there will be no resurrection. The lake of fire will totally consume those who are cast into it. This parallels a prophecy in Malachi 4:1-3 Malachi 4:1-3 1 For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, said the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, said the LORD of hosts.
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, which says that the wicked will ultimately be burned up and turned to ashes.

Who are the ones not found in the Book of Life who will meet this fiery end? Remember that by this time God will have given the opportunity to everyone who has ever lived to accept and receive the gift of eternal life, represented in these verses as having one's name inscribed in the Book of Life. Those whose names are not written in it will themselves have chosen by their own actions and decisions to be excluded.

John goes on to show that those cast into the lake of fire are unrepentant sinners: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8 Revelation 21:8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
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).

This is not to say that everyone who has ever been guilty of any of these things will be burned up in the second death, for God will forgive us of any of these things upon repentance. Rather, those described here are the incorrigibly wicked—those in the end who, though being taught God's way and embracing it initially, still persist in their sins—refusing to repent and outright rejecting God and His salvation (Hebrews 6:4-8 Hebrews 6:4-8 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. 7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft on it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God: 8 But that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is near to cursing; whose end is to be burned.
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; 10:26-31). 

God will not force His way on anyone. If a person knowingly chooses not to repent, rejecting God and His plan of eternal life, that person will be judged by his actions and destroyed.

Not tormented forever

Being destroyed does not mean living on as an immortal soul. As already stated, it means being turned to ashes—and utterly ceasing to exist.

We have already seen that man is mortal. Death is to be compared with a deep sleep, a state of unconsciousness. One reason God gave us a temporary, physical life was so that, if we choose not to accept the terms, conditions and requirements of eternal life, our lives could be mercifully but permanently brought to an end.

Many people, however, believe in a perpetual, ever-burning hellfire or a condition of spiritual torment in which evil people are tortured throughout eternity. But the Bible's simple teaching conveys nothing like this. Our God is a loving, merciful Father who would never consign anyone to such an unconscionable fate.

In a familiar verse Paul tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 Romans 6:23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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). Life that goes on forever is a gift God grants to those who will be in His family forever. Death from which there is no hope of a resurrection is reserved for those who reject God's offer of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. They do not continue on forever in torment. Rather, those who ultimately refuse to walk in God's ways and receive His gift of immortality will cease to exist.

We learned earlier that this life in human flesh is temporary for everyone (Ecclesiastes 3:2 Ecclesiastes 3:2A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
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; Hebrews 9:27 Hebrews 9:27And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment:
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). Those who have fulfilled the purpose of physical life will be resurrected in bodies composed of spirit to receive the gift of eternal life. Those who were never called will be brought up by a resurrection to a restored physical existence and judged, given their opportunity for eternal life. Those who reject the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and eternal life that comes through His sacrifice will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15 Revelation 20:15And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
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).

Jesus warned that some will fall into this category. He said that the righteous would be given eternal life but that the wicked would go into everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:41-46 Matthew 25:41-46 41 Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 For I was an hungered, and you gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink: 43 I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and you visited me not. 44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we you an hungered, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to you? 45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. 46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
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). Notice that Jesus does not say that those condemned will be tortured for eternity. He said their punishment is to be everlasting—that is, everlasting death, complete unconsciousness and even ceasing to exist, from which there is no resurrection (Revelation 20:14 Revelation 20:14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
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).

Some might conclude that such a fate is cruel. But God, after all, is the Creator of life. He has the authority and power to eliminate the life of all who choose to reject the purpose for which He created them.

Furthermore, the final death of the incorrigibly wicked in a lake of fire is an act of justice and mercy on God's part. To allow the corrupt to continue to live on in unrepentant, eternal rebellion would consign them and others to great sorrow and anguish. Therefore God will not grant them eternal life in perpetual misery, and neither will He torture them for all eternity. Rather, both body and soul (the person's physical being, including life and consciousness) will be completely destroyed (Matthew 10:28 Matthew 10:28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
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).

For more on what the Bible says about hellfire and the fate of the unrepentant wicked, be sure to read “The Biblical View of Hell” and the related sidebars throughout this chapter.

 Summary

Throughout the ages some have been given the opportunity for eternal life through Jesus Christ. Yet the vast majority of human beings have not been called in their lifetimes to understand God's plan. As Jesus explained in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-23 Matthew 13:3-23 3 And he spoke many things to them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5 Some fell on stony places, where they had not much earth: and immediately they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundred times, some sixty times, some thirty times. 9 Who has ears to hear, let him hear. 10 And the disciples came, and said to him, Why speak you to them in parables? 11 He answered and said to them, Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. 12 For whoever has, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whoever has not, from him shall be taken away even that he has. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which said, By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive: 15 For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly I say to you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them. 18 Hear you therefore the parable of the sower. 19 When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. 20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; 21 Yet has he not root in himself, but endures for a while: for when tribulation or persecution rises because of the word, by and by he is offended. 22 He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. 23 But he that received seed into the good ground is he that hears the word, and understands it; which also bears fruit, and brings forth, some an hundred times, some sixty, some thirty.
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), others besides the faithful may have been called, but for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the powerful deception and influence of Satan and his demons—they have failed to fully respond to God's calling. All will be sorted out by a merciful God in the time of judgment.

After Jesus Christ returns, He will expand the process of offering salvation to all mankind. Everyone who lives during the 1,000 years immediately after He returns will receive the opportunity to accept the gift of eternal life available through Him. Following the Millennium will come a physical resurrection of all who did not receive the calling to salvation during their lifetimes. Then they, too, will be called—their first opportunity for salvation, not a second chance.

The Scriptures overwhelmingly show that God's great purpose and desire is to give eternal life to His children and to keep them from failing (Jude 21-24; Romans 8:31-32 Romans 8:31-32 31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
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; 2 Timothy 4:18 2 Timothy 4:18And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me to his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
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; Luke 12:32 Luke 12:32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
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). All will be given the opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ, accept eternal life through Him and prove their commitment to God by their works, the actions in their lives. Only those who knowingly, purposefully and willfully defy God and reject the sacrifice of Jesus Christ will be refused eternal life.

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