The Universalism of the Bible Should Not Be Institutionalized
Those who believe in universalism of the Biblical variety, generally do not want to build a denomination around the teaching. It belongs to everyone. There are those who believe in the salvation of all mankind in every denomination of Christianity. They do not verbalize it because of the persecution they might receive. But surveys of Christians in main-line denominations prove many of them do NOT believe in Hell even though the teaching of Hell is part of their denomination’s teachings.
In summary, the Universalism one finds in Tentmaker material, is a universalism that comes right out of the mouths of the Hebrew prophets; it is a universalism that came out of the mouth of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth; it is a universalism that the apostles of Christ established as a foundational teaching in the first century AD; and it is the universalism taught by the early church fathers for the first few centuries of the Common Era. True, by about the time of Augustine, this glorious teaching sank into the sands, which I believe pushed the Western world into the Dark Ages. During that time, those who embraced the Universal Restitution of all things were killed for their beliefs and many of their writings were burned. That is why we find much literature supporting universal salvation in the early church fathers’ writings but not much from about the fifth century to the time of the Reformation.
But since the Reformation, there have been thousands of books, booklets, tracts, etc written by Christians who support the teaching of Universal Restoration through Scriptures. This teaching will NOT sink into the sands of time again. This teaching will grow and expand even as the knowledge of the Lord begins to cover the whole earth. The glory of Universal Salvation is part of the knowledge that will set creation free from its bondage to corruption.
Christians throughout Church History have used the following Scriptures to support their belief that Universalism is taught in the Bible-- that is, in its Hebrew and Greek form.
Luke 19:10: "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." The question is this: Will Jesus Christ really do what He said He came here to do? He didn't say He came to save some of the lost. He came to save the lost. And that is everybody! Apart from Christ, we are all lost, but He came to seek for us until He finds us (Luke 15:4).
Luke 3:6: "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." This verse is probably taken from Isaiah 40:5, which says, "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." Surely these verses point in the direction of universal salvation. Matthew 5:8: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
Luke 6:27-36: “But I [Jesus] say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungratefujl and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
If you are a Christian, you have probably read this passage many times to discover what kind of lifestyle Jesus expects from you. Have you ever thought of reading it as a description of God? Look at it in that light. Jesus says in the end that if you do these things, you will be like your Father, "for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil" and "your Father is merciful." Remember also that He is unchanging. If God's attitude toward sinners now is love and mercy, it will always be. Could the loving God described above really be happy knowing that even one of His children created in His image is suffering unspeakable anguish in hell forever?
Matthew 12:29: "How can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house." Luke 11:21-22: "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil." In these verses, the strong man is Satan, the stronger man is Christ, and the plunder or spoil is mankind. Jesus defeated Satan on the cross and He will eventually carry all of the spoils of that victory to be with Him. If anyone is eternally lost, Jesus' victory was only partial. In the NLT, Luke 11:22 is translated, "Until someone who is stronger attacks and overpowers him, strips him of his weapons, and carries off his belongings." Jesus won the right on the cross to strip Satan of all his belongings, and He will!
Luke 15:4: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?" Forgive me for coming back to this passage, but it is one of my favorites. To me it is so clear. If the average shepherd would keep on looking for one lost sheep and not give up until he finds it, surely our Lord will be no less persistent in seeking out every last one of His sheep, not just until they die, but until He finds them and brings them back safely to His fold. Praise His name forever! By asking, "What man of you...," Jesus gives clear sanction to the right to argue from those feelings shared even by the outcast and sinful, to the divine feelings as I have done in chapter 2. It is obvious that that is exactly what Jesus is doing here in this passage. It is as if He said, "If a shepherd won't give up until he finds one lost sheep, how much more will God refuse to give up on His children!"
John 1:6-7: "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him." That ALL might believe! That is God's stated reason for sending John, and that is His reason for all of His dealings with mankind. Dare we say that God will fail to accom¬plish His goal in sending John and all of the other prophets, and His only begotten Son?
