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Inheriting the Kingdom
Unitarian Universalism can mean that all religions are acceptable to God and they can provide different ways to God. Or it can mean that religion is not necessary. Christian Universalism is different. Christian universalism says the only way to God is through Jesus Christ, and that there is no other name by which a person can be saved. However, Christian Universalism says that eventually all people will be saved through Jesus Christ.
Some Christian Universalists deny the existence of hell. However, they generally do believe there can be a separation and/or punishment, for some period of time, for those who die without accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. They believe eventually each and every person will repent of their sins, accept Christ as Savior, and will go to heaven.
The Christian Universalist recognizes that no one can come to the Father unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). This draw is considered by many Universalists to be irresistible. For many, this occurs sometime after they have died. Other Universalists simply reason that nobody will refuse salvation when it’s offered the other side of the grave. The Universalist believes that it is God’s desire and will for everyone to be saved (Titus 2:4). The Universalist believes that God is foremost a God of love and mercy, and God will not fail to perfectly carry out His desire that everyone be saved.
It may surprise some to know that Universalists have some very strong Scriptural arguments. Christian Universalism cannot simply be associated with liberalism or the denial of the inerrancy of Scripture. In this appendix, we will look at these Scriptural arguments. Then we will see why these very good arguments do not require us to conclude that all people will be saved. Also, there is the issue of hell itself. If there is a punishment for the wicked, and if the wicked will eventually be saved, then the punishment cannot be eternal. Thus, Scriptural arguments about eternity will be examined. The Greek words involved will be discussed with emphasis on whether or not the punishment is eternal.
The viewpoint of this author is that those condemned to the lake of fire will never be reconciled with the Father. They will be tormented for some period of time, depending on their evil works. But eventually, their souls will be destroyed.
There are quite a few verses that can be interpreted as saying that everyone will be saved. Many of these verses do not have good explanations within the framework of traditional Calvinist or Arminian thinking. These are all verses that would be used by Universalists. Let’s take a look at them:
John 12:32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
The traditional Arminian would probably simply say that not all men would choose to accept this drawing. The traditional Calvinist, however, might have more problems with this verse (above) because the Calvinist says that God’s draw is irresistible. John 6:44 says no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him. John 6:44 is often used by Calvinists in the doctrine of irresistible grace. John 12:32 (above) uses the same Greek word for draw. Universalists apply the Calvinist argument to this verse as well, saying that irresistible grace will someday apply to all people, many of them after the grave.
Romans 11:32 ESV For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
In this verse (above), there is an undeniable parallelism between the all of those consigned to disobedience, and the all for whom God has mercy. If God has mercy on everybody, then would not everybody be saved? The Arminian would again say that God has mercy, but that not all would accept God’s mercy. But one can easily argue the case that God would show mercy on all by drawing all to Himself. Otherwise, how would it be mercy? How is it mercy for God to consign anyone to disobedience if they are not then drawn to God?
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
This verse (above) also draws an undeniable parallelism. All those who die because of Adam are made alive because of Christ. This verse does not have a conditional upon those who are made alive. The verse has no conditional limitation to those who accept Christ as Savior. If you have died in Adam, then you will be made alive. And all have died in Adam.
This verse (above) is in the context of the resurrection. Therefore, some could argue it’s saying that all are resurrected. The wicked would be resurrected to judgment and then condemned. But such an interpretation seems to be a stretch of what’s being said. What good is it to be made alive in order to spend eternity in hell? And why would the blood of Christ be a necessary provision in order to make someone alive that is to then immediately spend eternity in hell? This verse (above) is one of the very strong Universalist verses. The traditional Calvinist and Arminian systems do not seem to fit with this verse (above).
1 Timothy 2:3-6 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; (4) who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. (5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (6) who gave himself as a ransom for all ; the testimony in its own times;
Again we have a parallelism between God’s desire for all people to be saved, and the fact that Christ is a ransom for all. This verse (above) does not fit well at all with the Calvinist system of limited atonement. However, the Arminian could argue that the ransom was paid for everybody, but that only those who accept Christ are actually credited with the ransom. Yet the Universalist could easily argue that if the wicked were actually ransomed, in the context of this verse, why would faith in Christ become an unstated requirement?
1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we have set our trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.
The same letter to Timothy has this second very interesting verse (above). Christ is the Savior of all people. And then there is special emphasis placed on those who believe. This special emphasis on those who believe makes it hard to place an unstated condition on the salvation of all people. This verse (above) is a very strong verse for the Christian Universalist.
1 John 2:2 ESV He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
This verse (above) is another case where it is difficult to put qualifications on Christ being the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. If Christ is the propitiation for only the sins of those who believe, then why does this verse add to it a propitiation for the sins of everyone else?
Hebrews 2:9 But we see him who has been made a little lower than the angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone .
Christ tasted death for everyone. This was done by the grace of God. Does not this mean that God’s grace is extended to everyone?
Luke 2:10-11 The angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be to all the people. (11) For there is born to you, this day, in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
John 6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world."
This next verse will give us a clue as to what is really going on with all these verses, and why not everyone will have eternal life:
Romans 5:18-19 So then as through one trespass, all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness, all men were justified to life. (19) For as through the one man's disobedience many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, many will be made righteous.
