How can God leave some people who weren't believers but not evil in eternal Hell?

Questions ForumCategory: False TeachingHow can God leave some people who weren't believers but not evil in eternal Hell?
AvatarKen Eklund asked 11 months ago

The Universalists say that all people will be saved from eternal hell-fire after the Great White Throne Judgement – No Lake of Fire for any humans. If all confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and bow to him, will not all go to heaven? Jesus died for all, so if God has taken all sins away through Christ on the Cross, should not all sinners be saved; even the worst of humanity?

1 Answers
John Ankerberg StaffJohn Ankerberg Staff Staff answered 10 months ago

Thank you for your questions. This is certainly a weighty and worthwhile topic to consider. Let me briefly respond to your questions one by one.

How can God leave some people who weren’t believers but not evil in eternal Hell?

The Bible teaches that God is both just and compassionate. He does not send anyone to hell who does not deserve it. Nor does He delight in the punishment of the wicked. Rather, He desires that people turn to Him from their sin and receive salvation (see for example Ezekiel 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).  He desires this so much that He voluntarily took on human flesh and paid the penalty that we deserve for our sin. He did this to uphold His justice while offering a way of salvation to anyone who turns to Him in faith. This is because He loves us, even as sinners (Romans 5:8).

But apart from receiving Jesus’ gracious work on our behalf, we have no hope. The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9). In other words, our problem with sin is far worse than we realize.  None of us are good people who deserve to go to heaven. We are all sinners desperately in need of a savior. This is why Jesus came and why turning to Him and receiving salvation is so important.

 

The Universalists say that all people will be saved from eternal hell-fire after the Great White Throne Judgement – No Lake of Fire for any humans.

The Bible is clear that the great white throne judgment will conclude with some people being cast into the lake of fire: “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).  Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 clarify that not everyone’s name is in the book of life: “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life”; “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world.” Thus, at the great white throne judgment those who worship the beast and whose names are not written in the book of life will be cast into the lake of fire.

This punishment entails eternal torment. It is not a temporary punishment from which one will eventually be removed. Revelation 14:10-11 makes this clear, “They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” Jesus stresses this as well when He describes hell as a place “where the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). This location is always described as a place of eternal torment and never merely a place of temporary punishment or purification.

 

If all confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and bow to him will not all go to heaven?

This assumes that acknowledging Jesus’ authority automatically entails salvation. We see in Scripture several instances where this is not the case.

 

Matthew 7:21-23 provides a clear example of this. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.… Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Although these people confess that Jesus is Lord, they are excluded from entering the kingdom of heaven. This is because they have rejected God and His will during their life on earth and instead have done evil. Jesus makes it clear that merely calling Him “Lord” when we stand before Him as our Judge will not save us.

 

Another example is that of demons. There are several accounts in the Gospels which describe demons recognizing Jesus’ authority and even obeying Him. Now, they certainly do not love Him nor are they saved. Nevertheless, they simply cannot ignore who Jesus is. One example of this can be found in Mark 1:23-27:

 

Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.

 

Notice how the impure spirit recognizes Jesus’ authority and obeys Him even though he knows his destruction is coming. This provides a helpful analogy for passages like Philippians 2:10-11 which state, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” It is not that all will be saved, but that all will acknowledge and submit to Christ’s authority.

 

While anyone can turn to Jesus and be saved in this life, the Bible does not speak of the possibility of salvation after death. The Bible says that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). This judgment is based upon one’s life on earth (Romans 2:6). When Jesus tells a parable about the afterlife, He describes there being two permanent locations to which people immediately go upon death. No one can cross over from one location to another. He says, “a great chasm has been set in place so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26). This reality is why the apostles earnestly warned people and pleaded with them to turn to Jesus and be saved (see for example Acts 2:40). If we postpone Christ’s offer of salvation until after we die, it will be too late. Paul says, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

 

Jesus died for all, so if God has taken all sins away through Christ on the Cross, should not all sinners be saved; even the worst of humanity?

You make an interesting point here. There are two major approaches to this topic within the church: one agrees with your premise (Jesus paid the punishment for everyone’s sin on the cross) but not your logic (whatever Jesus paid for on the cross will never need to be paid for again); the other disagrees with your premise but agrees with your logic. However, both views firmly acknowledge that Christ’s death did not automatically accomplish universal salvation. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that one must believe in Jesus to receive His salvation. The Bible often speaks of Jesus dividing people into two groups: one to receive eternal life and the other eternal punishment (see for example Matthew 25:31-46). Such passages make no sense if everyone is saved through Jesus’ death on the cross.

 

Let me explain the reasoning behind these two views. The first view (sometimes called “unlimited or general atonement”) agrees with your premise that Jesus bore the punishment for everyone’s sin on the cross. However, they clarify that this gift must be received by faith in order to be put into effect.  Although the gift has been purchased and offered to everyone, it, like any gift, is not yours unless you receive it. The New Testament is clear that the only way one can receive Jesus’ gift is through faith. For example, John 3:16-18 states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” This passage makes it clear that faith is necessary for receiving Jesus’ salvation. It is not something all receive automatically. Those who do not believe in Jesus will be condemned.

The second view is called “limited or definite atonement” and is one of the five points of Calvinism. While it denies your premise that Jesus paid for everyone’s sin, it agrees with your logic on the efficacy of Jesus’ payment: whatever Jesus paid for on the cross will never need to be paid for again. However, they hold that Jesus only paid for the sins of those whom God has chosen to be saved. The passages which speak of Jesus as the one “who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) imply that Jesus died for everyone without distinction (meaning He died for people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation – not just Israel) but not everyone without exception (meaning He did not die to save every single person).

While it is possible for each of these two systems to coincide with Scripture, combining the premise of the first one with the logic of the second one doesn’t work. This is because the Bible frequently emphasizes that one can only be saved by faith and that those who do not believe will not be saved but spend eternity apart from God in hell.

Now, Jesus can save even the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), but apart from Him, even the best of us fall short of His perfect standard (Romans 3:23). Salvation is not received by obeying the law (Romans 3:20), but by receiving through faith what Jesus did on our behalf (Romans 4:5). He is our only hope. And what hope and assurance He offers when we turn to Him in faith! He has done everything necessary to rescue us from hell. All we need to do is receive His salvation by faith.

I hope this helps you process these questions in light of Scripture and rejoice in Jesus as your Savior.