One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer is the fate of the ignorant and those who die without having heard the gospel. This is a big problem because we recognize that it’s beyond unjust for anyone having never had the opportunity for salvation to be tormented in fire eternally. How can a loving God create multitudes of eternal beings, then allow them to suffer eternally having never had hope of any other fate? It’s not fair and it’s not love.
This question, however, is simply an unnecessary issue caused by the Trinitarian wrong view of human beings (man). Once our view of man is corrected, the issue goes away and the question answers itself. Man is a temporal physical being and his death is the cessation of the life that was given unless God raises him back to life. The real question concerns the hope of resurrection.
Holding the assumption that man is an eternal being, the typical answer for the fate of the ignorant is that Scripture is silent, therefore we should be silent—that we only have authority to speak where Scripture speaks. That mantra is certainly noble when Scripture is truly silent. However, when Scripture is not silent about any particular question or subject, there’s an inherent responsibility for finding the truth and NOT being silent about it. And this is one subject that Scripture isn’t silent about.
The fate of the ignorant has actually been quite plain in Scripture all along but obscured by false doctrine. Error blinds our minds from what is otherwise apparent. It’s the false Trinitarian view of man that has been the overriding problem. Scripture isn’t silent about the fate of the ignorant; the answer has been “under our noses” all along.
Two different views of man
The Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther about 500 years ago was an apparent split from the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, it kept the foundational false teachings of the Church that God is a Trinity of Persons and that man is a non-physical eternal being living inside a body that continues to live disembodied after death either in heaven or in hell. But these false views cause major conflicts with the teaching of Scripture and with reaching sound logical and reasonable conclusions. One such major conflict is the fate of the ignorant.
Scripture teaches that man is strictly a physical being formed from the ground and animated by the breath of God, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). And not only was man formed from the ground but so were the animals, “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air” (Gen 2:19). Likewise, as the breath of life is in the nostrils of man, “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7), so were the animals, “And all flesh died that moved on the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man. All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, all that was on the dry land, died” (Gen 7:21-22).
We don’t think of animals as non-physical beings living inside bodies that continue to live disembodied after death. Why do we think this about man? Man is simply a physical being—he is dust: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7); “till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19); “And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes” (Gen 18:27); “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14); “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecc 3:20); “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Ecc 12:7).
When man dies, he doesn’t continue living as a disembodied non-physical being but is dead and no longer living. The dead know nothing and have no consciousness. They’re not praising God in heaven right now because the dead cannot praise at all: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten” (Ecc 9:5); “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Psa 6:5); “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee? Selah. Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction?” (Psa 88:10-11); “The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence” (Psa 115:17); “For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth.” (Isa 38:18-19).
Creation and conscience
The eternal being view of man caused a major problem in the Trinitarian view of salvation and evangelization that had to be reconciled. If man is inherently eternal and will always exist either in heaven or in hell, then what about the ignorant or those that have never heard the gospel? Will they simply get automatically admitted to heaven or will they burn forever in hell having had no hope of avoiding it? It can’t be that the ignorant have no hope but spend eternity in fire, and it can’t be universalism either—that everyone will be in heaven. But everyone must go somewhere in that view so there must be an objective determining standard.
To resolve this quandary, Trinitarian scholars and theologians devised an interpretation of two passages in Romans which allows them to teach that the ignorant aren’t actually ignorant at all because they’ve heard sufficiently about God through the creation and through their own conscience—the creation/conscience (CC) interpretation: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20); “Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom 2:15). Since the creation itself supposedly “preaches” the gospel to them, and their own conscience bears witness of moral good and evil to them, therefore they can come to salvation if they receive this knowledge or “they are without excuse” if they reject it.
However, these are simply misinterpretations concocted to solve the problem caused by their false view of man. If we have the correct view of man that he is a physical being, then there isn’t the problem necessitating those interpretations. Man doesn’t continue existing somewhere eternally after death. Man doesn’t exist at all unless he is resurrected back to life.
The CC interpretation also “opens a can of worms” causing a whole new set of problems. Why preach the gospel at all if everyone has already heard and is still hearing through CC? Can people really be saved that way? If people can find the true God through CC, then why does human history show that they’ve always turned to idolatry and false gods? But the bottom line is that if CC is true, then nobody is ignorant—everybody will be raised from the dead either to eternal life, or to condemnation and destruction. And if nobody is ignorant, then everybody has heard and is still hearing. Why preach the gospel at all?
What Paul meant by his reference to the creation in chapter 1, he stated at the conclusion of his letter: “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (16:25-26). The mystery was “made known to all nations” because it couldn’t be known prior to being revealed or manifested. This is how his opening words of Romans are to be understood, “for obedience to the faith among all nations” (1:5), “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20). If the Trinitarian interpretation is true that “all nations” and even pagans can understand the message of the gospel through the creation and be saved, then they don’t need revelation from Jesus Christ. And why is it even a mystery if everyone can understand it? Furthermore, it’s not only that they can understand it and be saved, but also that they must understand it or “they are without excuse” and will be condemned by it. Essentially, in the Trinitarian view of man, nobody is truly ignorant at all.
