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THE CASE FOR UNIVERSAL SALVATION: PART TWO

Objections to universal salvation:

       The understanding that all humans are/will be saved and granted immortality is a growing but yet minority position within the Christian community.  Objections to this position are usually grounded in the belief that salvation is only available during this physical life.  It is further believed that salvation is only granted to those who while in the flesh repent of their sins, strive to live righteously and place faith in the sacrifice of Christ. As already indicated, some believe that only those predestinated to be saved are saved while all others are predestinated to be “lost.” 

       A common belief is that if a person isn’t “saved” before physical death, there will be eternal punishing or annihilation.  Even among those who feel the "unsaved" may have opportunity for eternal life after physical death, the belief remains that not all will be saved and some will have to be annihilated or consigned to eternal punishing or some kind of conscious eternal separation from the presence of God. This position is felt to be supported by Scriptures that show judgment, condemnation, perishing, destruction and punishment administered to and against the unrighteous.

       Matthew 7:13-14 is sometimes cited to show Jesus teaching that only a few will be granted eternal life while the vast majority of humans are destroyed. Others see Jesus teaching that a few will go to heaven while the vast majority will go to hell. Is Jesus, in Matthew 7, teaching about the eternal destiny of the righteous versus the eternal destiny of the wicked? 

The two gates:

       Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction (Greek: ἀπώλειαν (apōleian), and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

       The Greek word translated “destroy” in Matthew 7:13-14 is a tense of the Greek word apollumi.  This word, in its various tenses, is found 92 times in the NT narrative.  This Greek word means "to destroy."  However, it does not have an intrinsic meaning of permanent destruction as can be seen by how it is used by NT writers. It can be seen by context to often mean a temporary loss or ruin.  The people of Sodom are seen as being destroyed (apollumi) in Luke 17:29.  As previously discussed, Jesus taught that these people will rise up in a judgment. Their destruction was only physical and temporal, not permanent.  

       When Jesus was sleeping in a boat and a huge storm came up, the disciples pleaded with Jesus to save them from the storm so they wouldn't perish. "And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish" (apollumi) (Matthew 8:25 KJV).  If the disciples would have drowned, would their loss of life have been permanent? Would their lives have been destroyed forever? 

       At Jesus’ trial the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus destroyed (apollumi) (Matthew 27:1). Obviously, Jesus was not permanently destroyed. Then there is the parable of the lost (apollumi) sheep and the prodigal son.

       Luke 15:3-6:   Then Jesus told them this parable: Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses (apollumi) one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost (apollumi) sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, Rejoice with me; I have found my lost (apollumi) sheep.

       Luke 15:24:  for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost (apollumi) and is found.' And they began to be merry. 

       Here we find apollumi does not define perishing, destruction or death as a literal cessation of life or as a permanent loss or ruin. The term is used here to show how a temporary loss doesn't have to be permanent but can lead to restoration. When Jesus sent His disciples to go to the lost (apollumi) sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6), he was sending them to people who were lost in that they had eternal death abiding in them because of sin. He sent the disciples to bring them a message of restoration from such death.

       In the great majority of the 92 appearances of apollumi in the NT, it is used to describe a temporary loss from which there can be restoration. The parable of the lost sheep is instructive of the attitude God has toward his human creation in wanting to save them from apollumi.  Jesus plainly said He had come to save the apollumi.

       Luke 19:10: For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (apollumi)."  

       Luke 9:56: For the Son of Man did not come to destroy (apollumi) men's lives but to save them.

       John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish (apollumi) but have everlasting life.

       John 3:17: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn (Greek krino) the world, but to save the world through him.

       2 Peter 3:9: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish (apollumi), but everyone to come to repentance.

       These statements show that when apollumi is used in the NT in regard to human life, it is not used to describe a permanent loss of life but a temporary loss from which there can be recovery and restoration. In John 3:16, Jesus is saying that those who believe in Him will not experience eternal death but will be given eternal life instead. John 3:17 is highly instructive as to God’s intentions as to the salvation of mankind. This brings us back to the saying of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:13-14.

       Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction (Greek: πώλειαν (apōleian), and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

       Jesus makes this statement near the end of His Sermon on the Mount where He provides a great deal of instruction as to how to live the Kingdom life.  To understand Jesus’ presentation of the two gates we must place this teaching in the overall context of what He had taught to this point.  To this point, Jesus is teaching what it means to be in the Kingdom.  What it means to live by Kingdom standards. He is showing that Kingdom living is not some far off goal to be attained far into the future or first attained once we leave this physical life. Jesus was teaching how we are to live in the here and now.

       When Jesus instructs His listeners to enter the narrow gate rather than the wide gate, He is not talking about heaven versus hell.  He is not talking about eternal life versus eternal death.  He is talking about living according to the instruction He had just provided which He summarized in stating the Golden Rule.  He is talking about experiencing the benefits of living according to the standards of behavior He had been teaching. He was teaching that living by these standards leads to a life of joy, peace and success as opposed to the destructive consequences of living a life characterized by behavior that is contrary to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. 

       Jesus is laying before His listeners the choice of the narrow or wide road.  The one road is called the straight and narrow because it is a road that has perimeters and boundaries of behavior.  It is a road that establishes a specific direction in which to travel.  The narrow road maps out the route we are to travel in order to fulfill the way of life God wants for us to live.  Jesus says, enter this gate.  Go down this road.  The result will be a satisfying life.

       The wide gate leading to the broad road doesn’t have set parameters.  This road doesn’t have a specific direction.  This road often changes direction and does not have an established route of travel.  This road can lead to all sorts of problems and difficulties in life.  This road can lead to destructive consequences that bring pain, suffering and tribulation. This road can bring gloom, despair and agony.  Jesus says the many walk down this road which is to say the many simply follow the way of wrong choices and suffer the consequences of those choices.

       When placed into the context of what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, there is no reason to believe the eternal destiny of the righteous and wicked are being addressed here.  Jesus is simply making a point about how things are with human behavior and pointing to the way that leads to positive versus negative consequences. 

The sheep and the goats:

       In Matthew 25 is the parable of the sheep and goats. The sheep are those who have behaved righteously and the goats are those who have behaved wickedly.  The righteous are seen as entering into eternal life while the wicked are seen as being sent away to eternal punishment.  Since eternal punishment is contrasted with eternal life, some believe the eternal punishment spoken of is the eternal annihilation of the wicked. Others see in this passage the wicked experiencing eternal conscious torment.  Is either of these conclusions warranted?

       Matthew 25: 31-33: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

       The context of this parable is the return of Christ.  As shown in detail throughout this website, the return of Christ occurred in the first century in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. This event is clearly predicted by Jesus in what is referred as the Olivet Discourse recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.  The return of Christ was a return in judgment against first century Israel for their refusal to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah (Luke 19:41-44) and their overall failure to live righteously.   

       Matthew 25 is a continuation of Jesus’ answer to the questions presented to Him by His disciples as recorded in Matthew 24:3.  The disciples asked Jesus when the temple would be destroyed and what would be the sign of His coming and the end of the age. Jesus answers their question by showing what would take place in anticipation of these events. This matter is discussed in detail in my series, "When Does Christ Return."

       Many see Matthew 25:31-46 as pertaining to a final judgment where the saved go to heaven and the unsaved are annihilated or go into everlasting punishment.  Eternal fire is seen as a fire that simply burns people up or burns forever and inflicts eternal torment on the unrighteous. Is either of these perspectives correct?

       Matthew 25:41, 46: Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal (Greek: aionios) fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  Verse 46: Then they will go away to eternal (aionios) punishment, but the righteous to eternal (aionios) life.

    The Greek aion:

      The Greek aionios seen in Matthew 25 is the adjective form of the Greek noun aion. Its basic meaning is “a segment of time.” Aion does not have an intrinsic meaning of something that goes on without end. Depending on context, it can mean a long or short segment of time. It can mean a forever lasting segment of time.  Its meaning must be determined by the context. 

       In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT), aion is used to translate the Hebrew olamOlam is used dozens of times in the OT to designate a wide variety of time segments, including everlasting time. When Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, he spoke of being hemmed in by the earth forever (olam) [Jonah 2:6].  For Jonah, forever was only three days and nights in the water.  A slave was seen as belonging to his master forever (olam), Exodus 21:6. Yet death would end such servitude.  Animal sacrifices are seen as being established forever (olam).  Yet we know they are no longer required.  Other occurrences of olam show a true everlasting time frame. David speaks of the glory of God enduring forever (olam).   

