All Are Welcome
WE USE the word universal in two ways.
One, we use it to describe God’s purpose. People from every nation, race and tribe are invited to seek and enter his kingdom. The good news of Jesus Christ is for all people everywhere.
Two, we use the word to describe a belief some people have. We call those who think that every person will go to heaven universalists.
No one questions the first use of the word. All people are to be encouraged to seek God while there is time. None should rest until they have found him.
What about the second use of the term? Will all human beings be for ever with God in heaven? We know what people would like. After all no-one takes any pleasure in the thought that one of their loved ones will spend eternity separated from God. The idea of hell unsettles us.
The big question though is not, What do people think? Rather, it is, What does God say? Has he made known to mankind the answer to the question: Will everyone go to heaven? Yes, he has.
It is a little known fact that the person who says most about judgment and hell in the Bible is Jesus Christ. Many think of him as gentle, meek and mild. They do not imagine that he would ever send a person away from God’s presence.After the time of the apostles, in the early centuries, some taught that, because God shall restore all things when Jesus comes again to judge us all (see Colossians 1.18-20), God will take away all that gets in the way of all individuals knowing and enjoying him. Origen (185-254 AD), a Bible teacher and philo-sopher is linked to that idea. Universalism was formally rejected by the Church at the Council of Constantinople (553 AD).
Augustine (354-430 AD) rejected it. And so too did the Reformers of the 16th century. The reason can be simply stated. The idea that all people will go to heaven is not found in the Bible. In fact the opposite is taught. All people who do not repent and believe in Jesus Christ will remain separated from God for ever.
In recent years an idea called Hopeful Universalism has proved popular with some. It teaches that it is probable that every single person will be welcomed into heaven on the last day.
We do not doubt, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, that God does not desire the death of a sinner. Rather he calls us to repent and embrace Christ with faith. However the fact that God does not desire the death of a sinner needs to be understood in the light of other teaching we find in the Bible. The Bible is not a muddled book. It has a coherent message. If we fail to grasp its message the problem lies with us not the Bible.
What did Jesus say and do during his time here on earth? He was born in Bethlehem. And, he grew up in Nazareth. The first thirty years of his life were years of relative obscurity. They were followed by some three years of preaching. He also performed miracles. He told parables. And he called people to repent.
At the beginning of his public ministry he summoned people to turn to God. Mark tells us that:
after John was committed to prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ”The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1.14-15).
What did his gospel preaching include? The answer is, warning after warning that the day of judgment shall come. He taught that on that day all of us will stand before him. He will be our judge. And on that day he will separate believers (called sheep in the Bible) from unbelievers (who are also called goats).
Let us take a closer look at the teaching of Jesus Christ.If there is no hell or eternal punishment why did he teach that unless a person repents and has faith in him that person will be cast into outer darkness where there will be the weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8.12 and 22.13)?
If there is no place of eternal punishment for those who reject Christ why did he describe himself as the door of the sheep through which anyone who enters will be saved (John 10.7 and 9)?
If there is no hell why did Jesus urge people to enter by the narrow gate and avoid the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7.13)?
Why did Christ say that, as well as being narrow, the way that leads to life is hard and those who find it are few, whilst the gate that leads to destruction is wide and easy, and that those who enter by it are many (Matthew 7.13-14)?
Why did Jesus warn, when asked whether many would be saved, that though a person may knock at the door and ask to enter some will be told, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil (Luke 13.25)?
If there is no place of eternal punishment why did Jesus urge people to build their lives on the solid rock of God’s Word rather than on the sinking sands of man’s thinking (Matthew 7.24-27)?
If there is no place of eternal torment why did Jesus teach that there will be the separation of the wheat from the weeds on the last day, and that the weeds will be gathered into bundles to be burned (Matthew 13.30)?
If there is no hell why did Jesus teach that those who fail to respond to his invitation to come to his great wedding feast will find that the invitation is given to others (Matthew 22.1-10)?
If everyone will end up in heaven why did Jesus teach that as people ate and drank, bought and sold, planted and built in the days of Noah and Lot, and destruction suddenly came upon them, so will it be for those who are not ready for the appearance of Jesus Christ on the last day (Luke 17.26-37)?
If there will be no separation of Christians from non-Christians why did Jesus teach his followers to deny themselves and to take up their cross daily and follow him (Luke 16.24-28)?
If there is no hell why does Jesus teach us in the Lord’s Prayer that the experience of forgiveness for our sins is related to how we forgive others when they offend us (Matthew 6.12)?If there is no separation of believers from unbelievers on the last day, why does Jesus teach us, through the apostle Paul, that the unrighteous, the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, revilers, swindlers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards and those who engage in same-sex sexual intimacy will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6.9-10)?
If there is no hell why does Jesus warn us to fear God, who can throw both body and soul into hell, rather than a person who can only kill the body (Matthew 10.18)?
Why did Jesus warn that it would be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than it will be for those who refuse to listen to his followers who teach them about Christ (Matthew 10.14)?
Why did Jesus teach that if a person does not turn and become like a child he will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18.3)?
Why did Jesus tell Nicodemus that it is only those who are born again from above who shall enter and see the kingdom of heaven (John 3.1-8)?
And why did Jesus say that those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (and that includes saying that the miracles Christ did were done not by the power of God but in the power of Satan) will never be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12.32)?
These are all important questions. Each one is worthy of careful attention. What you find as you consider them is that you are faced with a stark choice. Either Jesus said and did what he did because he wanted to deceive people. Or he taught about the reality of hell because he wants us to know that it really exists and that some will spend eternity there separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus for ever.
Each of us has to decide.
Did Jesus teach that all people will go to heaven, irrespective of whether they repent and have faith in him?
Or did he teach that only believers will live with him forever?
The evidence is overwhelming. The idea of hopeful universalism (that all will probably go to heaven) is false. It contradicts the teaching of Jesus Christ.
The only safe way forward is to trust and follow Christ. It is to hold fast to him and what he taught.
George Curry 10 December 2017