In chapter 10, Paul quoted from Psalm 19: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Rom 10:18), “There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psa 19:3-4). He understood and used Psalm 19 to conclude that the gospel message is to be preached to all people and not just to the Jews, “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom 10:12-14). His proof that the gospel should now be preached to all people is that the gospel message has been “preached” every day to all people by the creation itself, but hidden in a mystery. And he certainly wasn’t teaching that people can be saved by hearing the creation “preach” because he asked “how shall they hear without a preacher?”
In Romans chapter 2, Paul wasn’t teaching that the ignorant can be saved through their own conscience. He was using Gentiles under Christ’s law “the law written in their hearts” (v. 15) that were keeping God’s righteous requirements, to compare with Jews under the Law of Moses that were not keeping God’s righteous requirements. His point of the comparison was to prove “there is no respect of persons with God” (v. 11), and that His judgment “will render to every man according to his deeds [actions]” (v. 6), of “every soul of man that doeth evil” (v. 9) and “every man that worketh good” (v. 10), regardless of whether Jew or Gentile. Therefore, if the actions of uncircumcised Gentiles fulfill the standard of God’s righteousness, while the actions of circumcised Jews do not, then Paul’s point is proven. He wasn’t teaching that Gentiles can live righteously on their own through their conscience and by some instinctive nature. But in their natural born state of “uncircumcision which is by nature” (v. 27), they can keep the righteous requirements of the law “written” in their hearts by Christ’s teaching and the Holy Breath of God under the New Covenant, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah … I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Heb 8:8,10).
All flesh is like grass
The question about the fate of the ignorant isn’t a problem once we accept the reality that man isn’t an eternal being but a physical being that perishes at death. We recognize that animals pass from existence when they die—dogs don’t go to heaven. And we don’t think of any unjustness done to them in existing for a short time then passing from existence. Why not the same with humans? What would be unjust with God allowing humans to live, then never live again? For them to not exist, come into existence, then no longer exist? For man to be given life then have that life taken away, he is substantially back to where he started, “the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).
Now, this isn’t degrading humanity, created in the image of God, down to that of animals. It’s recognizing the truth taught in Scripture: “Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish … Like sheep they are laid in the grave … Man that is in honour, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish” (Psa 49:14, 12, 20); “that they might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast” (Ecc 3:18-19).
“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isa 40:6-7); “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psa 103:15-16); “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (1Pe 1:23-24). All flesh is like grass in that it’s born of “corruptible seed.” All flesh produces more flesh after its own kind, then decomposes back to the ground from which it came. But there is a second birth to life in resurrection that is of incorruptible “seed” that will never again return to the ground in death. Since Scripture teaches that “all flesh is as grass,” and grass produces more grass before it dies and decomposes back to the ground, why think differently about human flesh?
Sin is not imputed when there is no law
In Romans chapter 5, Paul reveals the hidden mystery in Adam since the beginning, “the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (16:25). In 5:12-14, he taught about death passing from Adam upon all, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” Since “death passed upon all men,” then all humanity dies because of Adam’s sin. And although everyone also sins, God doesn’t impute their sins to them “sin is not imputed when there is no law,” if they hadn’t sinned in the same way as Adam under a direct commandment from God, “had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” They simply died and will never live again. They were without law, therefore they perished without law as Paul taught earlier, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law” (2:12).
He taught repeatedly in Romans that the knowledge of sin came by the law and that God doesn’t impute sin to those who didn’t have its knowledge: “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (2:12); “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (3:20); “for where no law is, there is no transgression” (4:15); “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (5:13); “I had not known sin, but by the law” (7:7); “For without the law sin was dead” (7:8).
Verses 15-19 is a parenthetical section giving specific details in which Adam was a type of Christ to come, “the figure of him that was to come” (v. 14). Paul gives a series of contrasts—how they ARE NOT alike—then comparisons of how they ARE: “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift” (v. 15), “And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift” (v. 16), “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one … shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (v. 17), “as by the offence of one … even so by the righteousness of one” (v. 18), “For as by one man’s disobedience … so by the obedience of one” (v. 19). His primary point in this section is the same that he taught the Corinthians, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1Co 15:21-22). All die because of Adam, and the only hope of resurrection to eternal life is Jesus Christ.
His secondary point in this section is that it’s God’s favored people that received the gift of righteousness and hope of eternal life, “much more the grace [favor] of God, and the gift by grace [favor], which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many” (v. 15), “much more they which receive abundance of grace [favor] and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (v. 17). From Moses to Nehemiah it was stated that if God’s people kept the law they would die in hope of eternal life: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev 18:5); “And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them” (Eze 20:11); “yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear” (Neh 9:29). And Christ Himself affirmed the same, “but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Mat 19:17), “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luk 10:28).