       The use of aion to translate olam shows the broad range of time frames this word can represent.  Jesus spoke of the age (aion) that was and the age (aion) to come. The age that was, was not everlasting whereas the age to come is seen as everlasting.  Context must always be the determining factor as to how aion is to be understood.

       As discussed in depth in my series dealing with the timing of the return of Christ, the end of the age (aion) spoken of in the NT narrative is not about the end of the world but about the end of a segment of time called the Old Covenant age.  The context of Matthew 24 and 25 is not some final judgment at the end of the physical world but a judgment that occurred at the time the temple was destroyed when Christ came in judgment against first century Israel. I again refer you to my series When Does Christ Return?

       The context of Matthew 25 is Jesus coming in judgment against first century Israel. Dozens of NT passages point to the expected wrath that was to come upon Israel.  This coming wrath had nothing to do with the eternal fate of those being punished at the time. It was a wrath with physical consequences directed at first century Israel for their failure to recognize their Messiah and respond to His message.  It was punishment directed against the Jewish society which was persecuting the developing Christian community. 

       The return of Christ also facilitated establishment of the Kingdom and the resurrection of the dead.  First century followers of Jesus were anticipating the return of Christ in their lifetime to bring salvation to them as many Scriptures attest to.  The writer to the Hebrews shows this anticipation.

       Hebrews 9:20: Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

       Jesus came the first time to be the ultimate sacrifice for sin, thus providing salvation for mankind.  His second coming took place to consummate this salvation by permanently removing the means to facilitate the Old Covenant system which had become a system of death due to the failure of those under that Covenant to abide by its requirements.  This system came crashing down with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. 

       Is the eternal fire spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 25 a fire that burns forever? Jude speaks of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

       Jude 1:7: Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal (aionios) fire. 

       Obviously Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning. Their inhabitants are not still being punished by an eternal fire. The people of these two cities were physically burned up.  What is instructive is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are not seen as being permanently destroyed by the punishment of eternal fire.  They were not permanently annihilated. This was a destruction of their physical bodies.  It was a temporal destruction, not an everlasting destruction.  This is made plain in Matthew 10:14-15.

       Matthew 10:14-15:  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

       The people of Sodom and Gomorrah are seen as facing a judgment that, comparatively speaking, is less severe than for those who reject the message being delivered by the disciples Jesus sent to preach in the surrounding towns. This implies the people of Sodom and Gomorrah continued to exist in some manner after having been physically destroyed or that they would be brought back to life at some future time. Peter used the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of what will happen to the unrighteous of his day.  Peter speaks in terms of the ungodly being burned up

      2nd Peter 2:6: If he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…. 

       Like Jesus, Paul and other NT writers, Peter was anticipating the end of the Old Covenant age. The Church was experiencing a great deal of persecution from the Jewish religious community.  There are dozens of references in the NT to this persecution and the judgment that would bring it to an end. This judgment had nothing to do with the eternal fate of those being judged. This was a temporal judgment restricted to a specific segment of time (aion).  We know literal fire was involved in the destruction of Jerusalem just as was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah.

       Some believe that since both life and punishment are presented as eternal in the same context in Matthew 25, eternal must mean the same thing in both cases. This reasoning is problematical because when Jesus discussed eternal life, He spoke in terms of never dying as seen in the passages from the Gospel of John.

       John 5:24.  "I tell you the truth; whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned (Greek krisis); he has crossed over from death to life. 

       John 8:51.  I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death." 

       John 11:26: Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" 

       To never die is to embark on a segment of time (aion) that is truly without end.  To never die is to experience salvation. It is to have the eternal death penalty for sin atoned for by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Eternal life brought about through the Christ event (salvation) is always seen as everlasting in the NT Scriptures.  Eternal punishment by fire is not seen as everlasting as seen in our discussion of Sodom and Gomorrah. 