This verse has a similar parallelism. We have the condemnation for all men because of one act by Adam. Then “all men were justified to life” because of one act by Christ. This does not mean that all men are given eternal life. They are “justified to life.” To see the difference, let’s examine the verse in its broader context.
The very next sentence has a similar parallelism. However this time, it’s not all men. It’s simply the many who are made righteous. The first parallelism tells us that all are “justified to life”, and the second parallelism tells us that many (but not all) are made righteous. This is the key point. This point shows us the problem Christian Universalists have in asserting all people will have eternal life. All people are “justified to life,” but not all people are made righteous. To understand the difference, we need to look at these verses in a broader context. And then once we understand the distinction, all these other Christian Universalist verses will likewise become clearly understood. Let’s back up to verse 10 in the same chapter.
Romans 5:10-12 For if, while we were enemies , we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life. (11) Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (12) Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned .
Because of Adam, sin entered into the world and everyone has sinned. This made us all enemies of God. But while we were still God’s enemies, Christ’s blood reconciled us to God. Thus, everyone has been reconciled to God. But that doesn’t mean that everyone will receive eternal life. We must still accept Christ as our Savior and live like he lived in order to be eternally saved.
So what does it mean that everyone has been to be reconciled to God? It simply means that the penalty of eternal death has been removed for everyone. Adam was told that if he ate the fruit, on that day, he would surely die. (Ancient Jews believed this day to be a millennial day.) This was a sentence of eternal death for everyone. However, the blood of Christ ransomed everyone from the penalty of eternal death. Everyone was “justified to life.” This means that everyone can be resurrected. But we must still accept Christ as Savior and live a life with Christ, walking as Christ walked to overcome sin, before we can inherit eternal life. Remember this verse? It’s in the context of Paul’s chapter on the resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
Paul goes on to ask, “What types of bodies are they raised” (verse 15:35)? He then goes on to use the sun, moon, and stars to point out that there are different types of celestial bodies in heaven. He likewise uses the different animals of the earth to say there are different types of terrestrial bodies here on the earth. The point is that Paul is distinguishing celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies in the context of the resurrection. Again Paul asks, “What types of bodies are they raised” (verse 15:35). The answer is that some are raised as immortal celestial bodies and others, at the resurrection, are raised with mortal terrestrial bodies. It depends on what type of seed they are planted.
Those who overcome sin through a relationship with Jesus Christ will be raised with a celestial (spiritual) body. Most will be raised with a terrestrial (mortal) body. The fact that everyone has been reconciled to God, that everyone is “justified to life” allows God to raise people who have not overcome all their sinful habits with a mortal body so they can continue their journey of salvation. Those who have died having never heard about Christ can be raised from the dead. Those who have not yet made that decision for Christ can be raised from the dead. Others, however, who have deliberately and knowingly become enemies of God. They forfeit their salvation, including their reconciliation and will not be resurrected. But their souls will “come to life” for judgment at the end of the thousand years. Let’s continue with what Paul said in Romans 5 about Christ being the second Adam.
Romans 5:13-15 For until the law, sin was in the world; but sin is not charged when there is no law. (14) Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those whose sins weren't like Adam's disobedience, who is a foreshadowing of him who was to come. (15) But the free gift isn't like the trespass. For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ , abound to the many.
Paul makes the statement that “sin is not charged when there is no law.” Why would he say this? Even the Pagans, who are not under the law, all die because of sin. But if Christ’s blood has ransomed even the Pagans, giving them a resurrection from the dead, then for even the Pagans, sin is not charged. Paul makes the case that the sins of the Pagans are not like Adam’s sin of disobedience. Adam knew God and deliberately disobeyed God. The Pagans do not know God and thus cannot deliberately disobey God. Nevertheless, because of Adam’s sin even the Pagans die. But because of Christ’s gift, God’s grace of a resurrection can abound to even the Pagans. But for those under the law, it’s possible to become an enemy of God. God’s enemies will not be resurrected. The gift of the King is forfeited when one becomes an enemy of the King. So most, but not all, will be resurrected.
Romans 5:16-17 The gift is not as through one who sinned: for the judgment came by one to condemnation, but the free gift came of many trespasses to justification. (17) For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; so much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.
Paul points out a difference in his parallelism. Adam trespassed once and brought condemnation for everyone. Christ brings justification even though there are many trespasses. Complete justification comes only by “receiving the abundance of grace” and becoming a believer and living for Christ. Not all men do that in this age. And not all men will do that in the age to come.
But as we will see in the next verse, all men were “justified to life” because Christ has reconciled the world to himself by his blood. This allows all men to be resurrected. Again, some are raised as immortal celestial bodies and others are raised with mortal terrestrial bodies. It depends on what type of seed they are planted. Many, but not all, will live for Christ and be made righteous. If they die before Christ returns, they will be planted as a righteous seed.
Romans 5:18-19 So then as through one trespass , all men were condemned; even so through one act of righteousness , all men were justified to life. (19) For as through the one man's disobedience many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one, many will be made righteous.