John 1:29: "The next day he [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, `Behold, the Lamb of God, who is going to try to take away the sin of the world!"' Is that what it says? No! Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" The sin of the whole world, not just a part of it. Will He do it? Does He work "all things according to the counsel of his will?" (Ephesians 1:11).
John 3:17: "God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." Again, why would God, who is all knowing, send Jesus to save the world if He knew beforehand that most of the world would not be saved? That doesn't make sense. God sent Jesus to save the world because He knew His Son would accomplish exactly what He sent Him to do.
John 3:35, 6:37-39: "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day." The false belief that salvation must take place before physical death necessi¬tates explaining away even the clearest scriptures. If you believe that punishment after death is temporary and remedial, as I hope to show when we get to our study of the Greek words translated "eternal" and "everlasting," the above verses are crystal clear. The Father has promised the Son that everyone will eventually come to Him. He has given them to Him. Their destiny as redeemed children of God is sure!
John 6:33: "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Notice He doesn't offer life to the world-He gives it! I am not saying faith and repentance are unnecessary. I am saying that verses like Philippians 2:10 about every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God look forward to a time when everyone who has ever been born has come to faith and repentance.
John 12:32: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." We have already looked at this verse. Remember Jesus didn't say that He would draw a select group called "The Elect"! He doesn't say He will try to draw all people to Himself. He says He will do it! He says in the words of a poet:
So shall I lift up in My pierced hands beyond the reach of grief and guilt, the whole creation. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Matthew 11:27: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and ANYONE to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." This verse says as clearly as it possibly can that the only thing necessary for anyone to know God is for Jesus to choose to reveal Him to them. Why would Jesus choose not to reveal the Father to anyone for whom He died?
In what has become known as the High Priestly Prayer, just before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus says in John 17:1-3: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over ALL flesh, to give eternal life to ALL whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." Who has the Father given to Jesus? All flesh. Or as John 3:35 says, "all things," or as John 12:32 says, "all people," the salvation of every person has been predestined from before the foundation of the world. The Father has given ALL mankind to Jesus, and He will draw them ALL to Himself in His time.
John 19:30: "When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, `It is finished."' J.C. Ryle writes, "Our Lord meant that His great work of redemption was finished. He had as Daniel foretold, `finished transgression, made an end of sin, made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness' (Daniel 9:24). After thirty-three years, since the day when He was born in Bethlehem, He had done all, paid all, performed all, suffered all that was needful to save sinners and satisfy the justice of God. He had fought the battle and won it, and in two days He would give proof of it by rising again."
If the salvation of all men was not secured on the cross but only made available, it would have been far from finished. The battle would have just begun. The hard part would have been getting people to receive the salvation made available to them. People do need to receive it, but Jesus died knowing that they all eventually will because the Father had given them all to Him. It is finished! 1 John 2:2: "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
So much for limited atonement! Jesus made atonement for the sins of the whole world. Would He who knows all things, who knows the beginning from the end, die for anyone unless He knew His death would have the desired effect of reconciling all people to God?
1 John 3:5: "You know that he [Jesus] appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin." Did Jesus really come just to take sin to hell and leave it there like a toxic waste dump, or did He come to annihilate it? Our next verse answers that question.
1 John 3:8: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil." What is sin? The works of the devil. Jesus came not to keep sin in hell forever but to destroy it. That is why 2 Peter 3:13 says, "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." Some day the entire universe will be completely devoid of sin, and God will be all in all! There won't be a place called hell that is full of sin forever, because according to Revelation 20:14, "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire," presumably for destruction.
1 John 4:14: "And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the few who receive him in life, and to throw the rest into everlasting torment." Is that what it says? No, it says, "The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world." Will He succeed, or will He fail?
Revelation 1:18: "I [Jesus] have the keys of Death and Hades." How can death eternally separate anyone from Christ when He has the keys of Death and Hades and He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance?
