As I expected, after I had published on this website my article titled The Universalism (“All Saved”)Issue, I received a barrage of critical comments from staunch defenders of the doctrine of universal salvation. In this present article I will explain the seeming discrepancies between Scriptural affirmations about God’s desire or purpose that all mankind be saved, not a single one ever “lost,” and other positive Bible affirmations that, in the end, there will be some people who will not be saved, but will instead be destroyed in the “lake of fire” or the “second death.”
The most “telling” argument, in my view, against my previous article is that about God’s purpose, which will stand: “The LORD of hosts has sworn, saying, ‘Surely, as I have thought, it shall come to pass, and as I have purposed, so it shall stand….For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?’” (Isaiah 14:24-27).
In context, though, the above-quoted verses concern God’s purpose to “break the Assyrian in My land [Israel], and on My mountains tread him underfoot, then his yoke shall be removed from them [God’s people Israel], and his burden removed from their shoulders” (Verse 25).
Indeed, as history attests, God allowed the Assyrians [as His “rod” to punish Israel for their sins (Isaiah 10:5, 24)] to carry the northern kingdom or house of Israel away into captivity in Assyria and other places, and later to free them from their captors – something that did happen to the ancient nation or kingdom of Israel, and will yet happen again to modern-day Israel. The late founder and pastor-general of the Worldwide Church of God, Herbert W. Armstrong, warned about this powerfully in his book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy. You may access this book through this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets,” and scroll down to the book with that title. This book details about how God will punish and later rescue His people from their modern-day Assyrian captors. [See also: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Isaiah 46:9-11 also affirms: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure….Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass, I have purposed it; I will also do it.
Again, in context, God is here referring to His purpose to call “a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country” (Verse 11). Honest students of Bible prophecy understand that this particular prophecy [also proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:12-14; 29:10)] pertained to, and was fulfilled by, King Cyrus of Persia, as Ezra 1:1-11 details. God used Cyrus as His instrument or servant to allow the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple there that had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
Defenders of universal salvation assert that these particular Scripture passages also apply to God’s purpose or desire that all of mankind be saved. But, as I have just pointed out, their assertion uses Bible passages apart from their specific contexts! Considering the context of Scripture passages is a basic principle in the proper understanding of Bible doctrine.
Did God bind Himself to an “oath” to save all of mankind — not a single one lost?
If, indeed God has bound Himself to an “oath” that He cannot break, to save all of mankind, and even all creation [including Satan and his demons!], so that His “will,” “desire,” “purpose,” or “pleasure” will be accomplished fully, then we have a gigantic problem harmonizing this with Jesus’ sure and true testimony about some people not being saved but destroyed in the “second death” (Revelation 21:8).
We would then have to conclude that God contradicts Himself! That He says one thing, and does another! That He has broken His own word, and He thus turns out to be a liar — that He can’t be trusted! But Jesus assures that God’s word cannot be broken (John 10:35), by any alleged contradiction or other. Titus 1:2 also assures that God cannot lie!
Rather than accusing God falsely of lying — indeed a very serious charge and blasphemous! – let us examine ourselves lest we be reading something into God’s word that He never intended. We should rather admit God to be true, and all of us human beings liars (Romans 3:4). And we will then need to revise our understanding of God’s promise, in light of The Whole Counsel of God.]
A review of God’s “oaths”
A review of God’s “oaths” in the Bible is in order.
In order of time, we might say that God’s purpose for man, from the beginning, was that man would be made not only in the physical image of man, but also in His perfect spiritual image or likeness. God made mankind out of dust – weak — with the possibility of sinning, and indeed man chose to sin, and did sin! [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”] Knowing this, God had prepared, even “from the foundation of the world” [our human society], His “Spokesman” [Greek, Logos, meaning “Word,” as John 1:1-14 explains of Christ] to be the “Lamb [of God] that was to be slain (Revelation 13:8), for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins so that man can be saved (John 1:29; 3:16). [See: The Ransomed of the LORD.]