       If the eternal fire of Matthew 25 is a fire that burns people up but does not permanently annihilate people, why is this fire seen as prepared for Satan and his angels?  It appears from Scripture that Satan and angels are non physical spirit entities. How could a physical fire harm them?  The following Scripture is instructive relative to this issue:

       Hebrews 2:14-15: Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy (Greek καταργήσῃ (katargēsē) him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

       The word “destroy” is a tense of the Greek word katargeo, which means: “to make ineffective, powerless, abolish, wipe out” (Arndt, Gingrich, Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon renders it as “to render idle, unemployed, inactive and inoperative.”  Strong’s Lexicon defines this word as inoperative, abolish.

       Jesus came to abolish Satan’s power of death and drive him from the world as seen in what He said as recorded in John, "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out"  (John 12:31). 

       1st John 3:8b: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy (Greek: λύσ (lysē) the devil's work.

       Here the writer uses a Greek word that means to annul, loosen, remove, release, and overthrow as seen in Strong’s and Thayer’s Greek Lexicons.

        Since it doesn’t appear that fire, as we know it, would affect Satan and his angels, Jesus apparently was using fire in Matthew 25 symbolically of the abolishment of Satan and his angels. Jesus was saying Satan would be made ineffective, powerless, inactive, inoperative and overthrown as this is what the Greek words rendered “destroy” in Hebrews and 1st John mean.

        It must be kept in mind that the narrative of Matthew 24 and 25 has to do with events that were shortly to come to past, namely the return of Christ in judgment against first century Israel which resulted in the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem.  The sheep and goats metaphor pertained to that event and only that event.  The righteous are seen as being received into the Kingdom and the wicked are seen as being told to depart from Jesus into eternal fire which appears to be a metaphor for being denied entrance into the Kingdom.  

       In Matthew 25:30, Jesus spoke of the wicked servant being thrown into the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Was there to be a literal weeping and gnashing of teeth or is this illustrative of the spiritual pain experienced by those on the outside looking in?  Jesus uses this same expression in association with the wicked being thrown into a fiery furnace

       Matthew 13:40-42: "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

       It should be evident that being thrown into a fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth is figurative language used to describe the anguish of those who failed to acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah to Israel. To be thrown into a literal fiery furnace would mean immediate death with no time to weep or gnash teeth.  

       Notice that this is to occur when Christ comes with His angels at the end of the age. As covered in depth in my series on the return of Christ, the end of the age spoken of throughout the NT is the end of the Old Covenant age that occurred when Christ returned in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in AD 70.  Therefore, this is a past event.  

The self mutilation passages:

       What about the self mutilation passages found in Matthew and Mark?  Here we see Jesus speaking about cutting off body parts to avoid being cast into eternal fire.

       Matthew 18:8-9: If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal (Greek aion) fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell (Greek Gehenna).

       Mark 9:43-48: If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell (Gehenna), where the fire never goes out.  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell (Gehenna). And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell (Gehenna), where "`their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

       Is Jesus recommending self mutilation here to avoid the eternal fire of a place called hell?  Is Jesus really saying one can enter into life maimed?  We have already seen that when aion is used in connection with the death of the wicked it does not mean an eternal period of time.  What about the fire of hell?

The Greek Gehenna:      

       The Greek word Gehenna appears twelve times in the NT and is generally translated as "hell" in English Bibles.  Gehenna is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, which literally refers to the Valley of Hinnom known in Hebrew as Gai Ben-Hinnom which literally means the Valley of Hinnom's son. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Gai Ben-Hinnom was a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem.  This valley is located below the southern wall of Jerusalem. It stretches from the foot of Mount Zion eastward to the Kidron valley.  In ancient times children were sacrificed to the pagan god Molech in Gehenna, a practice that was outlawed by King Josiah (See 2 Kings, 23:10).       

       In a prophecy of a coming destruction upon the nation of Judah by the nation of Babylon, Jeremiah quotes God as saying “They have built the high places of Topheth (Topheth means “place of fire”) in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire--something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away” (Jeremiah 7:31-33). In Jeremiah chapter 19 this pronouncement is repeated in even more graphic terms.

       As is true of the book of Jeremiah, much of the book of Isaiah is about the Babylonian destruction of Judah which included the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah prophecies a restoration of Judah and ends his prophecy by observing that those who return to Jerusalem will “go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind" (Isaiah 66:24).

