Would a compassionate Creator doom people forever who never even heard the name of Jesus Christ?
[Gary Petty] One of the most dramatic photographs I’ve ever seen appeared in a major magazine many years ago. It was a photograph of a small child in Sudan. It was hard to tell the child’s age because she was so emaciated from starvation. The little girl had managed to drag herself into a refugee camp and there, just yards from where some help was available she had collapsed. As she lay there a huge vulture had landed a few feet away, waiting for the inevitable.
I don’t know what religion her parents practiced, or to what God or gods they worshipped. No one knows actually what happened to the little girl. The photograph did motivate people in the Western world to donate money to help those suffering from the famine.
Any thinking Christian is challenged with a number of questions when we look at this kind of suffering.
Was this little girl somehow less deserving of God’s love? What if she had never known Jesus? Has God condemned her and billions like her to everlasting torment in hell? On Beyond Today we’re going to face one of the Hard Questions: Does God Condemn Non-Christians?
One of the most quoted verses in the Bible is John 3:16: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Here John says that God loves the entire world but the Bible also teaches that faith in God and His work through Jesus Christ and personal repentance is required to receive salvation.
So what about children who die from malnutrition, war and disease in remote areas of the world who never even heard of Jesus Christ? What about the little girl in the photograph? Is she forever damned to indescribable torment? What about the people from a village in Outer Mongolia who never knew the God of the Bible but they were all wiped out by a plague back in the ninth century? Are they forever cut off from God?
How can we reconcile God’s love for humanity, and His requirement to accept His Son for salvation when, let’s face it, most people throughout history have never heard of Jesus Christ?
Let’s begin our search for answers with the Apostle John’s vision of Christ’s return recorded in the book of Revelation. In chapter 19 John describes the dramatic appearance of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to save humanity from self-destruction. In chapter 20 he describes a resurrection of the dead.
“And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”
John calls this the first resurrection. Then he continues: “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”
In this passage John also writes, now listen to this: “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.” Who are the rest of the dead? Few people understand what appears to be a second resurrection. We’ll come back to this in a minute (Revelation 20:4-6).
So in this first resurrection the people who awaken from the sleep of death are all those who followed God both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament Church. They will reign on earth with Jesus Christ for 1000 years. Now this is a time that is commonly called the millennium.
We find more details about this resurrection from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. A passage that is often called the Resurrection Chapter. The apostle Paul describes a resurrection from the dead at the sound of the last trumpet. Those awakened from death will experience a new, eternal life. Paul describes a spirit body of eternal energy, a life without the corrupting effects of sin, a life where we can see God as He is.
This is the same resurrection John writes about in Revelation, the first resurrection. But when we go back to Revelation 20 we read this important statement, “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.”
Who are the rest of the dead? This is critical to understand.
So let’s think about it. We’ve seen that the first resurrection is of the saints to receive a spiritual body and the rest of the dead don’t live again until the end of the millennium. So to understand we have to pick up the story again in Revelation 20 towards the end of the chapter where John writes about what happens after the millennium. He says this, “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” (Revelation 20:11-16).
These are the billions of people who have lived throughout history, brought back to life! People of salvation through Jesus Christ. Now they have the Scriptures opened to their understanding.
This series of events is commonly called the Great White Throne Judgment. Most people, most Christians, don’t understand this time of judgment. Do you?
Years ago I saw a religious tract that illustrated how many people view the Great White Throne Judgment. It pictured Jesus sitting on an enormous throne looking strangely like the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. A line of people extending beyond the horizon, they all stood there before Him. As each person stepped forward to be judged Jesus would pull one of two levers and the person would either fall screaming into hell or float happily towards heaven.
That perception of the Great White throne Judgment falls short of the biblical truth.
We’ve just read that those awakened in the “first resurrection” are raised as incorruptible spirit beings. Those resurrected in the Great White Throne Judgment are resurrected, think about this, to physical life.
But is the perception that they immediately receive eternal judgment correct? Did you know that the Bible tells of a resurrection to physical life where people are not immediately judged but actually live on the earth?
The Old Testament prophet named Ezekiel was inspired to write a prophecy that has spawned numerous interpretations. In Ezekiel 37 the prophet received a vision of a valley filled with dry bones. The bones of untold numbers of people who had been dead, it says, for a long time. God tells Ezekiel that these bones represent all of the people of Israel who have died throughout the ages.
God tells the prophet to command that these people live again. What is described of what happens next is an incredible scene of bones coming together, organs being re-formed, muscles forming, and skin covering the bodies of countless people who have died over the course of history. Once again God tells Ezekiel to prophesy, this time, to proclaim that these people will come back to life. Suddenly in the story, the breath of life from God enters their lungs and they awaken!
Here is what God tells Ezekiel, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land”’ (Ezekiel 37:10-16).