Revelation 5:13: "And I [John] heard EVERY creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and ALL that is in them, saying, `To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"' How can people be left in hell weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth if they are ALL gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, worshipping them and ascribing to them bless¬ing and honor and glory?
Ephesians 1:9-10: God's "purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time," is to "unite ALL things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." What other meaning could these verses possibly have than the clear meaning that is right there? In the fullness of time, ALL things ("all people," according to the context) will be united in Christ and God will be all in all! That is why Paul talks in verse 12 about "we who were the first to hope in Christ." We who are believers now are the firstfruits. The rest will follow in due time.
Acts 3:21 (NLT): Jesus "must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of ALL things, as God promised long ago through the prophets." Again, what else could this refer to but the complete restoration of every child of God created in His image to a right relationship with Him?
Acts 24:14-15: "I [Paul] worship the God of our fathers, believ¬ing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets, having a hope in God ... that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust." This is the same man who said in Romans 9:3: "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers." Would he hope for the resurrection of the unjust knowing that they were being raised only to be thrown body and soul into a place of torment forever?
We have been looking mostly at the Gospels and Acts. Now we turn to the letters of Paul. We will find in them the stream of promise still widening, the universal nature of redemption indicated with a precision of language and a variety of illustrations that seem impossible to reconcile with endless evil. I don't mean that every passage quoted is in itself conclusive. I do mean that all are rele¬vant, as links in the great chain of promise, which taken together make a very strong case for universal restoration, which brings up an important question: If we are to believe in endless evil and endless suffering, how can we account for such passages that, taken in their natural meaning, obviously point to the wider hope?
That the Bible holds out the hope of universal restoration and reconciliation cannot be denied (Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:20). If this will never take place, why is it in the Bible? Why does the Bible raise expectations that will never be fulfilled?
Paul's writings deserve special notice. His writings are the clos¬est thing to a systematic theology in the Bible ranging over the whole field of the divine purpose and human destiny. I want to draw your attention to two points:
1. Not only does Paul assert the sovereignty of God, but it also lies at the center of his teaching. He sees everywhere a purpose slowly but surely fulfilling itself, a purpose that can be resisted but not defeated.
2. He gives striking prominence to the resurrection as a spiri¬tual and redemptive force. It is the climax of Christ's work for man.
In Romans 4:13, he says that God promised "Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world." God chose Abraham not for Abraham's sake only, but also that he might inherit the world. This is a spiritual inheritance, not physical. In verse 17, Paul cites Genesis 17:5: "As it is written, `I have made you the father of many nations."'
Romans 5:18: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for ALL men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for ALL men." This passage couldn't be more explicit. Everyone who was condemned by Adam's sin will be justified by Christ's death. If the word "ALL" means "all mankind" in the first part of the verse, it means "all mankind" in the second part. I highly recommend studying the entire passage (Romans 5:12-21) without a commen¬tary. Commentators will just try to explain away the clear teaching of this passage, which is that grace is always stronger than sin.
Romans 5:15: "If many [everyone] died through one man's [Adam's] trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift [salvation] by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many [everyone]." This verse is another example of those who believe in eternal hell changing the meaning of a word in the same sentence. In the first part of the verse, they say the word "many" refers to all men because Adam's trespass brought death on all mankind, but when Paul uses the same word in the second half of the same sentence, they say it refers only to those who are born again before they die, because they refuse to believe that God's grace will reach every man. Paul clearly says in this verse that the grace of God and the free gift of salvation abounds for everyone!
Romans 11:11-31: “So I ask, did they [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their fore¬fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irre¬vocable. Just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.
Study this passage carefully and prayerfully and see how God, the Master Strategist, is working everything together toward a goal that cannot fail! What is that goal? The next verse tells us. Romans 11:32: "For God has consigned ALL to disobedience, that he may have mercy on ALL." God chooses this person or nation and hardens that person or nation not to save a select group called "the elect" as Calvinists would have us believe, but so that "he may have mercy on all."
