When the Scriptures speak of the final restoration of all, does it actually mean that every individual will ultimately be saved and brought back into the fold, or can the word “all” somehow be limited so as to only include those few privileged to hear and positively respond to the gospel before they either draw their last breath, or Christ returns? When Jesus said that He would effectually draw (ἑλκύω) all unto Himself (Jn 12:32), can that somehow be construed as meaning less than every individual? When Paul said that Christ is the Savior of all, especially of believers (1Tim 4:10), can we reasonably argue that in reality He is only the Savior of those who believe in this brief lifetime? Considering that Paul said, “as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom 5:18), how can it be possible that most will nevertheless be eternally condemned when all is said and done?
Those who believe in the eternal exclusion of most of Adam’s race, must somehow limit “all” so as to only include the few who have been saved during their brief lifetime. Their attempts to limit “all” to “some” are varied. Some argue that the references to all being saved and restored are simply hyperbole and therefore shouldn’t be understood literally. Others say that it only means “some from all people groups,” while some Calvinists even attempt to argue that “all” only means “all the elect.”
I have sought to show the fallacies of these attempts to limit the all-inclusiveness of “all” in my books The Triumph of Mercy and The Universal Solution, as well as in several of my blogs, so I won’t be considering them in detail here. Here I simply want to respond to N.T. Wright’s claim that these references to “all” should be understood as simply meaning “both Jews and Gentiles alike.” Speaking of Paul’s use of “all” throughout Romans he says: “The point Paul has been making all along…is that all men, Jew and Gentile alike, stand on a level before God… Within this context, the correct gloss to put on ‘all men’…is not ‘all men individually, but ‘Jews and Gentiles alike.’”  This is a nuanced version of the argument that “all” in these contexts means “all without distinction,” rather than “all without exception.”
While it is true that Paul emphasizes that both Jews and Gentiles stand on a level before God throughout his epistle to the Romans, one cannot be consistent with the development of Paul’s logic and still deny that he meant “all without exception,” rather than simply “all people groups, whether Jew or Gentile.” In the first three chapters Paul establishes that all without exception have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and not merely some within each people group. In Romans 3:12 he emphatically says, “There is none righteous, no, not one (individual).” Then, in verses 22-23 he says that free justification is extended to that same “all,” saying:
“For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned (without exception) and fall short of the glory of God, being justified (present passive) freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:22-23, parenthesis mine)
Here Paul declares that the same “all” who have sinned are presently being justified freely by God’s grace through Christ’s universal redemption. While justification is a once-and-for-all event, occurring the very moment one believes, “being justified” here appears in the present continuous passive, since sinners are being justified one-by-one as each individual believes. There is no way for a sinner to be justified apart from faith in Christ, but in Christ, our Last Adam, justification came to all men without exception, just as Paul says in Romans 5:18:
“Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men (without exception), resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men (without exception), resulting in justification of life (for all men).” (Rom 5:18, parenthesis mine)
One cannot reasonably argue that the “all” justified is less in number than the “all” condemned. The parallel comparison “as…even so” requires that “all men” in both instances be the same and not less or different. Just as the judgment, resulting in condemnation, came to every individual without exception, even so, the free gift also came to every individual, resulting in their justification the very moment they receive it by faith. Throughout Romans 5, Paul contrasts that which was lost to all mankind in Adam, with that which was restored to the same all in Christ, the Last Adam. The same all who die in Adam are seen to be made alive in Christ; all those who were condemned in Adam receive justification and are made righteous in Christ, the Last Adam. I consider the scope of Romans 5 in my blog, The Universal Reversal.