     It is commonly believed that over time, Gehenna became a dump where garbage, dead bodies of criminals and carcasses of dead animals and general debris was burned. It is believed it was still being used in this manner during the time of Christ and that is why Jesus used it to describe the fate of the wicked. However, there is no Biblical, secular or archeological evidence that this is how Gehenna was being used subsequent to its use as seen in the OT. Today this area is a residential area south of the old city of Jerusalem.  When I was in Israel some years ago, I walked around in Gehenna.  You might say I spent some time in hell.

       That Gehenna was being used as a constantly burning garbage dump during the time of Jesus is open to question.  However, it is evident Jesus used Gehenna to illustrate that there are negative consequences associated with behavior contrary to righteousness. He very likely used Gehenna in this manner because of its association with the punishment of the wicked as seen in Jeremiah and Isaiah.

       Since Gehenna is seen as the burial place of those killed during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus may very well have seen Gehenna as the burial place for those who would be killed in the coming destruction of Jerusalem in His day. First century Jewish historian Josephus describes how during the Roman siege of Jerusalem, corpses were thrown over the walls into the encircling valleys because there was no longer room to bury them in the city (Josephus: War 5.12.3).       

       Nowhere, however, is Gehenna pictured as a place of eternal torment for the wicked dead.  The very imagery of Gehenna is of a place where things are burned up and no longer exist.  Even if Jesus did mean for Gehenna to represent a literal place of punishment of the wicked dead, it would have to be a place where such dead are burned up and cease to exist in order to be consistent with the activity associated with the literal Valley of Hinnom. 

       Therefore, to see Gehenna as a literal place of continuing punishment for the unrighteous dead is very problematical. Jesus appears to be using Gehenna to highlight the negative consequences associated with sinful behavior as he uses the imagery of self mutilation to emphasis the need to strive hard to behave righteously.    

       Matthew 23:15: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell (Gehenna) as you are.  

       Here we see Jesus using Gehenna in a pejorative sense to expose the religious leaders of His day who were misleading converts to Judaism into behaviors contrary to righteousness.  This is another example of Jesus using the well know garbage dump outside of Jerusalem to signify that bad behavior leads to bad consequences.     

       It should be apparent that when Jesus speaks of Gehenna, he is using apocalyptic/hyperbolic language to get a point across.  Jesus used the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem to signify the ungodly will be punished.

       In the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21) Jesus describes the coming destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in apocalyptic/hyperbolic terms. He speaks of the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light and stars falling from the sky. Similar language is used in the vision of this same event that Jesus gave to John in the Revelation. Peter uses similar language in describing what will occur just prior to the return of Christ which Peter saw as occurring in his generation (Acts 2).  

       There is a lot in the NT about fleeing the wrath to come. John the Baptist spoke of fleeing from the wrath to come (Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7).  He was speaking of a coming judgment where those who didn’t repent of their evil ways would be thrown into unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17). John's use of the term unquenchable fire appears to be a reference to Gehenna as Jesus uses the same Greek word to describe the  fire of Gehenna (Mark 9:43-48). Like Jesus’ use of Gehenna fire as a place of punishment, John also used Gehenna to signify the coming wrath upon the wicked.

       In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaks of wrath upon the people and then appears to define the nature of this wrath. “There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:23-24).  Here the coming wrath is seen as falling by the sword and being taken prisoner.  

       We see throughout the NT narrative references to a coming wrath upon those who persisted in behaving contrary to righteousness. This coming wrath is not some wrath that was to occur thousands of years into the future but a wrath that was to occur in the generation of those hearing the warnings about this wrath.  Here is what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

       Romans 2:5-8: But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God "will give to each person according to what he has done."To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

       In a letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote that because of a failure to put to death behaviors associated with the sinful nature, "the wrath of God was coming" (Colossians 3:6).

      In Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians he speaks of how they were waiting for Jesus to return "who rescues us from the coming wrath" (1st Thessalonians 1:10).  This wrath is seen as being directed against those who were persecuting the Thessalonian Christians. Paul says “the wrath of God has come upon them at last” (1st Thessalonians 2:16).  In his second letter to the Thessalonians Paul says this:

       2nd Thessalonians 1:6-9: God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.