What is described here in Ezekiel isn’t at all like the first resurrection described by Paul and John. Those awakened in the first resurrection are changed to spirit life. These people in Ezekiel are raised back to physical life. Those in the first resurrection are people who have already turned to God, repented, and received His Spirit. Ezekiel’s prophecy is about people who are resurrected so that they can repent and receive the Holy Spirit in order to obtain salvation.
Did you know that Jesus also prophesied of a future resurrection that’s obviously not the resurrection that happens at His Second Coming? Matthew gives us this account of what Jesus said, “Then He [speaking of Jesus] began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. [And he said] ‘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. [Now listen] 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 [that most despicable place] 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).
Let’s face it. The people of Tyre and Sodom aren’t going to be in the first resurrection. The first resurrection is of the saints. Those who believe and follow the true God. What Jesus is talking about must be the same physical resurrection of Ezekiel. It is what John calls the Great White Throne Judgment.
This statement by Jesus is just as shocking today as it was to the people He originally taught. The people in Sodom aren’t in hell, as you might have thought, but they await a resurrection.
Let’s think about the tract that showed Jesus in the Great White Throne Judgment with people lined up to be sent to heaven or hell. It cannot be that simple.
You say, “Well why would you say that?”
Ezekiel’s prophecy shows that those awakened in the physical resurrection, or the second resurrection, are people who didn’t really know God. Or in the case of ancient Israel did not have access to the indwelling of God’s Spirit. These people will have the opportunity to know God, repent, receive God’s Spirit, and obtain salvation.
Now I know that some people will scoff at this because they will say that this means that these people get a second chance at salvation. We’re not talking about a second chance. We’re talking about the opportunity for salvation.
The question here is, how does God define opportunity?
Listen to the apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian Church: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
The “god of this age” is Satan, the enemy of God, and he has blinded humanity. No one can come to God unless God lifts Satan’s blinders. Until God pours out His grace on a person no one can truly know God, repent, choose God and receive salvation.
So we’re back to our original question. Are all those who throughout history, who are blinded by Satan, who never heard of the true God or Jesus Christ, are they just lost forever?
Paul gives us the answer in his letter to the Romans. Let’s read Romans 5:10-15. So let’s read this.
“For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
In our corrupted state all human beings, because we are deceived by Satan who is the enemy of God, become the enemies of God. It is only through God’s mercy that we can be reconciled to Him through the life, death, and resurrection and work of Jesus Christ. Let’s continue in Romans:
“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”
Death entered into the human experience because Adam was deceived by Satan and disobeyed God. Every human being since Adam has fallen under Satan’s deception and through sin we all become enemies of God. So what Paul writes about next is really important to what we are talking about today:
“For until the law [here he’s talking about the Ten Commandments] sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed where there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come [a type of Christ]” (Romans 5:12-14).
We really need to take a closer look at what Paul says here. He makes the point that all people from Adam to the time when the Law was given on Mount Sinai were sinners and suffered the natural consequences of sin which is death. You know without the knowledge though of the Law they had no definition of why they suffered and died.
So what does Paul mean by the statement, “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” The Greek word translated imputed denotes “to charge to one’s account” (Vine’s).
To understand Paul’s meaning we need to realize that there are two consequences that we all suffer. Human beings suffer from sin. One is the natural consequences of mental, physical and spiritual suffering that leads to our deaths. The second consequence is called the “second death.” We read about that in Revelation 20, that the second death is the lake of fire. The second death or eternal death is the judgment of God on those who are incorrigibly wicked who refuse to turn to God and reject His saving power.
Paul writes that the sins of those who lived without knowledge of God’s law, their sins weren’t put on their account. These were people who were blinded by Satan who never had God open their minds to Him and they suffered the natural consequences of sin but they have not yet experienced God’s eternal judgment.
The same principle can be applied to those who never knew Jesus Christ. They suffer the natural consequences of sin but their sins have not yet been imputed. They have not yet received eternal judgment.
God’s love is such that He doesn’t pass eternal judgment on anyone who never knew Him, or even those who knew OF God but were blinded by the “god of this age.” Only when God reveals Himself and Satan’s deception is exposed can a person really have the free choice to actually choose or reject God.
According to prophecies like Ezekiel 37, people who never really knew God are resurrected to physical life to experience their opportunity to repent. Remember what Ezekiel wrote: ‘Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken it and performed it,’ says the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:11-16).
Every person receives only one chance for salvation and make no mistake there will be people who reject God. This is why at the end of the Great White Throne Judgment the unrepentant wicked are cast into the lake of fire to suffer eternal death. But the good news is that everyone will receive an opportunity to have God expose Satan’s deception and choose to repent.
We now have one more question to answer. What will God’s Kingdom be like at the end of the Great White Throne Judgment once Satan is removed forever and the wicked suffer the second death?
We find that answer in Revelation. John says, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away...He who overcomes shall inherit all things, [and please listen to this] and I will be his God and he shall be My son’” (Revelation 21:1-7).