However, in spite of the clear universal implications of Romans 5, based upon his understanding of verse 17, N.T. Wright limits the “all” who benefit from the Last Adam to only those few who personally and actively receive Christ in this life. Admittedly, taken out of context, the verse could be misconstrued as negating what Paul affirms throughout the chapter. It reads:
“For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:17)
Wright, as with many other Partialists, understands receiving as referring to when we actively receive Christ. However, as we see throughout this entire passage, the contrast is between that which all men without exception receive in Adam and that which all men without exception receive in Christ, the Last Adam. The word “receive” is the Greek word lambano, which has two distinct usages: 1) to actively take or receive, or 2) to receive as a passive recipient. The context must determine whether the receiving is passive or active. For example, in several New Testament passages we see that the recipient must receive something he did not even desire to receive, such as a just reward for his disobedience (Heb 2:2), or a greater judgment (Luke 20:47). In other instances, the recipient receives that which he was not even anticipating. For example, everyone in Cornelius’ house was surprised when the Gentiles suddenly received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:47). In these examples it is obvious that the recipient is passive.
The Greek scholar Marvin Vincent correctly applies the passive meaning to Romans 5:17 when He says: “They which receive (hoi lambanontes). Not ‘believingly accept,’ but simply ‘the recipients.”  Although he does not go into further detail, his rendering of lambano in the passive sense is necessitated by the context. The contrast throughout is between that which all men receive in Adam, as opposed to what all men receive in Christ, the Last Adam. As all men passively receive death, condemnation, and bondage to sin through the one man’s disobedience, even so all receive life, justification, and dominion restored, through the one man, Jesus Christ.
However, that being said, even as not every man experientially entered into Adam’s death, condemnation and bondage to sin at the moment Adam sinned, even so not everyone experientially received life, justification or dominion at the moment when Christ, the Last Adam, died and rose from the dead. Even as man must be born into Adam to experience the death, condemnation and bondage to sin he brought upon us all, so also must every man be made alive or born again before experientially entering into that justification and dominion which every man received when Christ, the Last Adam, died and rose again. Of the Last Adam’s death and resurrection, it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” (1Cor 15:45). And again, “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” (1Cor 15:22).
While it is true that no one personally and experientially receives the benefits of justification, sanctification or dominion restored in Christ until they have believed on Him for salvation, what we see is that all, in due time, will come to faith in Christ and will submit to Him. Every tongue will eventually confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. In Christ, all will eventually be made alive. At present only those who receive Him are born again and justified and are being sanctified to be received unto Him at His coming. But in due time all will be in Christ – justified, sanctified and subjected to Him as Lord.
N.T. Wright further argues that when Paul said, “For God has committed all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” in Romans 11:32, that “all” should not be understood to be referring to all individually, but rather “all” must be glossed so as to simply mean Jew and Gentile alike. However, it is the same “all” who have been committed to disobedience who will receive His mercy once they recognize their condition and look to Him for mercy.
Romans 11:32 summarizes what Paul established in the previous chapters. In the first three chapters he demonstrated that every individual is guilty before God. Then, beginning in 3:21, he introduces God’s mercy, saying in verse 23: “for all have sinned…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The same all who were disobedient and under sin, are those who afterwards receive God’s mercy, being justified by His grace.
The problem is that Wright sees God’s mercy as only enduring for a lifetime, when Scripture repeatedly declares that His love never ceases, and His mercies never come to an end. I respond to the arguments against postmortem salvation in my blog: Hope for the Dead. Paul himself says in Philippians 2:10-11 that all will bow the knee, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, not only those in heaven and on earth, but even those under the earth. That is “all without exception.” And looking at the passage which Paul here cites from Isaiah, it is evident that all without exception are saved upon bowing the knee in submission, confessing Jesus as Lord:
“Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, saying (λέγων LXX) ‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.’” (Isa 45:22-24)
Here God says that He has actually sworn by Himself that all without exception will look to Him and be saved. Every knee will bow, and every tongue will take an oath saying, “surely in the Lord I have my righteousness.” The words, “He shall say” were added by the translators, obscuring the fact that it is every tongue that will confess unto salvation. The LXX, which was the Greek version of the Old Testament Paul cited from, simply says that every tongue will take an oath of allegiance, saying that the Lord is their righteousness. The expressions, “every knee” and “every tongue” cannot be glossed to simply mean “Jew and Gentile alike,” as N.T. Wright would have us believe.