Romans 11:36: "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." Look at each part of this declaration one at a time. "For from him ... are all things." This obviously means that all things have their origin in Him. He created every thing. "Through him ... are all things" Everything is sustained by Him. "To him are all things." As all things had their origin in Him, so they will return to Him. To Him be glory forever!! Amen!
Romans 14:11: "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." The margin of the ESV says, "Or shall give praise." The NASB translates it: "Every tongue shall give praise to God." The CEV: "Everyone will kneel down and praise my name!" The words are self-explanatory. Everyone will praise God!
1 Corinthians 15:22: "As in Adam ALL die, so also in Christ shall ALL be made alive." The Message translates it: "Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ." Again I would ask you, Does it really make sense to take the first "all" to mean everyone and confine the second "all" to those who die in Christ? It is obvious that Paul has the same group in mind in both halves of the verse.
1 Corinthians 15:22-28: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "all things are put in subjection," it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
At the end, there is no place for sin, evil, or hell, for God is all in all! If God has to cast some people into everlasting hell, it means that He was unable to get them to submit themselves to Him. They won't be submitting themselves to Him in hell; they will be hating Him and cursing Him for all eternity. What kind of subjection is that? All will willingly subject themselves to Jesus and to God the Father after He has purged them of all sin and rebellion. The same word is used of Christ's subjection to the Father, and of the subjection of Christ's enemies to Him. Obviously Christ's subjection to the Father is out of love. How can endless evil and torment be described as subjection to Jesus? Such an interpretation is excluded by the last statement in this passage: "that God may be all in all"!
1 Corinthians 15:55: "0 death, where is your victory? 0 death, where is your sting?" If the majority of mankind will go to everlast¬ing hell after death, it would seem that death will have won a gigan¬tic victory! I urge you to study this entire section of scripture (1 Corinthians 15:12-58) and notice Paul's increasing rapture as his argument expands, as the prospect opens up to him of a universe yet to be, from which all sin and death are wiped out. Paul's words give only an imperfect expression of the absolute triumph of Christ, of the flood of glory that will fill the universe in the widest possible sense. God will be all in all!
2 Corinthians 5:19: "In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself." Note that it doesn't say God was trying to reconcile the world to Himself. He was doing it! Study this whole passage carefully (2 Corinthians 5:11-21). God's reconciliation of the world to Himself is an accomplished fact. When we tell others about Christ, we are just telling them to embrace what has already been accomplished. And if they don't do it in this life, they will in the life to come when EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God!
Ephesians 1:9-10: "His purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time," is "to unite ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." If all things in heaven and earth are to be united in Christ, how is there any possibility of an endless hell or a creation permanently divided?
Ephesians 1:22-23: "And he [the Father] put all things under his [Jesus'] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." The Greek verb used here for all things being under Christ's feet is used in 1 Corinthians 15:28, referring to the subjection of Christ to the Father. As we saw in looking at that verse, Christ's subjection of Himself to the Father is willing submission out of His love for the Father. That is the same submission Jesus will someday have from "all things." Notice the last phrase of verse 23: "the fullness of him who fills all in all." God fills everything in every way. The idea of a place exist¬ing for all eternity where people are forever shut out from the pres¬ence of God doesn't fit in a universe where God fills all in all.
Ephesians 4:8: "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." Who are these captives? Luke 11:22, which we have already looked at, tells us. When Christ, the stronger man, broke into the strong man's (Satan's) house, he carried away all his belongings. 1 Peter 3:19, 4:6 tells us that Christ went and proclaimed the gospel to the spirits in prison (Hades) that they might live in the Spirit as God does.
Ephesians 4:10: "He who descended is the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things." As we saw in looking at Ephesians 1:23, if Christ fills all things, how can there be an everlasting hell where people are forever shut out from the presence of Christ? The doctrine of eternal hell totally contradicts so many verses of scripture. The day is coming when God will completely eradicate sin from existence, not just keep it tucked away in a dark corner of the universe called hell forever!