Then Paul sums it up. Grace reigns in our lives until it matures into eternal life.
Romans 5:20-21 The law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly; (21) that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In Adam, all die. So in Christ all will be made alive. All will be resurrected. Everyone will be led to righteousness. But not all will be made righteous. Everyone will be resurrected and will have the opportunity to be led to righteousness. But not everyone will have eternal life immediately upon resurrection. Some will never become righteous and will die the second death.
Protestant Calvinists, Arminians, and Universalists have all made the same incorrect assumption in their logic. It’s been assumed that when one first accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, they are then saved (past tense) at that point in time. However, salvation does not happen at one point in time. Salvation is a journey. Salvation is the process of being made righteous, through faith in Jesus Christ. We were justified when we first make a profession of faith. But everyone was reconciled when Christ died on the cross, so everyone can be resurrected.
Everyone has been reconciled. And as long as you continue to be reconciled, you will not have eternal punishment. However, those who knowingly and explicitly reject God’s Salvation will spend eternity in punishment. They become enemies of God and lose their reconciliation. They lose what Christ did for them on the cross. At some point in time, God will draw each and every person to himself. But each and every person has the free-will to refuse God’s salvation. Sometimes this happens in this life. Sometimes it happens in the millennial age to come. Death is not the end of our journey towards salvation, because many die before God personally brings them to a full knowledge of His Son, Jesus Christ.
This is called the New Wine System. My book, titled “New Wine for the End Times”, goes into much further details about this system. But for now, let’s take a look at how these same verses work under the New Wine System.
John 12:32 ESV And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
At some point in time, every person will be drawn to Christ. For many, however, this happens in the age to come. Everyone has the free will to refuse God’s salvation. Those who are evil in their hearts are much more likely to refuse out of pride. To accept God’s salvation means you must begin the journey to holiness. You must submit yourself to Christ’s commands and His rule. Many will refuse in the age to come. And some have already refused in this age. They have committed the unpardonable sin as described in Matthew 12.
Universalists have difficulty with the concept of blaspheming of the Holy Spirit. It will not be forgiven in this age. And it will not be forgiven in the age to come (Matthew 12:32). The Universalist must stretch these verses (in Matthew 12) and say it can be forgiven in ages after the age to come. Universalists are correct in saying that eventually ever person will be drawn to Christ, even if it’s in the age to come, after the resurrection. But they are incorrect in saying the draw is irresistible. Or that the draw continues until the person finally gives in. As we will see, the Father’s draw does not continue after the unpardonable sin.
Another form of the unpardonable sin can be found in Hebrews 6:4-6:
Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV For it is impossible , in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Calvinists would have problems with this verse (above) because they would say once saved always saved. Those who have shared in the Holy Spirit would be considered saved. If one has had the Holy Spirit, you could not say they weren’t saved to begin with. So how could they fall away? Yet this verse warns of that very possibility.
Arminians would have problems with this verse because while they might believe that salvation could be lost, they would believe that it could be obtained again. This verse says that if they fall away, it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance. Please understand that this verse is not talking about sins that happen in weak moments. This is the deliberate and knowledgeable rejection of Christ’s salvation. And it’s the central theme of the book of Hebrews. It’s also a central aspect of the New Wine System.
Both Calvinists and Arminians have difficulty with this verse, and likewise with blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12). So the unpardonable sin is usually not used to point out the problems with Universalism. If a sin is truly unforgivable, then that alone disproves Universalism. How can everyone be saved if even one person commits the unpardonable sin? And if it’s impossible to commit the unpardonable sin, then why was Hebrews written? Why was the warning necessary?
The author of Hebrews is saying that forgiveness of this sin would require Christ to be crucified again. The author does not believe this will not happen. Once reconciliation is lost, you can’t get it back again. It’s like committing Adam’s sin where he knew God and disobeyed him anyway. One crucifixion was the greatest possible gift God could have made. A second crucifixion would be holding Christ up to contempt. Thus, it’s impossible for this sin to be forgiven. And the author clearly states that forgiveness of this sin is impossible. This prevents Universalism from working as a system. If even one person commits this unpardonable sin, then Universalism’s assertion that everyone will be saved becomes false. Universalism does not work any better than Calvinism or Arminianism.
Let’s continue in our examination of these same verses, used by Universalists, in the light of the New Wine System.
Romans 11:32 ESV For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
God has given mercy on all because God has already reconciled everyone to himself and given everyone a “justification unto life” so that everyone can be resurrected. This was done by the blood of Christ. However, sins must stop before one can receive eternal life.
1 Timothy 2:3-6 ESV This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, (4) who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (5) For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, (6) who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
The blood of Christ was a ransom for all. Christ is the second Adam. The penalty of death that was given to Adam has been removed for everyone. Everyone has been reconciled to God. But it’s only by becoming a believer and living for Christ that we can become justified and begin our journey of sanctification. To receive eternal life, all our sinful habits must stop. We can’t continue to sin forever.
1 Timothy 4:10 ESV For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
Christ died for all people. Everyone has been reconciled to God and can be resurrected. But there is a special class of people who, through faith in Jesus Christ, overcome sin in this present age. This is the Bride, and we will reign with Christ when He returns.