       Paul is here dealing with the anticipated first century return of Christ in judgment upon those who rejected the gospel message and were persecuting those who accepted the gospel message. Speaking of their everlasting destruction appears to be the same kind of apocalyptic/hyperbolic language used by John the Baptist and Jesus in describing the consequences associated with their listeners rejecting the gospel message. 

       The Revelation given to John, which pertains to the coming of Christ in judgment upon first century Israel, speaks of the wrath of God and Christ ten different times. In Revelation 6:16-17 we see men calling on the mountains and the rocks to fall on them to hide them from "the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" Revelation 11:11 speaks of God's wrath having come. In Revelation 16:19 God is seen as pouring out the fury of his wrath on Babylon which is actually first century Jerusalem (See my series "When Does Christ Return" for a discussion of this issue).

       In reading through the NT narrative, it becomes apparent that the references found in the NT to punishment, destruction, perishing and being thrown into the fire have nothing to do with the eternal fate of mankind.  These pronouncements are instead tied to the anticipated wrath that was prophesied to be poured out upon first century Israel. This was a wrath that involved the physical destruction of the temple, the city of Jerusalem and the physical suffering, death and captivity of tens of thousands of Jews.

       The eternal fate of humanity is not in the judgment/punishment and wrath passages of the Scriptures we have reviewed but in the redemptive passages where it is established that the will of God is that all humanity be reconciled to Him.  That is the reason for the Christ event.  Jesus didn’t go through the agony of the crucifixion to save the relatively few individuals who supposedly are predestined to receive salvation or the relatively few who happen to recognize the significance of His sacrifice and choose to place faith in Him.  The Son of God was/is the Father’s agent to facilitate reconciliation and salvation for all of humanity as the Scriptures we have discussed in this series clearly show. 

Revelation 20:

       Some see Revelation 20 as negating universal salvation. Chapter 20 of the Revelation speaks of a great multitude of resurrected dead standing before a white throne where books are opened including a book called the “book of life.” It is recorded that “If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). It is assumed that those thrown into the lake of fire are either annihilated or suffer eternal torment. In either case, it is believed this makes the concept of universal salvation improbable. 

       If the lake of fire is a place of eternal conscious torment as some believe, those thrown into this fire would in essence have eternal life.  However, salvation is generally viewed as receiving eternal life in the heavenly realm.  So being consigned to a place of eternal conscious punishment would not be salvation as that word is usually defined.

The Book of revelation:

       It is generally believed the events described in the Revelation are yet to occur in our future at the time of a future to us return of Christ. However, while many scholars believe the Revelation was written somewhere in the 80’s to 90’s AD, there is strong evidence it was written prior to AD 70 and is a prophecy about events connected with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem by the Romans between approximately AD 66 and AD 73.  Therefore, The Revelation is about a past event, not a future event. For a comprehensive discussion of the dating of the Revelation, go to: Commentary on the revelation.

       The Revelation is bookended by statements showing that what was written was about to take place and included the return of Christ. For a comprehensive discussion of the timing of the return of Christ and all events associated with that return, go to: When Does Christ Return. That the Revelation is all about events that were about to occur at the time this prophecy was written is evident from the narrative itself.   

       Revelation 1:1-3: The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

       Revelation 22:6: The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place."

       Revelation 22:7:  "Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book."

      Revelation 22:10: Then he told me, "Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near.

      Revelation 22:12:  "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.

      Revelation 22:20: He who testifies to these says, "Yes, I am coming soon."

       These statements as to the timing of the events described in the Revelation coordinate well with the multiple dozens of statements made by Jesus, Paul, Peter and other NT writers showing the return of Christ and all related events were about to occur in their generation. I again refer you to my series on the return of Christ.      

       If indeed the Book of Revelation is all about events associated with the return of Christ and the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem around AD 70, Revelation 20 must be looked at as pertaining to that time as well.  Therefore, like the rest of the events described in the Revelation, the events described in chapter 20 occurred nearly 2000 years ago.

       The Revelation is filled with a great deal of metaphorical, figurative and symbolic language.  The challenge in reading the Revelation is to determine what is to be taken literally and what is to be understood as metaphorical, figurative or symbolic. The challenge is to determine what is to be understood as pertaining to temporal things and what is to be understood as pertaining to eternal things.    