In verses 20-21, Paul rejoins and concludes the point he began about the law of Moses before having diverted into the parenthetical section, “For until the law … from Adam to Moses” (vs. 13,14). The law given through Moses resulted in many now sinning “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (v. 14), because “the law entered, that the offence might abound” (v. 20). But God’s “grace [favor] did much more abound” (v. 20). God now favored His people over all other people, “I and thy people have found grace [favor] in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth” (Exo 33:16). Making his final comparison between Adam and Christ, “That as sin hath reigned … even so might grace [favor] reign” (v. 21), Paul concluded that as Adam’s sin reigned over mankind resulting in death, God’s favor now reigns over His people through Jesus Christ resulting in eternal life, “That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace [favor] reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21).
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [creation]: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2Corinthians 5:17-21).
This passage from 2Corinthians conveys an essentially parallel message with Romans 5:21-21. Now, the popular understanding taught about “he is a new creature” is false. That “he is” is italicized indicates it’s not in the Greek text but was added by the translators. Paul wasn’t teaching that people become some kind of new creatures, but that the creation itself will be renewed from the curse in the end. The “old things are passed away” are death, sorrow, crying, and pain: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea … And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev 21:1,4). That “all things are of God” (v. 18) are the death, sorrow, crying, and pain imposed upon the creation in the curse: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children … in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life … till thou return unto the ground” (Gen 3:16,17,19); “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope … the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom 8:20,22). Thus, this passage concerns the curse upon the creation since Adam until its renewal from the curse in the end, and all of this is of God.
“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (v. 19) are the events during the 4,000 years from the pronouncing of the curse until Christ dying for the sins of the world. The expression “God was in Christ” indicates God’s purpose for orchestrating the events that happened during that period—the curse, the flood, the confusion of the languages, the calling of Abraham, the Exodus, the conquest of the land, etc. He administered such advents “in Christ” or with the express purpose of the world being reconciled to Himself through Christ. In other words, those events and many others were necessary to bring about and consummate the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ.
His statement “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (v. 19), is essentially parallel with “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son … but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom 5:10,13). For God to reconcile the world to Himself through the death of his Son, He dealt with humanity differently during the first 4,000 years than He has been during these last 2,000 years. He didn’t send preachers evangelizing the world with the message of reconciliation before Christ as He did after, “and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation… and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (vs. 18,19). Therefore, since the message wasn’t being offered, judgment upon their sins wasn’t being imputed, “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” How would it be just to not give commandments to humanity defining sin, yet resurrect them from the dead to be judged for their sins?
As Paul taught the Gentiles at Ephesus, “who were dead in trespasses and sins … Even when we were dead in sins” (Eph 2:1,5), “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). What did he mean by “dead in trespasses and sins”? If he meant that they died with their sins imputed, then the fate of the ignorant is that all will be raised and judged for their sins. If he meant that they died with their sins forgiven, then the fate of the ignorant is that all will be raised to eternal life. But the plain sense and what makes the most sense is that they died with their sins not being imputed which corresponds with having no hope of living again, “having no hope.” If they did have hope, why say they didn’t?
Sin is the transgression of the law
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ began His “sayings” or teaching on the morality contained in the Law of Moses with “Think not that I am come to destroy the law [nomos 3551], or the prophets” (Mat 5:17), and ended with “this is the law [nomos 3551] and the prophets” (Mat 7:12). He then foretold of how it will be for many before Him in judgment, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [anomia 458]” (Mat 7:23). It will be “lawbreakers” (NET), “who break God’s laws” (NLT), “who practice lawlessness” (NKJV), that will be banished from Him and condemned. The Greek anomia means “violator of law” or “breaker of law.” It can’t be the ignorant or those without law that will be judged and condemned but those that violated and broke His law. As He concluded His Sermon, “whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24,26).
Paul reiterated the same to the Romans, “For not the hearers of the law [nomos 3551] are just before God, but the doers of the law [nomos 3551] shall be justified” (Rom 2:13). It’s actions that will be judged, and actions require first hearing. Since the ignorant haven’t heard, how can their actions be justified or condemned? He then continued to relay that message repeatedly: “by the law [nomos 3551] is the knowledge of sin” (3:20); “for where no law [nomos 3551] is, there is no transgression” (4:15); “sin is not imputed when there is no law [nomos 3551]” (5:13); “Moreover the law [nomos 3551] entered, that the offence might abound” (5:20); “I had not known sin, but by the law [nomos 3551] … For without the law [nomos 3551] sin was dead” (7:7,8).
Jeremiah prophesied of the New Covenant that would replace the Old, “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jer 31:33). And the writer of Hebrews quoted him twice, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws [nomos 3551] into their mind, and write them in their hearts” (Heb 8:10), “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws [nomos 3551] into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them” (Heb 10:16). The Old Covenant law of Moses was written on stone tablets but the New Covenant law of Christ is “written” on our hearts. Christ’s teaching and commandments, particularly in His Sermon on the Mount, is the nomos by which our actions will be judged.
