It was a "get to know you" visit with my new doctor, and since I work for a church, the conversation touched on religion. The doctor didn't know much about the United Church of God, so he asked several questions trying to understand where it fit in the panorama of Christian religions.
He mentioned that as a Jew, married to a Catholic, he is fascinated by all the competing flavors of Christian churches, each with different nuances, as he sees it, of doctrine. "Yet they all think theirs is the way that leads to heaven, and everyone else goes to hell," he said. He said that's much different from what he is used to. In his synagogue people have lots of different opinions, but they all get along and meet together.
Today many Jews, and actually many Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas and lots of other people, believe that God is not exclusive -- that there are many paths to God. This "enlightened" view seems to be the culmination of man's quest for tolerance and true brotherhood, after millennia of hatred, bigotry, pogroms, forced conversions and inquisitions.
God certainly doesn't want hatred and bigotry. But is it possible the "many-paths-to-God" approach is not exactly what God wants -- that He has a plan that is even better?
Are there many paths to God? Those who believe in and study the Holy Bible run across many scriptures that seem to clearly say no. In Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:13-14  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:  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few there be that find it.
American King James Version×Jesus talks about the narrow gate, and says that only a few find it. Verses 15 and 16 identify false prophets who lead people into religious beliefs with bad fruits. God doesn't seem to be calling everyone to His way now (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.
American King James Version×). Acts 4:12 Acts 4:12Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
American King James Version×goes so far as to say about Jesus Christ, "For there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
But millions, even billions, throughout history have not heard Jesus' name or understood His message. Would our loving, merciful God allow so many to miss out on the promise of salvation? The Bible tells us that God does not play favorites (Acts 10:34-35 Acts 10:34-35  Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:  But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him.
American King James Version×) and "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4 1 Timothy 2:4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
American King James Version×). Many Christians struggle to understand how that loving fairness will be applied to the billions throughout history who have not professed the name of Christ.
An answer to the dilemma
How will people from so many different paths all have a chance? Studying the "feasts of the Lord" (Leviticus 23) and how Christ and the apostles discussed them gives a fascinating insight into how God plans to offer salvation to people of all paths -- animists, atheists, Buddhists, nominal Christians -- everyone!
Many Christians are unaware of the deep meaning conveyed by the Holy Days of the Bible. But a number of passages in the Old and New Testaments explain the steps in God's plan of salvation in relation to these celebrations that Christ and the New Testament Church continued to keep. Consider this brief summary.
The first festival in the spring is the Passover, which Paul explained represented Jesus Christ's sacrifice: "For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
American King James Version×). This awesome gift makes salvation possible -- it makes it possible for sinful man to be forgiven and enter a relationship with God.
The second festival, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, continues to explain the process of conversion, as those who are called respond to Christ's merciful sacrifice by repenting and seeking to get rid of the sin, represented in many places in the New Testament as leaven. Paul discusses how sin acts like leaven in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 1 Corinthians 5:6-8  Your glorying is not good. Know you not that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
American King James Version×. "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (verse 8). Also, as the Israelites came out of Egypt during the Days of Unleavened Bread, Paul compares crossing the Red Sea with baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1-2 1 Corinthians 10:1-2  Moreover, brothers, I would not that you should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea;  And were all baptized to Moses in the cloud and in the sea;
American King James Version×).
Pentecost plays a major role in the New Testament as the day when God poured out the Holy Spirit, starting His Church (Acts 2). The Holy Spirit makes possible the miracle of writing God's laws on the minds and hearts of those who accept Christ's sacrifice, repent and are baptized (Hebrews 8:10 Hebrews 8:10For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, said the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:
American King James Version×).
A future hope
These first three festivals show the way being opened for salvation and the Church age beginning. The next four festivals summarize the prophesied events that will make it possible for all to have a chance for salvation. They demonstrate Peter's statement: "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.
American King James Version×).
The Feast of Trumpets is an annual reminder of the promise that Christ will return to establish God's Kingdom at the sound of the last, the seventh, trumpet spoken of by the apostles John and Paul (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.
American King James Version×; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 1 Thessalonians 4:16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 15:52 1 Corinthians 15:52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
American King James Version×).
By comparing the sacrificial rituals of the Day of Atonement with prophesied events, many Bible students relate that day with the putting away of the instigator of sin, Satan, who has played a major role in separating man from God (Leviticus 16:21-22 Leviticus 16:21-22  And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:  And the goat shall bear on him all their iniquities to a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.
American King James Version×; Revelation 20:1-3 Revelation 20:1-3  And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.  And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,  And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
American King James Version×). Also, this Holy Day again reminds us of the necessity of Christ's sacrifice for humans to be at one with God.
The prophecy of Revelation 20 continues with the peaceful 1,000-year rule of Christ and the saints (Revelation 20:4 Revelation 20:4And 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.
American King James Version×) portrayed by the harvest festival of Tabernacles. All those living during this time will have the opportunity to come and learn of God, and not learn war any more (Zechariah 14:16-19 Zechariah 14:16-19  And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.  And it shall be, that whoever will not come up of all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, even on them shall be no rain.  And if the family of Egypt go not up, and come not, that have no rain; there shall be the plague, with which the LORD will smite the heathen that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.  This shall be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all nations that come not up to keep the feast of tabernacles.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 2:1-4 Isaiah 2:1-4  The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.  And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×).
But what about all who have ever lived in the past who haven't had the opportunity for salvation? The last Holy Day provides an annual reminder of God's incredible love. Continuing in the prophetic summary of Revelation 20: "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (verse 5, also see verses 11-12).
This resurrection and period of judgment is also talked about in Ezekiel 37, where God says "I will put My Spirit in you" (verse 14). So those who are resurrected will have their chance to repent, accept Christ's sacrifice and receive the Holy Spirit. No matter what path they had been on in this life, all will have the opportunity to experience the joys of God's path. Christ talked about the people of Sidon and Tyre, Ninevah and even Sodom having their chance in this period of judgment (Matthew 11:21-24 Matthew 11:21-24  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.  But I say to you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.  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.  But I say to you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.
American King James Version×, 12:41-42). All people of all times and all walks of life will have the chance to experience the truth, peace and fulfillment of following God's way.
This is a big subject, and this whirlwind tour can't do it justice. If you would like to explore this more in your Bible and learn more about God's merciful plan for everyone, click here to request a copy of the 62-page educational booklet, God's Holy Day Plan: Promise of Hope for All Mankind. It's available free of charge in the public interest.