It is here that we find the reason that God created us, you and me. He wants children. At the end of the Great White Throne Judgment when all human beings have had their opportunity to know God as Father and Christ as Savior, Master and Brother, when all evil is erased, God will bring His throne to earth to live with His children.
So let’s recap what we’ve covered so far:
1. When Christ returns the saints from throughout history will be resurrected to eternal, spiritual life. This is called, in Revelation, the first resurrection.
2. A second resurrection takes place at the end of the millennium. This is known as the Great White Throne Judgment.
3. The people raised up in this second resurrection are restored to physical life.
4. The people who are resurrected to physical life in this second resurrection will have their opportunity to know and choose God.
5. At the end of the Great White Throne Judgment all those who repent and accept Jesus as their Savior will be given eternal life as children of God.
6. The unrepentant will be cast into the lake of fire to suffer the second death.
This understanding is a vital aspect of the gospel message. There is hope for this sick and dying world and this seldom known truth is the great hope for billions of the living and the dead. You may not have heard this before, so I encourage you to keep listening and please order our free literature about this important subject.
To further discuss the resurrections we’re joined by fellow Beyond Today host Steve Myers and thanks for being here with us.
You know, when we look at the idea of the second resurrection and what it really means, it really gives hope when we think about all the people who never knew Jesus.
[Steve Myers] It’s such a hard thing. When I was little I had that problem because I was always taught that God was love. God is love. And then I thought about those poor people that were born in Asia or Africa that never heard the name of Jesus and I was taught they were going to burn forever in hell. How could God be love if that was the case? So I had a chance because I was born where I was born but they didn’t have any chance whatsoever. And that told me God can’t be love! So, as God began to open my mind I came to this understanding that there is this second resurrection. There’s a resurrection for those who never knew God, and so what a difference. Talk about hope. That God is love and He is not a respecter of persons, He is going to give everyone an opportunity to understand His truth and come into a relationship with Him.
[Gary Petty] You know we look at Ezekiel 37. Those people are resurrected, given God’s Spirit, and are alive on the earth. The only other scripture that can connect to is that Great White Throne Judgment.
[Steve Myers] And it’s not a second chance, it’s their first opportunity to come and understand God and they’re going to have an opportunity then to choose. The books will be opened, the Bible will be opened to them and then they can really understand and have that first opportunity to come to the Truth.
[Gary Petty] And it’s not universal salvation, either.
[Steve Myers] No, no.
[Gary Petty] Because there is a lake of fire. Some people won’t repent. There are people who are called by God today, who won’t repent who do know Jesus. Well, we know what their result is of their lives. So it’s not universal salvation as some people think and it’s not a second chance.
[Steve Myers] No, no.
[Gary Petty] It is the removal of the deception where they actually have the opportunity to make a choice.
[Steve Myers] Absolutely.
[Gary Petty] During today’s program I explained that people who have lived and died having never known God or even heard the name of Jesus Christ, will be given that very opportunity through a future physical resurrection. Just like those who know God today, they will have a marvelous chance to choose salvation and enter eternal life. This may be new biblical truth to you.
Since there is so much more you can learn about this vital subject and about what’s ahead for the future of humanity, we have prepared a valuable, free Bible study aid for you titled “What Happens After Death?”
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Again, to order your free study aid “What Happens After Death?” and your free subscription to Beyond Today magazine call 1-triple eight-886-8632. Or go online to beyondtoday.tv to read or download them.
Earlier I talked about that picture of a small, starving Sudanese girl crawling towards a food shelter. The name of the South African photojournalist who snapped the photograph is Kevin Carter.
Kevin Carter took many snapshots of humanities’ evil. He was disturbed and wrote this in his suicide note. “Vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain…of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen” (Capture the Moment-The Pulitzer Prize Photographs, 2001, edited by Cyma Rubin and Eric Newton).
Kevin Carter was overwhelmed by the suffering he witnessed, the hopelessness, the lack of any real solutions to human suffering. He committed suicide at age thirty-three.
You know, I didn’t personally know the little girl in the photograph or Kevin Carter. But I believe that their lives have value to God. I believe that someday that little girl will be resurrected to a world where there is no war, and no starvation and no refugee camps. She will get to know her Creator and understand the difference between good and evil. She will have the opportunity to choose God.
The terrifying message of the Great White Throne Judgment is that God will destroy those are wicked, who refuse to repent, in the lake of fire. The wonderful message of the Great White Throne Judgment is that the majority of humanity who never had the opportunity to know the true Creator will have a chance to know God as their Father and choose salvation through Jesus Christ.
Join us next week on Beyond Today as we continue to discover the gospel of the Kingdom. We also invite you to join us in praying, “Thy kingdom come.” For Beyond Today I’m Gary Petty. Thanks for watching.
[Narrator] For the free literature offered on today’s program, go online to beyondtoday.tv.