There are other instances where Paul clearly and emphatically means “all without exception,” and not simply “all without distinction” or “Jew and Gentile alike.” Here I will cite just one example which could not possibly say more clearly “all without exception.” In Colossians Paul says:
“For by Him all things (without exception) were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things (without exception) were created through Him and for Him… 20 and by Him to reconcile all things (without exception) to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” (Col 1:16,20)
Our English word “things” does not have an equivalent in Greek. Neither does the neuter form in Greek always indicate objects as in English. When the translators insert “things” in contexts that are clearly referring primarily to persons rather than inanimate objects, as we see here in Colossians, I take the liberty to cross it out in order to keep the focus where it belongs. “Reconciliation” is not applicable to inanimate objects since it is a relational term meaning, “to be restored into a relationship which had previously been broken.”
I don’t believe that anyone could express “all without exception” more emphatically than Paul does here. He says that all whom Christ created, whether in heaven or on earth, whether visible or invisible – absolutely all, were reconciled unto God by the blood of His cross!
Both terms, “reconciliation” and “restoration,” are relational and inseparable from each other. When the offended party in a relationship opens the way to reconciliation, the relationship is restored as soon as the offender corresponds, resulting in the restoration of the relationship. Peter spoke of the coming times of the restoration of all, or what Early Greek speaking Fathers referred to as the apokatastasis, or the restoration of all rational beings unto God:
“and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration (ἀποκατάστασις, apokatastasis) “of all things (without exception), which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.” (Acts 3:20-21 parenthesis mine)
Here again, while all of creation, whether animate or inanimate, will be restored, the restoration, or apokatastasis, is primarily speaking of the restoration of all relational beings to God, just as the Greek Fathers understood it, rather than the refurbishing of inanimate things. This restoration even includes Sodom and Samaria, as we see in Ezekiel:
“And I will bring back and restore them by bringing back Sodom, with her daughters, and by bringing back Samaria, and her daughters: and I will bring those that return of thee in the midst of them. 54 That thou mayest bear thy shame, and mayest be confounded in all that thou hast done, comforting them. 55 And thy sister Sodom and her daughters shall return to their ancient state: and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their ancient state: and thou and thy daughters shall return to your ancient state.” (Ezek 16:53-55 Douay-Rheims)
That God is promising the final restoration of the ancient inhabitants of Sodom and not merely some future generation, is evident, since the entire population was utterly removed from the land of the living when He destroyed Sodom with all its inhabitants. There are no descendants of Sodom presently on earth to be restored. If God will restore even wicked Sodom and Samaria, how can we continue insisting that “all” doesn’t mean “all without exception” when speaking of ultimate salvation, reconciliation and restoration?
Finally, if “all” didn’t mean “all without exception” to Paul, then what did he mean when he said that in the end God will be all in all, after all have become subject to Christ and made alive? (1 Cor 15:22-28). If the “all” is only some, a small representative group from among the Jews and Gentiles alike, wouldn’t that also imply that Christ only manages to subject some from among both Jews and Gentiles unto Himself? How then can God be said to become all in all? Are we to understand from this that Paul meant to say that God will only become all in some Jews and Gentiles alike? Certainly not!
To me, it is not possible to reasonably deny that at least some passages of Scripture clearly teach the final restoration of all without exception. That being so, it is futile to go through all these various mental gymnastics in an attempt to limit “all” to include “some” in Romans. In the consummation of the final Age of the ages, all without exception will have bowed the knee in voluntary submission to Christ, resulting in God being all in all in eternity.
God’s glorious plan for the ages consummates with all having become reunited in Christ (Eph 1:10), rather than there existing an eternal dualism with God and a remnant of mankind from Jews and Gentiles, and Satan with a third of God’s angels, along with most of humanity, quarantined in eternal opposition to God. In eternity there will not even be one tear shed in all God’s creation, because He will have removed the veil that is over all people and abolish death forever. Glory to His name!
“Say to God, ‘how awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power your enemies shall submit themselves to You. 4 All the earth shall worship You and sing praises to You; they shall sing praises to Your name.” (Ps 66:3-4)
“And He will destroy on this mountain, the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces…” (Isa 25:7-8)
 Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, Romans 5:17