1 John 2:2 ESV He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Christ is the “propitiation” for our sins. This word means the act of appeasing or making well. The NIV translates this word as “atoning sacrifice.” In other words, Christ was the “atoning sacrifice” for the world. The world was reconciled to God and the death-sentence of Adam was removed for everyone. And again, there is a special class of people who believe on Jesus to overcome sins in this present age. But each and every person who has ever lived, or who will ever live, has been reconciled to God. They have been “justified to life” so they can be resurrected. But to be truly justified and forgiven of all one’s sins one must become a believer. To be sanctified you must follow Jesus. Eventually everyone will either accept or reject our opportunity to overcome sins by faith in Christ, and to be given eternal life. In the age to come, everyone will know about the King of Kings, because Christ will rule the world.
Hebrews 2:9 ESV 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.
Luke 2:10-11 ESV And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. (11) For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
John 6:33 ESV For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Jesus Christ died for each and every person in the world, of all generations. Everyone has been reconciled. Everyone has been “justified to life” so they can be resurrected and have the opportunity to mature in Christ during his reign. Consider this verse:
John 3:17-18 ESV For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn [judge] the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (18) Whoever believes in him is not condemned [judged], but whoever does not believe is condemned [judged] already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
The world is saved through Christ. But whoever does not believe in Christ is condemned already. When a person has not yet heard about Christ, does this mean he does not believe? Would this mean that he has been condemned, or judged, already? Yet at any time, one could begin to believe and would at that point not be condemned. This would seem to invalidate the idea that his has been condemned already. To be condemned already would be to say that the decision has been made, and is not open to change.
A better way to look at this verse is to understand that if one makes the knowledgeable decision to reject Christ, then he becomes condemned. Before that, Christ did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. Whoever continues to believe in him is not in the danger of becoming condemned already. But you have to reject Christ before you are condemned. Everyone has been reconciled to God. It’s only by the rejection of Christ’s salvation that one gets excluded from Christ’s salvation of the entire world.
The second argument used by Universalists is that the Greek word for ‘eternal’ does not really mean ‘eternal.’ In other words, they believe that after some period of time the wicked will be able to repent and then be able to go to heaven. The Greek word for ‘age’ is ‘aion.’ The Greek word that is traditionally translated ‘eternal’ is ‘aionios.’ The point being made by Universalists is that ‘aionios’ is the adjective form of the noun ‘aion.’ Both should have the same meaning. If the noun ‘aion’ is simply an age, then adjective ‘aionios’ could not mean eternity.
But does an adjective always have the exact same meaning as the noun form of the same word? The noun ‘dirt’ and the adjective ‘dirty’ would be very related in most people’s minds. Yet the Encarta Dictionary has five meanings for ‘dirt’ and thirteen meanings for ‘dirty.’ Does ‘lovely’ have the exact same meaning as ‘love’? The noun ‘love’ is a much stronger word than the adjective ‘lovely.’ Is everyone who lives in a home ‘homely?’ Most people don’t tend to equate ‘home’ and ‘homely.’ The noun ‘time’ has no implication as to whether it’s long or short. But the adjective ‘timely’ implies a short amount of time. Context becomes a key factor in the interpretation of any word. Equally important is to look at all the various uses of a given word in Scripture.
The New Testament contains the adjective ‘aionios’ 71 times. 44 of these are in reference to our eternal life. Luke 16:9 refers to our eternal home (tabernacle). 2 Corinthians 4:17 refers to our eternal weight of glory. 2 Corinthians 5:1 refers to our eternal bodies in heaven. 2 Titus 2:16 refers to our eternal comfort. Hebrews 5:9 refers to our eternal salvation. Hebrews 9:12 refers to our eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:15 refers to our eternal inheritance. 1 Peter 5:10 refers to our eternal glory in Christ. We would hope that the adjective ‘aionios’ means eternity in these verses. However, I suppose one could argue that during eternity, if one were to decide to intentionally disobey Christ’s commandments, then these eternal promises would no longer apply.
There are other uses of the adjective ‘aionios’ that apply more to God or Christ. It becomes impossible for these adjectives, in these contexts, to mean anything except for eternity. Romans 16:26 refers to the eternal God. 1 Timothy 6:16 refers to the eternal honor and power of Christ. 2 Timothy 2:10 refers to the eternal glory of Jesus. Hebrews 9:14 refers to the eternal Spirit. Hebrews 13:20 refers to the eternal covenant of Christ’s blood. 2 Peter 1:11 refers to the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (The millennial reign has an end. But Christ’s kingdom itself is eternal.) Revelation 14:6 refers to the eternal gospel. In 2 Corinthians 4:18 Paul contrasts the things seen as being transient and the things unseen as being eternal. In the context of these verses, there is no question that ‘aionios’ truly means eternal.
Another use of the word is in Philemon 1:15. Paul writes:
Philemon 1:15-16 For perhaps he was therefore separated from you for a while, that you would have him forever, (16) no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother , especially to me, but how much rather to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Does Paul really mean that this slave-owner will have the slave throughout eternity? The NIV translates the verse as “have him back for good.” However, Paul is saying this relationship will be more than master and slave. Both are Christian and brothers in Christ. This relationship as brothers in Christ will last for eternity.