Colossians 1:19-20: Through Christ "God was pleased ... to reconcile to himself ALL things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." If God's goal in sending Christ was to reconcile everything to Himself, nothing can thwart that goal because He "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11).
Philippians 2:10-11: "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Don't let that word "should" throw you. The NASB, NLT, NCV, CEV, The Message, and other translations all say "will." The key phrase is "to the glory of God."
If people are just bowing outwardly out of fear or awe while their hearts remain unbowed, that doesn't glorify God. Some day, every creature everywhere will willingly bow in worship and adoration as it says so clearly in our next verse, Revelation 5:13: "And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, `To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!"' This is so obviously genuine worship! Would God who loves all mankind really cast anyone into everlasting torment who worships Him like this? Obviously John is looking past the judgment to a time when everyone everywhere has at last been reconciled to God and God is all in all! Hallelujah!!
In my church we sing a song called "Ancient of Days," which quotes this verse almost verbatim. It goes, "Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto Him who sits on the throne. From every nation all of creation bows before the Ancient of Days. Every tongue in heaven and earth shall declare your glory. Every knee shall bow at your throne in worship." Too bad I seem to be the only one in my church who believes the words as they're being sung.
Philippians 3:20-21: "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself." The way that the subjection of all things to Christ is to be understood is clear from the context, "who will transform our body to be like his glorious body." No believer doubts that Christ is able to subdue all things to Himself, but this passage shows decisively what that means. It is making them like Himself, not casting them into everlasting torment!
1 Timothy 2:3-6: "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time." There are basically three ways this passage can be interpreted:
1. The Arminian-God desires all people to be saved. He gave His only Begotten Son to save everyone. But He can't save anyone except those who are willing to be saved.
2. The Calvinist-God has two wills that "appear" to contra¬dict each other-His revealed will and His secret will. Even though His expressed will is for all people to be saved, He really doesn't want anyone to be saved except for the elect whom He chose before the foundation of the world, and whom He effectually calls to Himself. They call this "appar¬ent" contradiction a paradox or an antinomy. But if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. In other words, if it looks like a contradiction and sounds like a contradiction, it probably is.
3. The Universalist-God wants all men to be saved. He sent Jesus to die for all men. God is sovereign. Therefore all will eventually be saved.
Unfortunately these are not straw men. I have heard and read each of these views from those who hold them. Which one sounds most plausible?
1 Timothy 4:10: "We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe." The meaning is so clear it's transparent! God IS the Savior of everyone! He is the Savior of believers now and He will save everyone else in due time.
2 Timothy 1:10: "Our Savior Christ Jesus ... abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Jesus has abolished death, and with death what it implies in scripture--sin and evil. Death abolished and death in its worst form, the second death, maintained forever, are plain contradictions.
Titus 2:11: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people." How is God's grace bringing salvation for all people consistent with the eternal damnation of anyone?
1 Peter 3:19: Christ "went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison." 1 Peter 4:6 tells us what was preached to them. Was it their eternal damnation? No, it was the Gospel. It says, "The gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
J.C. Ryle says, "Some theologians hold that, between His death and resurrection `He went and preached to the spirits in prison' (1 Peter 3:19) and proclaimed the accomplishment of His work of atonement." Although he himself considered this "doubtful," he says this view was held by Athanasius, Ambrose, Zwingle, Calvin, Erasmus, Calovius, and Alford. This is the most natural way to interpret these verses if you don't have to try to prove the unbiblical teaching that all chance for salvation ends at death.
2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord is ... not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." The NIV translates it: "The Lord is ... not wanting anyone to perish." If the Lord does not want anyone to perish, we can rest assured no one will. We have already shown in chapter 2 that God is able to change people's hearts and make them willing to come to Him even if they come "kicking, struggling, and resentful" as C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it in his testimony.
Hebrews 1:2: "He [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things." What sort of things do you suppose Jesus Christ is interested in inheriting? Mankind!