The same violation of the Old Covenant law, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities [anomia 458] will I remember no more” (Heb 8:12), is true also with the New Covenant law, “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity [anomia 458]” (Mat 7:23). Since sin is the transgression of the law whether under the Old or New Covenants, how can the ignorant be judged without having been under law?
The knowledge of God
Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul declared that all humanity outside the Jews didn’t know God: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews” (Jhn 4:22); “I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship” (Act 17:23); “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God” (1Co 1:21); “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God” (Gal 4:8-9); “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12); “being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them” (Eph 4:18); “Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God” (1Th 4:5).
Paul taught that the Gentiles were in ignorance: “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” (Act 14:16); “And the times of this ignorance [agnoia 52] God winked at [hyperorao 5237]; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Act 17:30); “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12); “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance [agnoia 52] that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph 4:18); “As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance [agnoia 52]” (1Pe 1:14). The Greek noun agnoia is the negative form of “knowledge” or “understanding.” It’s to not have knowledge or understanding. And the Greek hyperorao translated “winked at” means “to overlook” or “take no notice of.” It’s similar to our saying “turn a blind eye.” Paul was saying that since God left all nations of people in ignorance or without knowledge of Him, therefore He suffered them to “walk in their own ways” and looked away. If it was God’s will to leave vast multitudes of humanity in ignorance, then how would it be just for Him to judge them later? And if prior to the cross He wasn’t commanding “all men every where to repent,” then how would He be just in judging them later for not repenting? In fact, that He wasn’t commanding them to repent implies that He wasn’t imputing their sins, “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom 5:13), “not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2Co 5:19).
Paul told the Greeks in Athens, “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Act 17:26-27). Other Bible versions have “perhaps reach out for him and find him” (NIV), “in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him” (NKJV), “perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (NLT). It’s the idea of someone in the dark or someone blind feeling and groping to find someone. But it’s not saying humanity actually could find God this way but to prove they couldn’t!
Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe [trust]. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness. (1Corinthians 1:20-23)
Paul told the “wise” Greeks at Corinth that it was “in the wisdom of God” to prove “the world by wisdom knew not God.” He gave the world, particularly the Greeks which were the wisest people of all, ample opportunity to find Him by their own wisdom and intelligence. Through it all, He proved that their “wisdom” is foolishness and that the preaching of the cross which they now deem “foolishness” is tremendously wise. That this is what was meant by “feel after him, and find him” is evident by the statement “though he be not far from every one of us.” In other words, there’s no room for excuse by claiming He was just too far away because He has always been as close as our own selves, “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (v. 28). He allowed humanity to unsuccessfully “feel after him” or “grope for Him” even though He was right there all along. We’ve all played hide-and-seek with our kids. But how about with God? Can He find us? Can we find Him?
“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1Co 1:27-28). Throughout Scripture, God showed time and again that the world couldn’t outsmart or outmuscle Him. He repeatedly made people look like fools! For example, to keep from bowing before Joseph, his brothers’ evil plan resulted in them bowing before Joseph, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen 50:20). And Haman’s evil was his own undoing, “But when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letters that his wicked device, which he devised against the Jews, should return upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows” (Est 9:25). Thus, God “taketh the wise in their own craftiness” (1Co 3:19).
Many times God defeated vast armies with a relatively small number of men. Take Gideon for example, “By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thine hand” (Jdg 7:7). Just imagine the talk after that, “An army of 120 thousand trained soldiers was defeated by 300 men that lap water like dogs?” And “things which are not, to bring to nought things that are,” was demonstrated in Abram being called “a father of many nations” though he wasn’t, “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee” (Gen 17:5), “I have made thee a father of many nations … calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom 4:17). God did such things so “That no flesh should glory in his presence” (1Co 1:29).
Not only Paul DID NOT teach that the nations could find God through the creation (Rom 1:19-20) or through their own conscience (Rom 2:14-15), but also he DID teach that they couldn’t find Him through any means at all! Far from giving the world hope of finding Him on their own, Scripture records that God consistently destroyed all hope of anyone finding Him. The only hope is for Him to reveal Himself, which He did to His people through Moses and then to the world through His only begotten Son.
The fate of the ignorant
Humans are physical beings that, like the animals, are no longer alive after they die because death is the cessation of life. Up to this point, Scripture isn’t silent about fate—the ignorant perish when they die because all perish when they die unless there is hope of resurrection. Therefore, since Scripture isn’t silent about the reason everyone dies “death passed upon all men” (Rom 5:12), and Scripture isn’t silent about the fate of everyone that dies, then if Scripture is silent about the hope of resurrection, then Scripture isn’t silent about their fate.
Jesus and Paul taught resurrections of only two “classes” of the dead: “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jhn 5:29), “And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Act 24:15). There is a resurrection of the just that did good, and a resurrection of the unjust that did evil. These are the only two resurrections of which we are told.