However, the adjective ‘aionios’ might not always have to mean eternal when it is plural. In Romans 16:25 Paul speaks of the mystery of God. Literally, the text says the mystery has been kept secret for “times (plural) eternal (plural).” Eternal (plural) is an adjective for times (plural). The ESV translates it as “the mystery that was kept secret for long ages.” Can eternal be plural? Can there be more than one eternal time? The NIV translates it as “the mystery hidden for long ages past.” Paul is saying this mystery has now been revealed. Therefore, it’s not an eternal time. And translators do not use the word ‘eternal’ in their translations.
Likewise, the adjective ‘aionios’ is used in 2 Timothy 1:9. Literally, the text says “before times (plural) eternal (plural).” The same Greek words are used for “times (plural) eternal (plural)” as in Romans 16:25 (the first example of this). The ESV translates it as “before the ages began.” The NIV translates it as “before the beginning of time.”
One could make the argument that these two verses are talking about eternity past. This is less likely true of the second verse (2 Timothy 1:9), since it includes the word ‘before.’ How can there be a “before” eternity past? Likewise, Romans 16:25 probably just means long ages past, and does not necessarily mean eternity past. Also, note that the word for eternity in these two verses is in the plural. How can there be more than one eternal time? This adjective, when used in the plural, and in reference to the past, more likely means a plural of ages.
These two verses are used very differently than all our other cases. With these two verses the adjective is plural, paired with ‘times’ (plural) and is in reference to the past. This does not have a strong bearing on all the cases where the adjective is in the singular, and is in reference to the future. In the past, Jewish culture apparently understood there to be many ages (Titus 1:2). The present age was definitely understood to be limited in duration. But the age to come could easily be unlimited in duration. The age to come could extend past the millennium, and continue indefinitely into true eternity (Hebrews 9:26). At best, we can only say eternity means a very long period of time, without the specific understanding of there being an end to it. Each case must be examined in its own context.
Remember there are 71 occurrences of the adjective ‘aionios’ in the New Testament. All the rest are references to eternal punishment. Matthew 25:41 refers to the eternal fire that was prepared for the Devil and his angels. A few verses down, in Matthew 25:46, we have two uses of ‘aionios’ in the same verse. One is eternal punishment. The other is eternal life. 2 Titus 1:9 refers to eternal punishment and destruction. Hebrews 6:2 refers to eternal judgment. And Jude 1:7 refers to a punishment of eternal fire.
Mark 3:29 refers to the eternal sin (or judgment) that results in the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Notice this verse explicitly states that they are never forgiven. Christian Universalism says that everyone will someday be forgiven. This verse alone should put to rest any arguments of Christian Universalism.
Mark 3:28-30 Most certainly I tell you, all sins of the descendants of man will be forgiven, including their blasphemies with which they may blaspheme; (29) but whoever may blaspheme against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" (30) -because they said, "He has an unclean spirit."
The New Testament uses the phrase “ages of ages” 19 times. Also, there is one occurrence of the phrase “age (singular) of ages.” Most translations render this as “forever and ever.” Christian Universalists point out that the literal translations does not mean forever. It can simply mean many ages. Again, we must look at the context of each case this phrase is used in order to ascertain the true meaning.
Ages of ages is used in Galatians 1:5, Philippians 4:20, 1 Timothy 1:17, 2 Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 13:21, and 1 Peter 4:11. In each of these cases it refers to the amount of time that God will have glory, honor, and power. The book of Revelation uses this phrase more than any other book. It’s used 14 times in Revelation. Verses 1:6, 5:13, and 7:12 refer to the amount of time God will have glory, honor, and power. Verses 1:18, 4:9, 4:10, 5:14, 10:6, and 15:7 refer to how long Christ will live. Revelation 11:15 refers to how long Christ will reign in his kingdom. Revelation 22:5 refers to how long we will reign with Christ. And finally, there are three verses in Revelation that say how long the wicked will be punished.
Revelation 14:9-11 Another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead, or on his hand, (10) he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. (11) The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.
Notice that this is not for those who simply die without accepting Christ as Savior. It’s for those who explicitly and knowingly reject Christ’s salvation by worshiping the beast and taking his mark of allegiance. The worship of this beast is not like the ignorant who have worshiped idols of wood, stone, gold, and silver. Nor is it like the ignorant worship of money. This beast is a world-government ruler who explicitly blasphemes God, and his name, and his dwelling, and all those who dwell in heaven (Rev 13:5-6.) Thus, this world ruler will be leading the world in the explicit and knowledgeable rejection of Christ’s salvation. That is why he is called the antichrist. In worshiping this beast, the people will be explicitly worshiping Satan (Rev. 13:4) and will thus be denying Christ’s salvation.
This is the unpardonable sin. It cannot be forgiven. Only those who commit the unpardonable sin will be eternally punished. This verse in Revelation effectively disproves Christian Universalism. However, the systems of interpretation used by traditional Calvinist and Arminian theologians have not been able to show why taking the mark of the beast is the same as the unpardonable sin of Hebrews 6 and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12 and Mark 3. You can learn more about the New Wine System from my book, “New Wine for the End Times.”
