We have seen that people choose hell by rejecting the light they have received from God. We have seen that everyone is a sinner whose selfishness and pride call for divine punishment, even the nice non-Christian who has so many fine qualities. We have seen that Jesus Christ is going to judge every person individually and will sentence him to receive exactly what he deserves. Now we are ready to develop the solemn fact that hell is a place of lost hope. We must take the love-filled, tear-marked Jesus seriously when He warned: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
We will consider the final and irreversible nature of this loss in three steps: First, we examine the so-called “universalist” or “second chance” passages in the Bible. Second, we will consider the passages that speak of hell as a place of “destruction.” Third, we will study the implications of the fact that the terms everlasting or eternal often appear in reference to hell.
The “Second Chance” Passages. We who believe on Jesus Christ and are confident that we will go to heaven would like to see everyone get there eventually. We would very much like to find evidence in the Bible that the lost will get another chance to be saved after death. And there always have been teachers who have held the viewpoint of another opportunity after death. Some Bible students refer to themselves as universalists because they believe that eventually everyone or almost everyone will end up in heaven. They believe that 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 imply the hope of another chance after death. They view Acts 3:21, 1 Corinthians 15:22, Philippians 2:9-11, and Colossians 1:20 as verses which imply that almost all will eventually be among the redeemed. Let’s take a look at this passages.
1 Peter 3:18-20. These verses desclare that “Jesus preached to the spirits in prison,” specifically to contemporaries of Noah. Some Bible interpreters believe that Peter was referring to the preaching done by Noah while he was building the ark. Others teach that between His death and resurrection Jesus went to the realm of the unsaved dead and annouced what He had done. Still others believe He went to the prison house for fallen angels and annouced His redeeming work to them. We may choose any of these interpretations. It’s a difficult passage, to be sure. Just as certain is that we should not take a difficult passage like this and use it to overrule other passages like Hebrews 9:27, which states, “… it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
1 Peter 4:6. This is another verse often used to prove that will receive another chance. Peter wrote: “For this reason the gospel was preached to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”
This verse refers to the proclamation of the gospel to living people who later died. The preaching was done while these individuals were alive. They were judged harshly by the world, but they now enjoy the bliss of heaven. They are far better off than those who gained the praise of the world but must face God’s judgment after death.
1 Timothy 2:5-6. This passage is also quoted as a proof of a second chance after death. It tells us: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”
Those who view this passage as offering another chance for salvation after death point out that the ransom price was paid for all, and that it will be “testified” to all “in due time.” Some people in this world never receive an opportunity to hear the gospel, and many who do, hear it under very unfavorable circumstances. Therefore, “in due time,” under conditions more favorable after death, the gospel of salvation will be offered to all. The context eliminates such as interpretation. Paul made this statement in connection with his injunction that God’s people pray for all men and with his declaration that God desires all people to be saved (not just Israelites). He asserted that Christ’s ransom was universal in availability and that the gospel testimony is to go out everywhere. There is no indication here of another gospel offer after death.
Acts 3:21. Peter spoke of “the times of restoration of all things,” and this to some Bible scholars implies the idea that in the end all will be saved. But a careful study of this verse makes it clear that Peter was speaking about the restoration of Israel as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. They spoke of Israel’s return to the land and the restoration of the theocracy under David’s Son, but they never predicted a day when the unsaved dead would be converted and translated to heaven.
1 Corinthians 15:22. Paul’s words “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” are sometimes taken to mean that all will eventually be saved. But that isn’t what Paul said. He declared the simple truth that just as every person dies because he is united with Adam as a member of the sinful human race by natural birth, so every person who is united with Christ shall experience a glorious resurrection. We did nothing to become a member of the human race, but we must believe on Christ and be born again to enter Christ’s family. We who have done this are now “in Christ” and therefore recipients of eternal life.
Colossians 1:20. Paul declared that God’s purpose is “to reconcile all things to Himself… through the blood of His cross.” Standing by itself, this seems to teach that eventually every creature will be brought into a saving relationship with God. William Hendriksen quotes a minister who used this verse as the basis for the following statement: “In the end everybody is going to be saved. I have hope even for the devil.”
But when we interpret this verse in the light of the many passages that clearly distinguish between a resurrection to condemnation and a resurrection to blessedness, we see Colossians 1:20 as teaching that through the blood of the cross God provided for the restoration of the whole universe to the harmony He intended for it, the harmony that was broken through sin. The day is coming when all creatures will be brought into subjection to God. They will acknowledge the authority of the triune God and submit to Him. They will confess the lordship of Christ to the glory of the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). In the case of the evil spirits and unredeemed human beings, this subjection will be imposed, not welcomed. On the other hand, the good angels and redeemed people will submit joyfully and rejoice in the fact that rebellion has ceased and a new harmony exists in God’s universe.
No, as much as we would like to think that ultimately all will be saved, we cannot honestly use the Scriptures to build a case for it.