Psalm 2:7-8: "The Lord said to me, `You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession."' This verse is used in missions textbooks all the time. God has promised to give His Son all the nations as His inheritance, and He will do it!
Hebrews 2:5-9: “Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left NOTHING outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for EVERYONE.”
Here is one more passage to add to the many that speak of Christ's kingdom being destined to extend over all things. I have already shown that subjection to Christ means not the subjugation of slaves, but perfect harmony and peace in the New Testament. The subjection of mankind will be like Christ's subjection to the Father, done out of love. (See notes on Philippians 3:21 and 1 Corinthians 15:25.) Christ has tasted death for everyone! Therefore all will be saved in due time.
Hebrews 2:14-15: "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver ALL those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery." If Jesus' death destroyed the devil as to his having the power of death, how can death continue forever in hell? If Christ's death delivers ALL from the fear of death, how can eternal death be waiting for anyone?
Hebrews 6:17 (NIV): "Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath." We see God's unchanging purpose clearly in 2 Peter 3:9 where it says that God is not willing for anyone to perish. The word translated "willing" there is a vari¬ant of the word translated "purpose" in Hebrews 6:17.
If God's purpose or will is unchanging, and He is not willing that any should perish, we can be sure that God's purpose will come to pass in His time!
Hebrews 9:26: "He [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The NIV translates it, "To do away with sin." That is the question: Did Jesus come to completely do away with sin or just to safely contain it in hell forever? If sin exists forever, Christ's victory is incomplete, because He came to do away with it completely! Amen!
Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." The same Lord Jesus Christ that loved sinners when He was here in the flesh, who prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," that same Jesus will love sinners forever because He is unchanging!
A few words of caution must be added here. I hope I have made it clear that in teaching universal salvation, I have not tried to minimize sin, nor have I taught that sinners will be saved while still clinging to their sins. I believe that many people have terrible sufferings awaiting them after they leave this life-how long and how severe I leave up to a loving and just God. But I believe that God never punishes for punishment's sake. He always has the sinner's repentance and restoration in view, and in His wisdom He knows exactly what it will take in each case to bring about the desired results!
I am opposed to the popular creed partially because I believe that it in fact teaches men to make light of sin in two ways: first, because it teaches a plan of retribution that is so unjust as to make people secretly believe its penalties will never be inflicted; and next, because it asserts that God either will not, or cannot, overcome and destroy evil and sin, but will bear with them for ever and ever. I repeat that not a single word has been written in these pages that would indicate that God is just a "good of boy" who winks at sin and considers it a light matter when someone violates His holy law! God forbid that I should teach such shallow theology! It is in the light of Golgotha that we see sin as exceedingly sinful, so sinful that nothing less than the death of God incarnate could pay for it. But let us be careful, lest in thinking we are honoring the atonement we are actually dishonoring it by limiting its power to save by teaching that Christ failed in His mission as Savior of the world, making Him a liar. Because He never said, "If I am lifted up I will draw SOME men to myself," or "I will TRY to draw all men to myself," but, "I WILL draw ALL MEN to myself!"
