Today we arrive at the final event in the history of this present earth. It will soon disappear along with the entire universe when God releases the full measure of His glory. As if exposed to fire, the material world will evaporate leaving only the spiritual world and people who have resurrected bodies able to endure this intense glory. A thousand years before this believers were resurrected, but now to prepare for the judgment a second resurrection takes place. It is the resurrection of unbelievers. Each is clothed with an eternal body and will stand before God to have his or her life reviewed.
So many diverse opinions have been written about this judgment that most of us tend to feel anxious and confused, and many even question the fairness of what will take place. The question often asked is, How could a God of love send people to hell, especially those who never had a chance to hear the Gospel? And frankly, its a reasonable question that deserves an answer. So today, well try to answer it, admitting were gazing into deep mysteries, so we must hold our conclusions humbly, welcoming His correction, and always trusting that however He conducts the judgment, He will be as merciful as possible and as just as necessary.
1. First, lets remember who is sitting on that throne.
Jesus (Jn 5:27) or the Father (Rev 4:2; 5:1)
Not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2Pe 3:9)
As I live! declares the Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. (Eze 33:11)
Who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Ti 2:4)
God so loved the world
He is a God who is doing everything possible to save as many as possible. He isnt sending people to hell, Hes doing His best to prevent it.
2. Second, lets remember how He made us as humans.
In His image (Ge 1:26, 27)
With the freedom to say no to Him and refuse to love Him.
With this liberty, we mold our own character choice by choice over a lifetime. Its no accident you are who you are, and its no one elses fault.
Some come to the light
some hate the light (Jn 3:19-21). Those are our decisions, not Gods.
3. Third, lets remember God has done and is doing everything possible to save as many as possible.
From the moment the spirit of rebellion first entered humanity, He promised to provide a savior (Ge 3:15, seed of the woman)
Throughout history, He developed a family through whom the Savior would be born. He fought to preserve in every generation a remnant of believers who would love Him and walk with Him in faith, so at the right moment He could send His Son to perform a sacrifice that would allow Him to rescue a portion of the human race: those willing to repent of their rebellion and trust in His mercy.
From Adam and Eve, until AD 32 people did not know His name or exactly how this sacrifice would be made, yet by faith they received forgiveness because of a cross that had not yet taken place.
Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, people can have an understanding of this salvation that the ancient prophets longed to know (1Pe 1:10-12; Mt 13:17)
God has done everything possible to save us. Theres nothing else He could do. Someone might say, Oh yes, He could do more miracles or write the Gospel in the sky, but what Jesus told us (Lk 16:30, 31) and the Millennium will prove (Rev 20:7-9) is that the problem isnt ignorance, its rebellion. No amount of information changes a hardened heart, because it deliberately blinds its own eyes to truth it doesnt want to see (Mt 13:14-17; 15:14; Jn 9:39-41). The damage we do to ourselves is real and in some cases so severe its permanent. This is what Jesus warned about when He spoke of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Mt 12:31). Its one thing to sin against what the Holy Spirit is telling you (conscience), its another to look right at the works of the Holy Spirit and then call Him a demon. In doing this, you so harden your heart you cripple your ability to repent (Heb 6:4-6; 10:29). You reject to the point of blaspheme the inner witness of the Holy Spirit whos trying to show you Christ.
4. Fourth, lets ask, why does God perform this judgment?
It will include everyone who did not participate in the first resurrection (Rev 20:5) as well as those who rejected Christ during the Millennium (Rev 20:7-9).
Their eternity is already decided so why are the deeds of unbelievers being reviewed?
God will show each person the choices they made and how the devil deceived them into hating Him. I believe He will also show them everything He did to reach out to them. I doubt people will believe Him even then, but He will show them He has been faithful and merciful and that they willfully chose to follow the ruler of this world (Jn 16:11). By this, He will prove they are not innocent victims.
5. Fifth, lets ask the important question concerning the fairness of this judgment: what about those who never had the gospel preached to them?
After all, billions have lived in generations or cultures in which no one ever told them about Jesus Christ. Are all these doomed by the accidental circumstance of when or where they were born? How can they be judged fairly if they never had a chance, particularly when compared to those who grew up in Christian cultures where they hear the Gospel all the time? To answer this question, we must first answer another question. Has anyone ever been born who has not had God faithfully witness to him or her? No, He has lovingly and persistently reached out to every person in at least three ways:
CREATION: Someone powerful made this
- Romans 1:18-23
- Knowingly suppressed the truth which darkened the heart further.
CONSCIENCE: Some things are right and some are wrong
- We have been told that conscience is taught to us by our culture
- Its the heart of recognizing the holiness of God. Then over time we learn to silence it.
CONSCIOUSNESS: I know He exists
- If you step back and watch, it becomes apparent that people all know God is there. It isnt that they dont believe in Him, its that they dont like Him. Hes holy and they want the pleasures of the world, and Hes God and they want to run their own lives.
CONTACT: There have been times I know He reached out to me.
- Protection, provision, presence
- When you meet a believer you are confronted with the presence of Christ in them.