Some Universalists have portrayed the fire as being symbolic. But this verse combines the word fire with the word sulfur making it explicitly literal. Also, this verse combines the word ‘tormented,’ making it even more difficult to interpret figuratively. Others have said there is no hell because the dead ‘sleep.’ Yes, many of the unrighteous souls are asleep right now. But just because soul sleep is true after the first death does not mean it’s true after the second death. This verse explicitly says there is ‘no rest’ for those who take the mark of the beast.
Revelation 19:1-3 After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, "Hallelujah! Salvation, power, and glory belong to our God: (2) for true and righteous are his judgments. For he has judged the great prostitute, who corrupted the earth with her sexual immorality, and he has avenged the blood of his servants at her hand." (3) A second said, "Hallelujah! Her smoke goes up forever and ever."
This verse goes along very much with 14:9-11 (quoted above.) Both refer to the smoke that goes up forever and ever. This is the same phrase “forever and ever” (ages of ages) that describes the amount of time God will have glory, honor, and power. This is the same phrase “forever and ever” that describes how long Christ will live. And typically phrases have much more of a precise meaning than do individual words.
The great prostitute is the peoples of the world who take the mark of the beast. They turn away from Christ and his morality. They persecute those who profess Christ as Savior.
Revelation 20:9-10 They went up over the breadth of the earth, and surrounded the camp of the saints, and the beloved city. Fire came down out of heaven from God, and devoured them. (10) The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are also. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
This verse also connects back with 14:9-11 (quoted above). Both say the torment is day and night forever and ever. So again, the phrase used for how long Christ will live is “ages of ages.” It’s the phrase for how long God’s glory, honor, and power will last. And it’s the phrase for how long the beast and the false prophet will be tormented.
Is this another hell, fire, and brimstone sermon? No, because everyone has been reconciled to God. This is a warning to not reject Christ. Those who knowingly and explicitly reject God’s voice will be tormented for a very long time. This verse in Hebrews says it all:
Hebrews 3:7-11 Therefore, even as the Holy Spirit says, "Today if you will hear his voice, (8) don't harden your hearts, as in the provocation, like as in the day of the trial in the wilderness, (9) where your fathers tested me by proving me, and saw my works for forty years. (10) Therefore I was displeased with that generation, and said, 'They always err in their heart, but they didn't know my ways;' (11) as I swore in my wrath, 'They will not enter into my rest.' "
The Universalists are incorrect in saying that everyone will be saved. However, the Universalists have a good point in saying that God would not be effectively drawing all men to himself if the high majority of everyone who has ever lived will spend eternity in hell. Under the New Wine System, the countless number from every nation, tribe, people and language (Rev. 7:9) are just a tip of the iceberg as compared with the total number of people, from every generation, who will be resurrected and then led down the path of salvation during the millennium.
There is one last point about the phrase “ages of ages.” If an age is not an eternity, then why does “ages of ages” mean “forever and ever?” If one age is not eternity, then many ages would not be eternity either. This question has been asserted by Universalists.
Most uses of this phrase use two plural words for ‘ages.’ There is one case, however, where the first word is singular, as in “age (singular) of ages (plural).” Young’s Literal Translation of Ephesians 3:21 renders the verse as:
Ephesians 3:21 YLT to Him is the glory in the assembly in Christ Jesus, to all the generations of the age of the ages. Amen.
Could Paul be putting emphasis on the one age (singular) of the Messianic kingdom? It would be the most important age of all the ages. Consider this Old Testament verse in Daniel that seems to do the same thing:
Daniel 7:17-18 YLT `These great beasts, that are four, are four kings, they rise up from the earth; (18) and receive the kingdom do the saints of the Most High, and they strengthen the kingdom unto the age, even unto the age of the ages.
The kingdom that the saints will receive is a specific kingdom for a given age. This age is the most important of all the ages. A single age is not eternity. Some number of ages is not eternity. But all the ages is eternity. I believe Paul knew Daniel’s verses, and Paul was also making reference to this most important kingdom of Jesus Christ. Paul was using a phrase that was probably well-known to the Pharisees, a phrase that had come from Daniel.
If the “age (singular) of ages” commonly referred to the Messianic kingdom, a kingdom singled out from all ages, then the phrase “ages (plural) of ages” would naturally simply mean all ages. Thus, the phrase naturally means forever and ever, even though it literally would not have that meaning. Both the usage of the phrase, and the natural progression in meaning of the phrase, indicate the phase really means forever and ever. Therefore, those who are punished in the lake of fire are punished forever and ever. But does this mean their souls are eternal and they are tormented forever and ever?
Does God intended to torment souls eternally? I think it’s safe to say that those who become enemies of God will be tormented. Otherwise, where is the justice for the victims?
Some people ask why God doesn’t just go ahead and destroy the souls of all the wicked. They lose their salvation because they do not repent and they become an enemy of Christ. But they are judged by their works, both good and bad. In other words, justice requires that they be tormented because of what they have done to other people.