PASSAGES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
GENESIS 12:3 In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (NKJV)
GENESIS 18:17, 18 And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? (KJV)
GENESIS 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (KVJ)
GENESIS 26:4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (KJV)
GENESIS 28:14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (KJV)
1 SAMUEL 2:6 The Lord kills and he gives life, he sends down to Sheol, he can bring the dead up again. (NEB)
2 SAMUEL 14:14 For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him. (NKJV)
JOB 5:17-18 Happy the man whom God rebukes! Therefore do not reject the discipline of the Almighty. For, though he wounds, he will bind up; the hands that smite will heal. (NEB)
PSALM 10:15 Break the power of wickedness and wrong; hunt out all wickedness until thou can't find no more. (NEB)
PSALM 13:5 I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. (NIV)
PSALM 16:10 You will not leave my soul in Sheol. (NKJV) ...abandon me to Sheol. (NEB)
PSALM 17:7 Show me how marvelous thy true love can be. (NEB)
PSALM 18:30 The way of God is perfect. (NEB)
PSALM 30:2-3 0 Lord my God, I cried to thee and thou didst heal me. 0 Lord, thou has brought me up from Sheol and saved my life as I was sinking into the abyss. (NEB) ...spared me from going down into the pit. (NIV)
PSALM 30:5 For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (NKJV)
PSALM 31:7 I put my trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in thy unfailing love. (NEB)
PSALM 40:4-5 Happy is the man who makes the Lord his trust ... Great things thou hast done, 0 Lord my God; thy wonderful purposes are all for our good. (NEB)
PSALM 49:15 But God will redeem my life [soul] from the grave [Sheol]; he will surely take me to himself. (NIV)
PSALM 66:10-12 For you, 0 God, have proved us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but You brought us out to rich fulfillment. (NKJV)
PSALM 68:18 When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train. (NIV)
PSALM 72:17-20 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended. (KJV)
PSALM 86:9 All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, 0 Lord; trey will bring glory to your name. (NIV)
PSALM 86:13 For thy true love stands high above me; thou hast rescued my soul from the depths of Sheol. (NEB)
PSALM 88:10-12 Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion? (NIV)
PSALM 100:5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues to all generations. (NIV)
PSALM 102:19-21 The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death. (NIV)
PSALM 103:8-14 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keen His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. (NKJV)
PSALM 103:22 Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. (NIV)
PSALM 107:43 Let the wise man lay these things to heart, and ponder the record of the Lord's enduring love. (NEB)
PSALM 116:3-8 The cords of death bend me, Sheol [Hell] held me in its grin. Anguish and torment held me fast; so I invoked the Lord by name. "Deliver me, 0 Lord, I beseech thee..." Gracious is the Lord and righteous, our God is full of compassion ...I was brought low and he saved me ... He has rescued me from death. (NEB)
PSALM 118:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. (NIV)
PSALM 119:71 How good it is for me to have been punished, to school me in thy statutes! (NEB)
PSALM 119:75 I know, 0 Lord, that thy decrees are just and even in punishing thou keepest faith with me. (NEB)
PSALM 138:8 The Lord will accomplish his purpose for me. Thy true love, 0 Lord, endures for ever, leave not thy work unfinished. (NEB)
PSALM 139:8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. (NIV)
PSALM 145:3-17 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.. .I will meditate on your wonderful works. They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. They will celebrate your abundant goodness ... The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All you have made will praise you, 0 Lord ... They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts...Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made. The Lord upholds all those who fall ... The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. (NIV)
ECCLESIASTES 3:14 Everything God does will endure forever. (NIV)
ISAIAH 1:25 I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. (NIV)
ISAIAH 14:24, 27 The Lord Almighty has sworn, "Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand"... For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? (NIV)
ISAIAH 26:9 When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. (NIV)
ISAIAH 46:9-10 I am God, there is no other, I am God, and there is no one like me; I reveal the end from the beginning, from ancient times I reveal what is to be: I say, "My purpose shall take effect, I will accomplish all that I please." (NEB)
ISAIAH 48:10 See, I have refined you ... I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (NIV)
ISAIAH 45:22-24 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, `In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. (NIV)
ISAIAH 54:7-8 "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you," says the Lord your Redeemer. (NIV)
ISAIAH 55:1, 3, 5, 8-11 "Come, all you who are thirsty ...I will make an everlasting covenant with you ... Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel ... For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourishes is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (NIV)
JEREMIAH 23:16-22 Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you ... They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord ... But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or hear his word? Who has listened to and heard his word? See, the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart. In days to come you will understand it clearly. I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood, in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people. (NIV)