For judgment to be just, there must be an objective standard by which actions can be measured as either good or evil. Adam was given a law that clearly defined both, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen 2:16-17). He wasn’t ignorant—he knew it was good to eat from every tree, but evil to eat from that one tree carrying the penalty of death. And the same was true for God’s people under the law of Moses, “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil” (Deu 30:15). However, this wasn’t true for those living between the time of Adam and Moses, “sin is not imputed when there is no law … from Adam to Moses” (Rom 5:13-14). Although they sinned without law, but without law they “had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (Rom 5:14). They had not “done good, unto the resurrection of life” and had not “done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
Although people were sinning prior to the law, “For until the law sin was in the world,” but without law their sins were not being held against them, “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (5:13). And Paul had said earlier that the fate of those sinning without law is that they perish, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law” (2:12), while those sinning under the law are judged, “and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” To be judged, they must be resurrected to stand in judgment. Therefore, the sins of those without law are not counted against them and they perish when they die, but the sins of those under the law are counted against them in judgment after being resurrected. This is the resurrection of the unjust—they heard the law but didn’t do its requirements, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God” (2:13). But those that did the requirements of the law are resurrected and justified, “the doers of the law shall be justified.” Thus, Paul spoke here of three possible fates: (1) those without law, perish when they die; (2) those that kept the requirements of the law, will be resurrected to justification; (3) those that didn’t keep the requirements of the law, will be resurrected to judgment and condemnation.
Furthermore, when Paul said, “but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom 5:13), “not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2Co 5:19), if he didn’t mean what he said, then just what did he mean? How would their sins not be imputed by resurrecting them later to be imputed? In other words, if everyone will be resurrected to have their sins imputed and judged, then what is meant by “sin is not imputed” and “not imputing their trespasses”? Who is truly ignorant?
And what did Paul mean by “who were dead in trespasses and sins … we were dead in sins” (Eph 2:1,5), “being dead in your sins” (Col 2:13), if he didn’t mean that Gentiles died with no hope of eternal life? “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1Co 15:19); “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12); “that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1Th 4:13). God’s people, on the other hand, had hope of eternal life, “if a man do, he shall live in them” (Lev 18:5), “I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil” (Deu 30:15).
The resurrection to judgment will be of the just and the unjust—those that heard God’s law either under the Old or New Covenant, and either kept or didn’t keep its righteous requirements. But Paul spoke of another “class” of people that never heard, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law” (Rom 2:12). Since it’s “the doers of the law” that will be justified, and doing requires first hearing, then how can those that never heard be doing what the law requires? And if it’s the hearers that will be judged for either doing or not doing, then how can those that have never heard be judged? Doing requires hearing, therefore judging requires hearing.
Jesus Christ taught, “That whosoever believeth [trusts] in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth [trusts] in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jhn 3:15-16). The “world” are all people outside God’s covenant people without hope of eternal life. Jesus stated that they perish. The world’s only hope of eternal life is trusting in God’s only begotten Son: “believeth [trusts] on him that sent me, hath everlasting life” (Jhn 5:24); “believeth [trusts] on him, may have everlasting life” (Jhn 6:40); “He that believeth [trusts] on me hath everlasting life” (Jhn 6:47); “that believing [trusting] ye might have life through his name” (Jhn 20:31).
Daniel was told that the resurrection will be of “many” and not necessarily all, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). And of the many there are only two fates mentioned—everlasting life and everlasting contempt. But also the expressions “sleep” and “awake” are used for those that are resurrected regardless of their final fate—even those that will die a second time are said to be “asleep” but will “awake.” Therefore, those with hope of resurrection are said to be asleep while nothing is said about others: “Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1Co 15:18-19); “concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1Th 4:13).
That the dead are “asleep” is an expression first used for Moses and continued through the rest of Scripture for God’s people that have died: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers” (Deu 31:16); “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers” (2Sa 7:12); “lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psa 13:3); “And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Act 7:60); “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep” (Act 13:36); “some are fallen asleep” (1Co 15:6), “they also which are fallen asleep in Christ” (v. 18), “them that slept” (v. 20), “We shall not all sleep” (v. 51); “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead” (Eph 5:14); “concerning them which are asleep … them also which sleep in Jesus” (1Th 4:13,14).
That “sleep” and “awake” are simply figures of speech for the dead that have hope of resurrection is understood by how Christ Himself used the expressions for Lazarus, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.” (Jhn 11:11-14).
When we wake up from sleep, even if we slept for eight hours straight, it seems to have been just a blink of the eye. And the same would be true of those who have been dead even for thousands of years. We would think that when Abel “awakes” in resurrection, he will have no concept of having been dead for almost 6,000 years! This is because death truly is the cessation of life and consciousness, and sleep is similar to it in some ways. No wonder David said, “Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” (Psa 19:2-3). Regardless of ethnicity or language, our solar system and biological system speaks the message of life and death figuratively to us daily—every day waking up to new life and every night falling asleep at the end.