God superintended everything in order that His Sovereign purpose for Christ would be fulfilled. Thus, from the super-normal human birth of Jesus, to His earthly ministry, His death and resurrection, His assumption to heaven (where He ever intercedes for His people) God has fulfilled His purpose; Jesus’ return to earth to establish God’s kingdom here, on up to the “Last Judgment” and the coming down of the “New Jerusalem” as the eternal home of all the saved – all this God will fulfill according to His word or oath.
God gave an oath [“swore” or promised unconditionally] to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through Him and his “Seed” – Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16, 29). God’s promise is to “all nations” – not to every single individual regardless of one’s having the same faith of Abraham or not. [See: The Children of Abraham.]
From the Garden of Eden, we come to the “age” of Noah. Almost everybody knows the Bible story of the worldwide flood in Noah’s day that destroyed all of the human race except for the eight people [“souls”] comprised of Noah and his family of three sons and their wives (Genesis 6-9), according to a covenant which God established [we might say, with an “oath” or promise] with Noah to save them from the flood (Genesis 6:17-21). On his part, Noah agreed to do all as God commanded him, and he did (Verse 22).
After that flood had subsided, and the human race began to proliferate again, God promised [we might say He made an “oath”] to Noah and his descendants that He would never again send down a worldwide flood to destroy evil mankind and all flesh. God created the rainbow as a sure sign of that covenant or oath (Genesis 9:8-17).
Several generations after Noah, God called out Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel, that had to sojourn in Egypt in order to survive a seven-year famine in their area of the Middle East. The familiar Bible story is told in Genesis 37-50. In fulfillment of His promise or oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 22:15-18), God heard the cries of the oppressed children of Israel under the hands of their Egyptian taskmasters (Exodus 1-2). God called out and sent Moses to lead the children of Israel out of their Egyptian bondage and on their way to the land God had promised to their fathers. The dramatic story of Israel’s exodus into the “Promised Land” is recorded in Exodus 3-40, the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
While on their sojourn in the wilderness, a number of Israelites did not believe God but rebelled against Him. Because of this, God swore in His wrath: “They shall not enter My rest” (Hebrews 4:3; Psalm 95:7, 8, 11). Thus that generation perished in the wilderness and didn’t enter God’s “rest” – His Promised Land (Numbers 14:26-38; 16:1-50).
Even Moses himself disobeyed God’s command regarding the “Rock” – to speak to it, not strike it (Numbers 20:2-11). Because of this Moses died and failed to enter the Promised Land, as God told him (Deuteronomy 32:48-52; 34:4-8).
Another “oath” God made was with Israel’s King David. Because of his loyalty and obedience to God, David was promised by God with an oath or covenant that David’s throne or dynasty will last forever (2 Samuel 7:10-17; Ezekiel 37:21-25).
Another “oath” that God declared was about Christ becoming God’s High Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:5, 6, 10; 7:17, 20, 21). [See: The Mystery of Melchizedek Unlocked!]
Understanding God’s purpose — and “method”
Unless we consider God’s “method” or “way” of salvation (Acts 16:17; 18:25, 26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), our understanding of God’s will, desire or pleasure will go askew!
At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The disciples, whom He taught personally for some three and a half years, also preached: “Repent” (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20)!
Acts 5:31; 11:18 affirms that God “gives” or “grants” repentance to both Jew and Gentile. But what is God’s “method” or way to do this?
The apostle Paul, who was personally taught by Christ (Galatians 1:11), explains that “the goodness of God leads [not forces or coerces] you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). One cannot understand the “goodness” of God unless God grants His Spirit to comprehend one of these “things of God” not perceived by the mere, unaided human mind (1 Corinthians 2:10-12).
Seeing the perfection and holiness of God should lead one to recognize one’s sinfulness and evil ways and so decide to turn from a sinful life to one that pleases God, according to His will and ways. Paul preached that all should “repent, turn to God and do works befitting [worthy of] repentance” (Acts 26:20).
That part of “repentance” where one turns away from doing evil works and instead turning to God and doing works worthy of one’s professed repentance – doing things God’s way, according to His word and law – calls for the exercise of one’s will and volition. We have to repent for ourselves; God will not “repent” on our behalf, nor does He “coerce” us into repentance, although Jesus warns us “Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). A healthy “fear” of God is, in fact, taught by the Bible –something one should choose. [See: Can we Fear and Love God at the Same Time?]