JEREMIAH 30:24 See what a scorching wind has gone out from the Lord, a sweeping whirlwind. It whirls round the heads of the wicked; the Lord's anger is not to be turned aside, tit he has finished and achieved his heart's desire. In days to come you will understand. (NEB)
JEREMIAH 31:34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (NIV)
JEREMIAH 32:27, 32, 37, 40 I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? ...The people of Israel and Judas have provoked me by all the evil they have done ...I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furies anger and great wrath ...I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them. (NIV)
LAMENTATIONS 3:31-33 For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. (NIV) Though he may punish cruelly, yet he will have compassion in the fullness of his love; he does not willingly afflict or punish any mortal man. (NEB)
EZEKIEL 18:23 Have I any desire, says the Lord God, for the death of a wicked man? Will I not rather that he should mend his ways and live? (NEB)
EZEKIEL 33:11 As I live, says the Lord God, I have no desire for the death of the wicked. (NEB)
EZEKIEL 34:11-16, 30-31 For these are the words of the Lord God: Now I myself will ask after my sheep and go in search of them. As a shepherd goes in search of his sheep when his flock is dispersed all around him, so I will go in search of my sheep and rescue them, no matter where they were scattered ... I will bring them out from every nation, gather them in from other lands, and lead them home ...I will search for the lost ... They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they are my people Israel, says the Lord God. You are my flock, my people, the flock I feed, and I am your God. This is the very word of the Lord God. (NEB)
EZEKIEL 37:12 I will open your graves and bring you up from them, and restore you to the land of Israel. You shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them, 0 my people. (NEB)
HOSEA 6:1 Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us and will heal us, he has struck us and he will bind up our wounds. (NEB)
HOSEA 14:4, 9 I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them .... Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them. (NIV)
JOEL 2:28, 3:21 And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people ... Their bloodguilt which I have not pardoned, I will pardon. (NIV)
AMOS (selections up to ch. 9): I will send fire ...I will send fire … will send fire ... I will send fire ... I will send fire ... Seem the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the house of Joseph lime a fire ... the Lord will smash the great house into pieces ... I will spare my people Israel no longer ...The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer ... Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites ... I will destroy it from the face of the earthen that day I will restore David's fallen tent ... I will bring back my exiled people Israel. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted. (NIV)
MICAH 7:18-20 Who is a god like thee? Thou takest away guilt, thou passes over the sin of the remnant of thy own people, thou dost not let thy anger rage for ever but delightest in love that will not change. Once more thou wilt show us tender affection and wash out our guilt, casting all our sins into the depths of the sea. (NEB)
HABAKKUK 1:5 Loom ... and watch-and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you weld not believe, even if you were told. (NIV)
HABAKKUK 2:3 The revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. (NIV)
HABAKKUK 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. (NIV)
ZEPHANIAH 2:11 The Lord will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land. (NIV)
ZEPHANIAH 3:8-9, 15, 17, 19-20 I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them-all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder .... The Lord has taken away your punishment... he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love ... I will ... gather those who have been scattered ... At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. (NIV)
ZECHARIAH 13:9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. (NIV)
MALACHI 1:11 In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name. (NIV)
MALACHI 3:2-3 Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a laundress's soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver, he will purify the Levies and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness. (NIV)
MALACHI 3:6-7, 10 "I the Lord do not change. So you, 0 descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed ... Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord Almighty..."Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (NIV)
MALACHI 4:1-2 "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the Lord Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings." (NIV)
As we can see (if one has eyes to see), there are ample verses to prove that “Universalism IS in the Bible.” However, there are other passages of Scripture which appear to contradict the teaching of Universal Salvation. In the words of the famous Dr. C. Ryder Smith, a teacher of eschatology for twenty years, says in his book, The Bible Doctrine of the Hereafter (p. 258): "In an earlier chapter, it has been shown that the New Testament teaches everlasting punishment. On a review of the whole evidence, therefore, it follows that throughout that book there are two doctrines, which, to the human mind, are irreconcilable: The doctrine of universalism and the doctrine that there are those who will not be saved."