The fate of the innocent
Since humans are physical beings, essentially no different than animals, their passing from existence at death is the natural and logical fate. And since we don’t consider any unjustness with God in allowing animals to exist for a short time then passing from existence, why not the same with humans? Furthermore, animals sometimes suffer cruel and horrible abuse but we don’t think of them receiving any justice after they die. Again, what would be unjust of God allowing innocent humans to suffer horribly then die without any redress? This isn’t being heartless or insensitive about the tragic suffering and loss of innocent human life but simply acknowledging the reality of their fate.
“So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.” (Ecc 4:1-3). Solomon acknowledged the suffering of those horribly abused and the power of their abusers over them. Yet he was silent about any kind of justice for the victim or judgment upon the oppressor. Rather, he simply praised the dead no longer suffering and those not yet suffering.
Human life begins at the moment of conception. But this poses a huge problem for the eternal being view. What happens when a baby dies even within moments of conception? If the baby is an eternal being, then it must leave whatever physical “body” it had and go somewhere for eternity. On the other hand, what about humans as physical beings? Will every human life, including those that died just moments after conception, be resurrected? Possibly. But what makes far more sense, and is consistent with all created life, and harmonizes Scripture best, is that ignorant and innocent human life perishes at death.
Babies and young children have no knowledge of good and evil for which they will be held accountable: “Moreover your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, and your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it” (Deu 1:39); “For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings” (Isa 7:16); “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil” (Rom 9:11); “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:14).
Since we’re only told about resurrections of those that did either good or evil, “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jhn 5:29), therefore we’re given no hope that babies will be resurrected. Does this mean they won’t be resurrected? Not necessarily, only that no hope is given of it. But to say that Scripture is silent actually does give people a glimmer of hope—something Scripture doesn’t give. Therefore, since Scripture doesn’t give this hope, why should we?
The mercy of God
God is merciful and gracious: “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exo 34:6); “But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psa 86:15); “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Psa 103:8); “Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful” (Psa 116:5); “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy” (Psa 145:8).
If the ignorant simply perish when they die and their sins go to the grave with them, what about justice for their innocent victims that were horribly abused by them? Again, this goes back to man’s parallel with animals. We don’t question God’s justice in letting animals perish when they die with no hope of any redress. Why not the same with humans?
Is it consistent with the character of God to judge anyone for violating knowledge they had no way of knowing? Would that be just and fair? And is that the standard by which we want to be judged as well? Would we want to be judged for things we sincerely had no knowledge of? What if we were one of the ignorant among an isolated people group that never heard? Though we sinned against others and others sinned against us, would we rather perish at death, or be raised, judged, punished, and die a second time in the lake of fire? Those maintaining that the ignorant must be raised and judged likely haven’t considered themselves first.
We all want pity when we’re the violator, but penalty when we’re the victim. We want justice when others have hurt us, but not when we’ve hurt others. Why is that? It’s because we’re selfish and not always viewing others equally important as ourselves. Christ’s law of love “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Jas 2:8), the law by which He will judge us, “shall be judged by the law of liberty” (v. 12), is that we’ll be shown the mercy we have shown, “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (v. 13). If we’re not forgiving, we won’t be forgiven, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mat 6:14-15). And by the same measure we judge, we shall be judged, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Mat 7:2).
What about Moses murdering an Egyptian, “And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.” (Exo 2:11-12)? Of course Moses was forgiven of his sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. But what about judgment and justice for the Egyptian? Will that ignorant man be raised and judged for the lesser sin of smiting a Hebrew, yet receive no justice for the greater sin of his own murder? The “victim” argument—that victims should always receive justice—doesn’t necessarily take into account that victims are also violators and violators are also victims. When we demand justice for victims, we also demand justice for their own victims as well.
We’ve all been ignorant and God was merciful to us. It’s for the very reason God is merciful that the ignorant perish when they die and won’t be held accountable for what they had no way of knowing. It’s God’s mercy to allow the ignorant to perish without facing His judgment.
In our daily lives, whenever we install a new app or create a login to a website, we must check a box and push a button affirming we have read and agree with their terms. By doing that, we’re binding ourselves to their terms by legal liability and can’t later plead ignorance in a court of law for violating them. This is the essence of a covenant—it binds two parties to fulfill their part of an agreement and eliminates any excuses on both sides.
The basis by which Israel was held accountable for their sins is that they had confessed from their own mouths that they had heard, understood, and would do the law they had been commanded. Moses gave instructions for God’s people to carry out after they had crossed the Jordan: “These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people, when ye are come over Jordan; Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin: And these shall stand upon mount Ebal to curse; Reuben, Gad, and Asher, and Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali.” (Deu 27:12-13), “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.” (Deu 27:26). When all the people said “Amen” after hearing the law along with its blessings for keeping it and curses for breaking it, they had relinquished all ignorance and excuses. And they carried out those instructions after crossing the Jordan, “half of them over against mount Gerizim, and half of them over against mount Ebal; as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessings and cursings, according to all that is written in the book of the law.” (Jos 8:33-34). This is what Moses meant in his last words to God’s people:
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil. (Deuteronomy 30:11-15)
They couldn’t make excuses saying that God’s law was too far away or beyond their reach for them to hear it and do it. It wasn’t far at all but very near—even affirmed out of their own mouths that they had understood it in their hearts. Therefore, they made themselves liable to do it. It was because of this binding agreement that both “life and good, and death and evil” were now set before them. And the same is true with the New Covenant:
But the righteousness which is of faith [faithfulness] speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith [faithfulness], which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Romans 10:6-9).
