What happens to those who, simply because of when and where they were born, never had an opportunity to hear of Jesus Christ and God's Word? Are they doomed to eternal torment? What exactly does the Bible teach about hell?
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).
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).
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). 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).
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).
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).
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, 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). In Ephesians 4:17-18 Paul shows that the gentiles equally share in this nearly universal spiritual blindness.
Paul in Romans 11:2-4 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).
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).
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, 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).
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), 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).
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).
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), 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).
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; 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; Isaiah 11:9; 25:7; Joel 2:27-28).
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; 20:6; Isaiah 30:20-21).
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).
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).
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).
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; 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).
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 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 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). 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; compare Philippians 4:3). 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).
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, 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). That's because they are being judged now (1 Peter 4:17), 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; Galatians 5:22-23)—or turning from that calling (2 Peter 2:20-22).
When Jesus returns, He will reward each according to His works (Matthew 16:27), 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; Revelation 22:14).
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). God expects us to emulate Jesus Christ in all we think and do (Philippians 2:5; 1 Peter 2:21). 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). 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).
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). 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; James 2:14-26).
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), 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).
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).
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, 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).
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; 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). 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; Hebrews 9:27). 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).
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). 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).
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).
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.
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), 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; 2 Timothy 4:18; Luke 12:32). 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.