Paul wrote: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body [by choice or exercise of one’s will], whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 26:27). “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).
One is called to accounting by answering for, or taking responsibility or credit for what one decides and does — good or evil. God will not answer for anyone. Each of us must account for all that we do and say. God will mete out rewards or penalties accordingly. In this regard God has given every human being freedom of choice, and each must answer for their choices. This is God’s “method” that He will stand by forever, as He does not change. [See: What Does God Mean – “I Do Not Change?” and What Is This Thing called “Will?”]
What does God mean — “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked?”
God says: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way [of sin] and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). Is God saying here that, since He has no pleasure in seeing the wicked die or be destroyed, all the wicked will turn [repent] and be saved?
This is a case of reading into Scripture something God did not intend or mean!
Let’s take the case of God destroying all of humanity and all air-breathing animals in Noah’s day. God “saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thought of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). This grieved God in His heart (Verse 6). As the well-known story goes, God destroyed all of mankind and all air-breathing animals, except Noah and his family of eight people, and the animals on board the ark.
A grieving God did not have some perverse, sadistic “pleasure” in hearing the shrieks and seeing the death of all beings that took breath in the worldwide flood He sent. But it was too late for all the people to have repented and survived. They must have heard Noah preach a message of repentance and condemnation, but they continued in their evil deeds anyway (Hebrews 11:7), and God destroyed them.
So it will be when God will destroy wicked, evil mankind as He surely will. God will not laugh with sadistic delight and glee upon seeing them destroyed forever in the “lake of fire” (Revelation 21:8). It will have been too late for them to repent, after God will have given them their fair chance to know God, receive His Spirit, and be judged for righteousness . [See: This Is not the Only Day of Salvation and Predestination.]
In that Day of Judgment every single human being who had not had a chance to know God and understand His purpose for mankind, will receive His Spirit (Joel 2:29). As I explain in the latter just-mentioned article, the 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ will produce millions more of Spirit-transformed Teachers to teach all the billions of unsaved mortals in the Judgment after the “Millennium.”
No one can rightly use the excuse, “I didn’t have a chance to learn and accept God’s truth, because there was no one to teach me!” Isaiah 30:20 assures that during the Millennium, and after that, God will provide sufficient Teachers for everyone – Teachers who “will not be moved into a corner anymore [not be unavailable], but your eyes shall see your teachers, Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’” That is to say that the people will have a choice to walk in that way or not.
Despite all this, however, there will still be some mortal human beings who will choose to not walk in God’s way. Such are the hordes of people who, at or towards the end of the Millennium, will try – but fail! — to take over Christ’s government headquartered in Jerusalem (Revelation 20:7-9). [See: Two Goats Together, particularly the section titled “A possible scenario.”]
There will be some who, after they will have been taught God’s way during the Judgment after the Millennium, will prove that their works deserve them being cast into the “lake of fire,” their names removed from The Book of Life (Revelation 20: 15; 21:8). Could it perhaps be that they had known “the depths of Satan” and, like Satan, could not repent (Revelation 2:24)?
That is the sure word of Christ’s prophecy!
The prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit of Christ (2 Peter 1:21), wrote: “‘And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the LORD” (Isaiah 66:23). This not only proves that God’s holy Sabbath will be observed during Christ’s reign on earth [see: What if the Sabbath Is Still Holy?]. Here is a testimony about “all flesh” worshiping God. This should make proponents of universal salvation happy and confident they are correct in their understanding of Scripture.
But now notice what the next verse says: “And they [referring to “all flesh”] shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me” [as a matter of personal choice], etc. (Verse 24). These men will be burned in fire that will not be quenched [that is, not put out until all combustible matter is consumed], just as Christ prophesied (Mark 9:43-48). This affirms that there will be some who will choose the way of wickedness and will thus suffer death in hell-fire.
The whole weight of Bible prophecy tips in favor of God’s loving and compassionate desire to save all of mankind, if they would (Revelation 22:17), but also God’s perfect and holy judgment that will not countenance evil work and will destroy forever all such evil people (Revelation 21:8).
May we all indeed let God be true, and all men liars (Romans 3:4)!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.