Romans 12:19-21 Don't seek revenge yourselves , beloved, but give place to God's wrath. For it is written, " Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord." (20) Therefore "If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head." (21) Don't be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
If God were to allow people to live lives of cruelty, then simply die and stay unaware forever, where would be the vengeance? For example, think of all the horrible things that are done to innocent children. They are sold as sex slaves. Where is the justice for these children if there is no torment in the lake of fire? On the other hand, if anyone repents and truly turns to Christ for forgiveness of their sins, they are welcomed by all of us, no matter what they have done, because we have all sinned. We can all forgive when there is true repentance. But without repentance, justice for sins against the innocence requires torment after death. That’s why they are judged by their works. They are judged by what they have done, either good or bad, to others.
On the other hand, does justice require that torment continue forever and ever? Most would say not. But traditional theology says that souls are eternal by nature. This, however, is actually Greek thinking and not Jewish thinking.
Matthew 10:28 Don't be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
Yes, the wicked will be punished in the lake of fire (Gehenna) forever and ever. This simply means they will never be resurrected. Their punishment is eternal. But the actual souls do not have to be eternal. Depending on their evil works, they are probably tormented for a long time and then they are destroyed forever.
One of the strongest draws of Christian Universalism is that it seems to provide an answer for those who have died without ever hearing about Jesus Christ. Would a loving God create souls that have lived during past times, places, and generations that would have had no possibility of hearing about Christ? Would a loving God create these souls knowing they will spend eternity in hell?
The Universalists speaks of the endless love of God, and that the nature of God would not allow Him to give up on anybody. God, they say, cannot fail in His purpose of reconciling all men to Himself. Punishment, they say, is not eternal. It’s a way to cleanse the person so that one day the person can be saved.
Both the Calvinist and the Arminian believe that if you have not accepted Christ at the point of death, then it’s too late. The Calvinist and Arminian only argue over whether or not God chooses who will make the decision for Christ. I believe the Universalists are right in that death is not the end of the journey towards salvation. People can be saved after death.
Here is a verse that Universalists embrace:
1 Peter 3:18-20 ESV For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God , being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (19) in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, (20) because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
Why would Jesus preach the gospel to dead people who had not obeyed God before they died? Some people would say that Jesus was not preaching the gospel to them. They say he was proclaiming victory over them. But just a couple of verses down, we see that this was not the case:
1 Peter 4:6 ESV For this is why 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.
Clearly Jesus preached to these who are dead so that they might “live in the Spirit the way God does.” These two sets of verses are in the same context. There are only seven verses between them. Being in the same context together, their interpretation is hard to deny. Universalists are correct in saying those who have died without Christ can still be saved. But this does not mean that everyone will be saved. Nor does it mean that those who have died without Christ are currently being punished. This verse says that at least some of them, those from before the flood, are in “prison.” Eternal punishment is only for those who have knowingly and explicitly rejected Christ’s salvation. And eternal punishment, the lake of fire, is after the final Judgment, which is a thousand years after the resurrection.
It’s very true that God is a loving God, and he desires that all people be saved. For those who reject Christ’s salvation there is no other way to be reconciled with the Father. Corrective punishment only works when there is a deep-down desire to be reconciled with the Father. Deep-down, children want to please their parents. But our self-centered ways makes us test our boundaries. We tend to want to make up our own minds with regard to what we can and cannot do. The Father disciplines those He loves (Deuteronomy 8:5, Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6, 12:10). And if we have a deep-down love for our Creator, then punishment will bring us back to the Father. But there are those for whom the love of their Creator has grown so cold that no amount of punishment will work. They truly hate their heavenly Father. They knowingly and explicitly reject Christ’s salvation. They commit the unpardonable sin, and they forfeit their salvation.
Why were these dead people, to whom Christ preached, said to be in “prison” instead of in “Gehenna?” Universalists believe that punishment is not eternal, but is done only to bring people back into reconciliation with the Father. Why, then, would God punish those who have died without hearing about Christ? Even if the punishment is not forever, it makes no sense for God to punish people who have never heard the gospel. Is the system presented by Universalists really that of a loving God who shows no favoritism (Romans 2:11)?
The New Wine System is the only system where God shows no favoritism, yet salvation is through faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone. Under Calvinism, the elect are shown favoritism. If you are not one of the elect, you were created by God knowing that you will have no opportunity for salvation. Under Arminianism, those who are born into past generations that have had no opportunity to hear about Christ are not shown favoritism. Under Universalism, these people will be punished because they die having not heard about Christ. That’s favoritism for those who get the opportunity to hear about Christ.
Universalists like to quote this verse:
Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven , those on earth, and those under the earth, (11) and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Does this mean that everyone will be saved? If we believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised from the dead, and we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord, then we will be saved (Romans 10:9). Calvinists and Arminians would say that after death, it’s too late. So they believe this is a forced bending of the knee. Or they might say it’s a confession that is not based on faith. However, I would agree with Universalists that this is a confession that leads to salvation. This verse is an Old Testament quote of Isaiah 45:23. From the context of this passage in Isaiah, it’s obvious that Isaiah is talking about salvation.