       For example, Revelation 21 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, replacing the first heaven and the first earth which had passed away. There no longer is any sea. The writer speaks of seeing a Holy City called the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and describes this city as shinning with the glory of God and having brilliance that was like that of a very precious jewel. This city is shown as having a great high wall with twelve gates and with twelve angels at the gates.

       Has the physical heaven and earth passed away? Has the sea disappeared? Do we see a city called the New Jerusalem presently on planet earth with the characteristics described in Revelation 21?  Obviously this is not the case.  As discussed in my series on the return of Christ, it is apparent that what we see here in Revelation 21 is a highly metaphorical picture of movement from the Old Covenant system of death to the New Covenant system of life. Now let's return to chapter 20.

       In chapter 20 we see Satan being bound for a thousand years. We see that after a thousand years Satan is released and deceives the nations into doing battle against God’s people. We see beheaded souls brought back to life to reign with Christ for a thousand years. This is seen as the first resurrection. We see what is called "the lake of fire" identified as the second death. We see death and Hades being thrown into this lake of fire. There is reference to an entity called the beast and the false prophet who are thrown into a lake of burning sulfur where they are tormented forever. Later on the devil is also thrown into this same lake to experience eternal torment.  Finally, we see dead people being judged as to what they did while in the flesh. Those whose names are not written in the book of life are thrown into the lake of fire.

       How much of this is literal? Is the thousand years literal?  What does it mean for Satan to be bound a thousand years?  Being thrown into the lake of fire is seen as the second death. Death and Hades are seen as thrown into this lake of fire which is seen as the second death. What does that mean?  Who are the nations that gather to do battle against God’s people? Are the devil, the beast and the false prophet literally thrown into a lake of burning sulfur and tormented for all eternity?  If this is true for them, is it also true for all those whose names are not written in the book of life who are thrown into the lake of fire?  Is the lake of fire a literal place or is this symbolic of something else?

       We know from the NT narrative that a coming wrath was about to fall upon first century Israel. The NT narrative speaks often about this coming wrath. This wrath would be administered by the risen Christ through the vehicle of the Roman armies. It would be a condemnation of first century Israel for their failure to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and their wicked behavior in general.  It would also be a time of resurrection and judgement of all who had died throughout history to that point in time as indicated in Revelation 11:18. Daniel 12 appears to describe the same event. 

       Revelation 11:18: The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great-- and for destroying those who destroy the earth."

      Daniel 12:1-2:  "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

       Multiple millions of people (maybe billions) had lived and died prior to the Christ event. They are seen as sleeping in the dust of the earth which is to say they were dead in their graves awaiting resurrection. They would have remained in their graves if Jesus had not paid the death penalty and been resurrected to life. It was the resurrection of Jesus that made it possible for these dead humans to be resurrected to life.

       It should be noted that their resurrection to life was not dependent on their acknowledging the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was not dependent on their repentance or they being baptized. These folks had all died before the Christ event. They are now made alive, not because of anything they did or didn’t do but because God in His mercy facilitated the forgiveness of the eternal death penalty through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  These folks would have remained dead forever if Jesus had had not been resurrected to life after being dead.

       Resurrection to life equates with the granting of salvation. To be saved is to be rescued from eternal death. This is an unmerited gift of God based on His mercy and not on anything we do or don’t do. This gift is seen as given to all humans as covered in Part One of this series.

       The folks who had died prior to the Christ event were not resurrected to life because of anything they did or didn’t do. They were resurrected to life because of the resurrection of Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus has abolished eternal death for all mankind.  The result is salvation for all of mankind. Salvation is simply the forgiveness of the eternal death penalty for sin resulting in the granting of eternal life in its place. 

       The salvation of mankind is not based on our righteousness. It is based on the righteousness of Christ. However our righteousness or lack thereof will be judged and we will be granted reward or punishment commensurate with our behavior.  Our being judged is not to determine salvation but to determine reward or punishment based on our works while in the flesh.

        In Revelation 20:10 the devil is seen as being thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown and they are seen as being tormented day and night forever and ever.  Being tormented with burning sulfur is a common theme in the Revelation and the OT as well.

       Revelation 9:17-18: The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of their mouths.

       Revelation 14:9-10: A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.

       Revelation 19:21: But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

      Revelation 21:8: But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

        Psalm 11:5-6: The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked  and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.

