A Universalist’s Response to “Exposing Universalism” by James B. De Young
Is there hope for our loved ones who lived and died in their lost condition without receiving Christ? Nearly all Christians have been taught that the moment one’s heart stops beating all hope of salvation is forever lost and this has caused torment and despair in the hearts of many whose loved ones died before saying the sinner’s prayer. Dante’s famous 14th century fiction novel “The Divine Comedy” graphically describing his medieval version of hell, had a great impact upon the Christian mindset which prevails to this very day. In his novel he said that over the gate leading into hell appears the words, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’inatre,” which means “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
If Dante is right, unless we are so self-centered and calloused that we are beyond feeling, we who have loved ones who died outside of Christ would have much grounds for continuing anguish and despair. Also, everything we have seen in the previous sessions concerning the final restoration of all would be impossible, since the vast majority of mankind either didn’t hear the gospel or else they failed to respond to it before taking their last breath. But does the Bible actually teach us that all hope of salvation forever ceases at death, or is this merely a deeply ingrained theological presupposition handed down to us from the days of Saint Augustine?
Many are surprised to discover that there is no verse in Scripture which actually teaches that salvation is impossible beyond the grave. The only verse presented in support of this doctrine is Hebrews 9:27 which simply says: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” However, this verse only states what both Traditionalists and Universalists agree upon - that men must face judgment upon dying. In this judgment, those outside of Christ will be judged “according to their works” – receiving “their part” in the Lake of Fire, some receiving “few stripes” while others receive “many stripes,” not getting out of there “until” they have paid in full (Rev 20:12; 21:8; Luke 12:47; Matt 5:26; 18:34-35). None of these expressions are compatible with eternal punishment.
De Young says: “There is no hint that anyone can exercise faith after death.” (p.217) However, to me it is more significant that there is no hint that one loses his ability to believe upon dying. We lose our bodies upon dying, not our capacity to understand and believe. While it is not explicitly stated that one can believe after death, it is necessitated by the fact that eventually every knee will bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord. How can this happen without faith? How can the whole world be saved with all being reconciled and restored if indeed it is not possible to exercise faith after death, given that most are not saved and restored in this life? While faith after death may not be explicitly stated in Scripture, it is everywhere assumed. More importantly, there is no hint that one cannot exercise faith after death. If such were the case, we would expect it to be emphasized over and over in Scripture.
In spite of the multiple passages of Scripture which declare a universal restoration of all, De Young insists that there is not even one text supporting our belief that those who did not hear, or even those who heard but did not respond to the gospel in life, can be saved after death. He says:
“They (Universalists) argue that it is the spirit of man that is of central importance to God, and there is no reason why God can’t provide salvation after one’s body has died. The only problem with this argument, an argument from silence, is that there is ‘not one text’ that supports the claim of universalism.” p. 88 (parenthesis mine)
I see several problems with this statement. In the first place, Universalists are correct in stating that the spirit of man is more important to God who is spirit than one’s body. For example, Paul commanded the Corinthians to deliver the sinning brother over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh in order that his spirit might be saved in the Day of the Lord (1Cor 5:5). While salvation is of the entire man – spirit, soul and body, God is Spirit and we have communion with Him and worship Him with our spirit and therefore it is our spirit which is of utmost importance to Him.
Secondly, Universalists do not speak of some future provision of salvation but base the salvation of all upon Christ’s finished work on the cross 2,000 years ago. Nowhere in Scripture do we see that His provision for salvation ends at death or at the Second Coming of Christ. Our Savior Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain for all from eternity. The gospel is referred to as “the everlasting gospel.” Whatever that means it certainly means that it doesn’t cease to be good news the moment one dies or Christ returns. Christ’s priesthood is eternal, and He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to Him since He ever lives to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25). But who will be in need of His intercessory ministry after the Church has already been glorified and free from sin if not those who died in their sins and need His intercession in order to be able to come to the Father through Him?
Finally, De Young’s statement that Universalists argue for salvation after death from silence could just as easily be leveled against the Traditionalists, since the Scriptures nowhere state that salvation is only possible in this life. And while Scriptures do not directly speak to this issue, a deductive study of all pertinent texts require salvation after death. If all are to be restored and only a few elect are restored in this age, then salvation after death must be assumed. If Jesus will draw all unto Himself, seeking and saving until the last lost sheep has been found, then He must continue drawing, seeking and saving after one’s death, since most die in a lost state (Acts 3:21; Jn 12:32; Luke 15:4, 19:10). If all will be subjected to Christ, resulting in God being all in all, then the conviction of the Spirit resulting in repentance, bowing the knee to Christ and confessing Him as Lord, must continue after one’s death, since not all will have become subjected to Him in this age (Isa 45:22-24; 1Cor 15:25-28; Heb 2:8).