Isaiah 45:20-25 "Assemble yourselves and come. Draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations. Those have no knowledge who carry the wood of their engraved image, and pray to a god that can't save. (21) Declare and present it. Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has shown this from ancient time? Who has declared it of old? Haven't I, Yahweh? There is no other God besides me, a just God and a Savior; There is no one besides me. (22) "Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth ; for I am God, and there is no other. (23) By myself have I sworn, the word has gone forth from my mouth in righteousness, and will not return, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. (24) They will say of me, 'There is righteousness and strength only in Yahweh.' " Even to him shall men come; and all those who were incensed against him shall be disappointed. (25) In Yahweh shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.
From Isaiah, we see this verse is about “all the ends of the earth” turning to God to be “saved.” In Philippians, Paul applies these words to all those “in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” This does sound like everyone will be saved. Notice the emphasis in Isaiah on those who “have no knowledge.” They worship wooden idols because they don’t know about Christ. But what about those who do know about Christ and yet reject Him?
The problem here is the way we have been trained to think. We think of one’s eternal destiny of heaven or hell as being determined at the time of death. However, thanks to Christ’s free gift for everyone, death is not a limiting factor for God. Christ died for the entire world. All people have already been reconciled to God. All people will be drawn to the Father because of the crucifixion. The Holy Spirit will reveal Himself and His Son to everybody. Everyone’s name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life from the foundation of the world. However, many are blotted out, because they reject Christ’s salvation. Refer to my book, “New Wine for the End Times ” to see all the Scriptural evidence that people lose their salvation instead of gaining it. There is a lot of Scriptural evidence, for example, that people are blotted from the Book of Life. We are Christ’s possessions unless or until we knowingly and explicitly reject Him.
Another aspect of this passage, in Isaiah, is that it’s Messianic. This happens during Christ’s earthly reign. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, during Christ’s Messianic reign. Universalists, on the other hand, try to apply this verse to people after they have been punished by fire. They say the bending of the knee is after a punishment that lasts for “ages of ages.” But it happens in the age to come, when Christ returns.
Again, Universalists, Calvinists, and Arminians see salvation as being gained. The New Wine System sees reconciliation as being given to everybody, and then possibly lost. In order to keep one’s reconciliation everyone will eventually need to become a believer, and then mature in Christ into holiness. Everyone will eventually need to overcome sin. Eventually, they mature into eternal life, which is eternal salvation. This is after everyone has bowed the knee, and confessed Christ as Savior. You see, reconciliation can be lost even during Christ’s reign. At the end of the millennium, when Satan is released, a countless number of people will march across the earth against Jerusalem. They will be marching against their King of Kings, committing the unpardonable sin.
Another verse that is very popular with Universalists is in Colossians. For many Universalists, this verse is very much like their major theme verse. All things will be reconciled to Christ.
Colossians 1:19-23 ESV For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, (20) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven , making peace by the blood of his cross. (21) And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, (22) he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, (23) if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.
It is very true that everyone was reconciled to Christ, by the blood of the cross. Christ is the second Adam. Calvinists, Arminians, and Universalists all tend to think of this in terms of the future. They think in terms of reconciliation in the future. However, God was (past tense) pleased to dwell in Christ. The blood of the cross has already happened. This continues to be the case “if” we continue in faith. Everyone was given reconciliation at the cross. It’s already happened. Salvation is something to be lost, not gained. And those who lose their salvation cannot get it back again (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Have you had people you know, or loved ones, die without having made a profession of faith in Christ? Christian Universalism is right in that God’s plan, as seen by Calvinists and Arminians, does not portray a truly loving God for all people of all generations. However, the Christian Universalists plan is not that much better. Which would you consider to be more of a loving God? Would a loving God put them into corrective punishment, for perhaps several very long ages, or even for a few moments? Or would a loving God first reveal the saving grace of His Son, Jesus Christ?
What if a person lives and dies under Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam? Would a loving Father punish his child because they were reading the wrong scripture? Or would a loving Father make arrangements to reveal the salvation of His Son to His children before they are punished? Christian Universalism would have us believe God punishes his children because they are born under the wrong religion.
God loves us and gave His Son to die for us. We are already reconciled with the Father, even if we don’t know Christ or the Father as yet. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And this includes every person who has ever lived, or will ever live.
Christians should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Our sins were forgiven when we first became believers. But we should still seek the kingdom. Only those who seek the kingdom will inherit the kingdom. However, many Christians confuse this inheritance of the kingdom with justification and being forgiven for our sins. Many Christians think all believers will inherit the kingdom. “Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians. 6:9-10).
This puts a great burden of guilt on Christians who associate inheriting the kingdom with the beginning of faith. God forgives us when we become believers. After that, we seek the kingdom because we love Him. But even if we don’t as yet seek the kingdom, we are not condemned. Those who do not inherit the kingdom will still be resurrected. There will, however, come a time when the Father will expect everyone to mature into righteousness. We cannot remain spiritual babies forever. Otherwise, there is no eternal life. There is only a second death.
But God loves. God is patient. God loves you just the way you are. The grave is not a show-stopper for God’s mercy, kindness, and patience. The grave does not mean ages upon ages of punishment.
For more information about this alternative to Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universalism, please read my book titled, “New Wine for the End Times.”