       Ezekiel 38:21-22: I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign LORD. Every man's sword will be against his brother.  I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.

       All the above passages indicate that physically alive humans are being tormented and killed with burning sulfur. At the time of the Revelation, are these the folks who are experiencing the wrath to come spoken of throughout the NT?  Revelation 20 shows that the dead are resurrected, judged and if their names are not found written in the book of life they are thrown into the lake of fire. Nothing is said as to what happens to these folks.

       Does the lake of fire annihilate them?  Are they eternally tormented in this lake of fire?  Is this the same lake of fire where the devil, beast and false prophet are thrown? The devil, beast and false prophet  are seen as being eternally tormented in a lake of burning sulfur (Revelation 20:10). Does this mean those not found written in the book of life are eternally tormented as appears to be the case with the devil, beast and false prophet?

       As covered in Part One of this series, all humans are made alive after biological death and are judged as to how they behaved while in the flesh.  Such judgement is seen as determining level of reward or lack thereof and it would be reasonable to believe such judgement also determines punishment for unrighteous behavior while in the flesh. As discussed in Part One of this series, receiving deliverance from eternal death because of the Christ event does not mean we are not held accountable for our behavior while in the flesh.

       The fact all humans are seen as being judged subsequent to biologically dying tells us two things. It tells us all humans will be resurrected to life so that they can face judgement and the fact they will face judgement tells us all humans will be held accountable for their behavior in the flesh.

       Romans 14:9, 10b-12: For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.  For we will all stand before God's judgment seat.  It is written: "`As surely as I live,' says the Lord, `every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 

       As previously discussed, punishment is often seen as temporal in the Scriptures. This being the case, we need to be careful in concluding that Revelation 20 is revealing the permanent destruction of the wicked or they being eternally punished.  While resurrection and judgement of all those who had previously died appears to be included in the events of Revelation 20, it is also apparent that the Revelation as a whole is about the wrath to come upon those living at the time the Revelation was written.

       This being the case, the punishment seen administered throughout the Revelation, including chapter 20, would appear to be largely directed against those living at the time the Revelation was written. Since much of this punishment is described in metaphoric and symbolic language, being thrown into the lake of fire may be symbolic as well.

       While being thrown into a lake of fire certainly congers up images of a very painful punishment, it may be only symbolic of the administration of a punishment but not necessarily the type of punishment envisioned by literal fire. Except for the devil, beast and false prophet, we are not told what happens to those thrown into the lake of fire. Are they destroyed, tormented forever, or receive a punishment commensurate with sins committed while in the flesh?

       Because of the highly metaphoric, figurative and symbolic language used throughout the Revelation, I feel it quite inappropriate to use Revelation 20 or any other narrative in Revelation to draw definitive conclusions as to the fate of the dead. On the other hand, I believe we can draw definitive conclusions as to the fate of the dead from the passages of Scripture quoted and discussed in Part One of this series.

       From these passages of Scripture it should be clear that all humans will be resurrected to life and face Judgement. It should also be clear that this is a resurrection to immortal life, a kind of life that was made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus who is seen as destroying death and replacing it with immortal life.  

      2 Timothy 1:9-11: who (God) has saved us and called us to a holy life--not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

      It should be apparent from the many Scriptures quoted and discussed in part one of this series that Jesus has destroyed death for all of humanity and not just for some of humanity as apparently believed by those who teach some are predestined to be saved and others are predestined not to be saved. The only thing predestinated relative to the granting of salvation is that through the grace of God, established "before the beginning of time," Christ Jesus has destroyed death and replaced it with immortal life.

       Paul clearly wrote, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1st Corinthians 15:22).  In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul wrote that "one (Christ) died for all, and therefore all died” (2nd Corinthians 5:14). In the death of Jesus is the death of all humanity. In the resurrection of Jesus is the resurrection of all humanity.  As cited above, Paul wrote to the Corinthians that all are included in the death of Christ. To Timothy he writes "If we died with him, we will also live with him" (2 Timothy 2:11). How do we live with Him?  The resurrection of Jesus was to immortal life. To live with Christ is to live as he lives which is to live eternally. If indeed all humanity died in Christ, all humanity will be made alive in Christ.

       In Part Three of this series we will continue to evaluate the objections to universal salvation.      

PART THREE