There are only two spiritual options regardless of all the religions and philosophies:
A. Whether they know His name or not, when people encounter God, they meet one consistent personality
and that is Jesus. He is who He is: loving, pure, kind, honest, courageous, just, etc. Some, when they meet Him (whether they know His name or not), love Him and draw closer, some loath Him and draw away.
B. Whether they know His name or not, when people encounter Satan (or his demonic servants) they meet one consistent personality
which invites them to rebel against God, to give into their lusts, greed, anger, fear, prejudice, selfishness, hunger for power, etc. Some when they encounter this temptation, love it and draw closer. Some loath it and long for God (whether they know His name or not) to deliver them. (Notice: I didnt say we have the power to walk away from Satan on our own, we dont, but our hearts can turn toward the light we have and call for help.)
Lets look at a passage where Jesus explains this process: John 3:18-21
(v 18) Faith in Christ saves us. Refusal to believe in this life (when we clearly recognize Him) shows exactly where well end up at the judgment, if we dont change before we die.
(v 19) When people meet Jesus, their heart is instantly exposed. Many deliberately walk away from Him because they dont want to stop doing what theyre doing.
(v 20) Peoples lives invariably express their attitude toward Jesus. Their deeds prove who they really love (regardless of the religious claims they may make with their mouth).
(v 21) People who love Jesus (whether they know His name or not) make choices to try to please Him (even though their attempts may be misguided, 1Ti 1:12, 13). They lead honest, conscientious lives (this does not mean they are sinless and deserve to go to heaven). These are not afraid of Jesus, but gladly draw closer when they meet Him because their conscience is clean. They know theyve tried to do the will of God. They are humble and willing to have Him correct them (Ac 9:5).
So, people from the day they are born learn to love darkness or light (Jesus or the tempter). In most peoples lives its not a straight line. We move back and forth, but ultimately, a pattern of character emerges. This process is what will be discussed at the great white throne.
At the great white throne God will show Himself to be perfectly just in all areas but one. In the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) Jesus argues that God has a right to be unfairly generous and merciful.
A. He will reward believers equally in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21, 22) though some received Him on their death beds and some served Him for a lifetime.
The truth of this is illustrated by the example of the thief on the cross: Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise (Lk 23:39-43).
B. He even saves people with a terrible history of choices, if when confronted by the Gospel, they repent.
A moment of escape is provided by the presence of the Holy Spirit (He opens the door for a moment, but it will close again shortly).
6. Sixth, lets ask the question: Can people who have never heard the Gospel be saved?
1. From Adam and Eve through John the Baptist, no one heard the Gospel in the complete way you know it. How were these saved?
Repentance and faith (Ge 15:6; Gal 3:6-9; Ro 4:1-3)
They ceased to be rebellious toward God and humbly submitted to Him.
They trusted that God would somehow mercifully provide His own sacrifice for their sin (Ge 22:13, 14).
2. The arrival of Jesus Christ in 4 B.C. does not mean every person even today has heard the truth of who He is and what Hes done.
Many lived in places unreached with the news
Many heard nothing though they lived near Christians
Others have heard only a distorted lie about Him:
- Presented with a false Jesus (right name, wrong spirit)
- Or taught to hate Jesus, being told He is our enemy
In effect, these still live in a pre-Christ era of history
I believe they have the same opportunity Abraham and Sarah had to move toward the light God gives them and thus gain more. In some cases, God sends angels or does miracles to give them deeper revelation.
What these lack is the injustice of being in a place where the Spirit is confirming the preached or demonstrated Word (Ro 10:11-15). Many will be in heaven because they had this unfair advantage.
3. Some dont live long enough to hear the Gospel or even form a settled attitude toward God.
They dont have a chance to walk away from or toward the light
Miscarried, aborted, died before becoming an adult, severe mental damage
I shall go to him but he shall not return to me. (2Sa 12:23)
The Lord either felt we did not need to know, or couldnt be trusted with more information about these. He has not explained their circumstances, but it is my personal opinion that one of these two things will happen:
Somehow, these children will be allowed to grow (Millennium?) and make a choice.
Or since people who reject Jesus have hardened their hearts, and few of these had the opportunity to do that, they will naturally love Him when they see Him. Again, they will be among those who unfairly receive grace.
7. Finally, lets summarize
Hes a saving God
- Hes not responsible for the judgment people receive. Hes doing all He can to prevent it, but there are serious spiritual realities He cant change.
At the great white throne, people will be reminded of a lifetime of choices by which they molded themselves into light-haters. Excuses, self-deception, blaming others will be exposed.
However, there will be many in heaven who were in the process of becoming light-haters but became a brand plucked from the fire (Zec 3:2) by the prayers of believers, the preaching of the Gospel and the power of the Spirit.
Jesus says there are many more people willing to come than there are people willing to reach them (pray, give, serve, go, witness).
- The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few (Mt 9:37)
There will be no injustice in Gods judgment. Any injustice lies in the apathy of the church toward those who might have been rescued.
Did God reach out to you before you became a Christian? Tell us what He did.
Have you ever hardened your heart toward God? Why? What were you refusing to do? What caused you to repent?