To “confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus” isn’t speaking a magic formula. It’s confessing our loyalty to Him in obedience. Baptism is the point we confess Him as our Lord—affirming we have heard and will do everything He commanded, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Mat 28:19-20). Once we’ve heard and confessed from our own mouths, we must do, “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24,26).
However, since the ignorant have neither heard nor confessed, how can they be held liable? What’s the basis for their resurrection and judgment? It’s because God made His people hear and acknowledge from their own mouths His commandments that He ensured there was no place for ignorance or excuse. And the same is true with God’s people today hearing and confessing Christ, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom 10:9), “heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them … heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not” (Mat 7:24,26).
This is what Paul taught earlier in Romans, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom 2:12-13). Those “without law” never heard and perish when they die, while those that “sinned in the law” will be “judged by the law” because they heard but didn’t do.
Reconciling the world unto Himself
God commanded His people through Moses, the genocide of entire people groups in the land, “And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them” (Deu 7:2). And His people carried it out under Joshua: “For Joshua drew not his hand back, wherewith he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai” (8:26); “he utterly destroyed, them, and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain” (10:28); “smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein; he let none remain in it” (10:30); “smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein” (10:32); “Joshua smote him and his people, until he had left him none remaining” (10:33); “smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein he utterly destroyed that day” (10:35); “smote it with the edge of the sword, and the king thereof, and all the cities thereof, and all the souls that were therein; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon; but destroyed it utterly, and all the souls that were therein” (10:37); “smote them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed all the souls that were therein; he left none remaining” (10:39); “he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded” (10:40); “And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe” (11:11); “but every man they smote with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any to breathe” (11:14); “Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities” (11:21).
God’s people utterly destroyed every man, woman, child, and infant … but saved the cattle: “only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves” (8:2); “Only the cattle and the spoil of that city Israel took for a prey unto themselves” (8:27); “And all the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey unto themselves” (11:14).
In fact, not only God commanded His people to destroy all of them but even hardened the hearts of the leaders so that they wouldn’t seek peace but fight and be destroyed, “There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that he might destroy them, as the LORD commanded Moses” (Jos 11:19-20).
Job lost all ten of his children the same day. Let’s pause and grasp that for a moment; he didn’t just lose a child, or even two, but all ten. And Job was a real person with real emotions and hurts. Yet he declared, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” (Job 1:21-22). God gave all life and He can take it all away. And why couldn’t He take away that life without having given any hope of eternal life? If He gives life, is He bound and required to give it eternally, or at least some hope of it? If so, then why?
There’s only one explanation that adequately accounts for God’s command to His people for the genocide of many ignorant and innocent people in the promised land—the world’s only hope of eternal life was the crucifixion of His Son, and bringing this one event to pass required many horrible events to precede it. These events had to happen so that some could be given the hope of eternal life. God had to first establish a chosen people in the promised land with Jerusalem as the capital and David seated on the throne. And the world couldn’t be evangelized yet by sending preachers as He did Jonah to Nineveh, but had to ensure first that “darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen 1:2). He had to keep the understanding of the crucifixion hidden from the world, “Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Co 2:8). And He had to keep the understanding of the gospel message hidden. But once it was all consummated and complete, the understanding of it was revealed and the evangelization of the world began!
“Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Mat 11:21), “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (Mat 12:41). Jesus taught that had God sent someone to preach to the people of Tyre and Sidon they would have repented. But of course, the obvious question is why didn’t He? Why send Jonah to Nineveh but nobody to them? If God had sent preachers throughout history to every people, then the world wouldn’t have been in darkness but in light—and a world full of light wouldn’t have crucified the Light of the world: “That was the true Light” (Jhn 1:9); “that light is come into the world” (Jhn 3:19); “I am the light of the world” (Jhn 9:5); “I am come a light into the world” (Jhn 12:46); “for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Co 2:8).
God allowed multitudes of humanity to live and die with no hope of eternal life so that some would have that hope. It should give us tremendous appreciation for the hope of eternal life we have that many were never given. It should compel us to love God all the more for what He did for us.
The rest of the dead
In the book of Revelation, we’re told that those raised in the first resurrection before the Millennium won’t die a second time, “the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power … and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev 20:6). To never die again is eternal life. However, there will be another resurrection after the Millennium, “the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (Rev 20:5). Those not raised in the first resurrection are “the rest of the dead” which will be raised after the Millennium and eventually die a second time, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Rev 20:14).
Since there are only two “classes” of the dead that will be resurrected, “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jhn 5:29), “resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Act 24:15), then the just that did good are those resurrected to eternal life before the Millennium, while the unjust that did evil are “the rest of the dead” that will be resurrected after the Millennium to be judged for their sins and die a second time in the lake of fire. Where are the ignorant?
“Who will render to every man according to his deeds [ergon 2041] … Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Rom 2:6,9-10). The Greek noun ergon means “actions,” any actions defined by the context in which it’s used. Here, it’s the good or evil actions of all nations of people that will be judged. This is consistent with the judgment after the Millennium: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works [ergon 2041]. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works [ergon 2041]” (Rev 20:12-13).
For actions to be judged as either good or evil, people must have had the knowledge of good and evil. And judgment will be to “the Jew first” because they were given that knowledge first, “For until the law … death reigned from Adam to Moses … Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound” (Rom 5:13-14,20). As with Adam, the Jews were given the knowledge of the true God and the knowledge of both good and evil. But Gentiles, on the other hand, continued to remain in ignorance, “sin was in the world: sin is not imputed when there is no law … them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” (Rom 5:13-14). They were still sinning but not as the Jews “after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.”
Ignorance is not having the knowledge of good and evil—having the knowledge of good is to not be in ignorance. This is why perishing when they die is the only logical fate of the ignorant because if they’re raised for their actions to be judged as either good or evil, then they weren’t ignorant. If everybody is raised and judged, then nobody is ignorant.
Every knee shall bow
Isaiah prophesied of the judgment seat of Christ, “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Isa 45:23). And Paul quoted from Isaiah in two of his letters. In Romans, it was within the context of brethren judging one another over eating meats and observing days: “For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs … One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike … But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” (Rom 14:2,5,10-11).
In Philippians, it was within the context of brethren being in strife and pride: “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus … That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phl 2:2-5,10-11).
Paul used Isaiah’s words to urge the brethren to love and unity—walking in love and not judging one another because we will all be judged by Christ. On judgment day, we will all be on our knees at the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ’s judgment to enter into eternal life, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jde 1:21), “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (Jas 2:13).
“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (Jhn 5:22-23). Jesus Christ Himself said that all judgment is committed to Him for all to honor Him as they honor the Father. That “every knee shall bow to me” (Rom 14:11), isn’t necessarily an inclusion of all humanity to resurrection and judgment, but is necessarily an inclusion of all humanity resurrected to judgment by Him. It’s not about who is judged, but who the Judge is.
Daniel was told that many will be resurrected, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). This is consistent with what Christ and Paul later taught that only two “classes” of the dead will be resurrected: “they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jhn 5:29); “resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (Act 24:15). That “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,” implies that the resurrection isn’t all humanity.
After this the judgment
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment [krisis 2920]” (Heb 9:27). The Greek krisis for “judgment” occurs almost 50 times in the New Testament and consistently indicates judgment unto condemnation as it’s even used a little later, “But a certain fearful looking for of judgment [krisis 2920] and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb 10:27). It’s never used of those that are resurrected to eternal life. In fact, Christ Himself made this distinction: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [krisis 2920]; but is passed from death unto life” (Jhn 5:24), “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [krisis 2920]” (Jhn 5:29). Therefore, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” isn’t about all humanity dying and being resurrected, but the unjust being reserved unto judgment. In other words, the unjust didn’t perish when they died but will be resurrected, judged, and condemned to die a second time in the lake of fire. They will receive their just deserts.
The fate of the ignorant isn’t about categorizing people into neat packages or “classes,” and it isn’t about oversimplifying the complexity of humanity into a theological paradigm. It’s about seeking answers to questions that God wants us to have. He has revealed certain things in the Scriptures and wants us to come to the knowledge of them. In fact, we have a duty to pursue that knowledge, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Mat 22:37). Loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind consists of sincerely seeking the truth and embracing it. And loving people consists of telling them the truth.
God is seeking those who will worship Him in breath and in truth, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit [breath] and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit [breath] and in truth.” (Jhn 4:23-24). It’s not that we simply should but that we must worship God with the very breath He gave us and in the truth. Of course, the truth isn’t always what we want it to be. That babies perish when they die is certainly not what any heartbroken parent that has lost a baby wants to believe. Therefore, they gain comfort from hearing that their baby is now in heaven or will be resurrected for them to raise in the next age. But those messages are simply myths—fanciful stories that tell people what they want to hear and make a hero of the messenger. Even the “Scripture is silent” answer insulates the messenger from being “the bad guy.” But if we truly love God and love people, we’re not going to tell stories that give false hope, nor are we going to dodge difficult questions with silence. We’re going to lovingly tell people the truth from the Scriptures. The truth is what honors God and respects the dignity of human life. True worshippers accept the truth and submit to it.
Although Scripture teaches that the ignorant and innocent perish at death, this in no way hinders God from applying Christ’s atonement and granting eternal life to whomever He wills. He is God and can do whatever He wills within His character, within equitable justice, and within logical possibility. But since He has revealed that they perish, this is the answer for their fate—but not necessarily the absolute and final answer. Most assuredly we’ll be pleasantly surprised by things in eternity that He never revealed to us.