One could continue, giving text after text which deductively require salvation after death without the need for a direct statement to that effect. In reality, it is more significant that Traditionalists cannot present any text which says that all opportunity for one’s salvation ends at death. Christ is the Savior of the whole world and not just the elect firstfruits. He gave His life a ransom for all and He declares that He will seek and save the lost until all are safe in the fold (Jn 1:29, 4:42, 10:16; 1Jn 2:2, 4:14; Matt 20:28; 1Tim 2:6, 4:10, etc.). Also, taking into account all we have seen in previous sessions concerning the corrective and temporal nature of God’s judgments, and Christ’s enduring intercessory ministry, how can we still insist that Christ’s saving work forever ends at death?
There are also numerous passages which actually indicate that salvation continues even after the Great White Throne Judgment and after the New Jerusalem has descended upon the new earth. First, it says this of the New Jerusalem after having descended upon the new earth:
“By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates shall never be shut by day - and there shall be no night there; 26 they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. 22:1 Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations... 14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood… 17 The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 21:24-22:2,14,17 RSV)
Here we see that the gates of the New Jerusalem will always be open. Although the New Jerusalem is the exclusive habitation of Christ and His Bride, those of the nations who are saved subsequent to the Second Coming will walk in her light and will be able to enter. The only ones excluded are those outside who continue in sin and have not yet washed their robes. But they are called upon to wash their robes so as to have their names written in the book of life, allowing them to enter and partake of the leaves of the tree of life which are for their healing. Typical of Traditionalists, De Young supposes that the sinners outside her gates will never be able to enter. He says:
“Finally, the future state of the new heavens and new earth still has the existence of the wicked outside the holy city.” p.88
Traditionalists assume that God’s story for the ages begins with the creation of man and ends with the elect saints forever in the New Jerusalem and the sinners forever outside in fiery torments. However, God’s glorious creation story does not end in eternal ruin for the majority but rather in the restoration of all. The White Throne Judgment, as with all His judgments throughout history, although resulting in a condemnatory sentence for some, are corrective in nature and therefore always culminate in their ultimate restoration.
If the condemned outside the gates in the Lake of Fire were eternally condemned, they wouldn’t be enjoined to wash their robes so as to be able to enter into the New Jerusalem. God’s mercy endures forever, and Christ ever lives to intercede for sinners. Although without holiness no one can see the Lord, the gates are always open to all those outside if they wash their robes so as to be able to enter. And the Bride and the Spirit during that time will be extending to them the invitation saying to them, “‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.”
That this invitation is in a post-Great White Throne context is evident since the Church doesn’t become the Bride, the wife of the Lamb until the wedding feast at Christ’s Second Coming.  Then, only after the Millennium does the Bride descend in the New Jerusalem upon the new earth (Rev 21:9-10). She, along with the Spirit, invites those outside the New Jerusalem who are thirsty to enter and drink of the water of life which flows from the throne of God within the city.
Also, if all possibility of restoration ended with the Great White Throne Judgment, why are the leaves of the tree of life within said to be “for the healing of the nations?” As long as there are still those outside who need healing, God will continue the process of restoration. The dispensation of the fullness of the times does not come to a close until all in heaven, on earth and under the earth have been reunited in Christ and God becomes all in all (Eph 1:10; Phil 2:10-11; Rev 5:13; 1Cor 15:28).
De Young says: “The text never says that anyone from the lake of fire ever gets out in order to enter the city.” (p. 60) While it is true that it is not directly stated, it is clearly implied by such phrases as “their part” or “portion” (Rev 21:8 Gr. meros); not getting out “until” (Matt 5:26, 18:30) and Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, saying to them: “tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Matt 21:31), as well as His reference to “few stripes” and “many stripes.” All of these qualifying phrases rule out a never-ending hell as well as the annihilation of the lost. Additionally, the Lake of Fire is said to be the “second death.” In Revelation 2:11 it is said of the overcomers that they will not be “hurt by” the second death. This also implies limited duration.
Also, since the last enemy to be destroyed is death, when death is destroyed there will “be no more death” (1Cor 15:26; Rev 21:4). Are we to believe that somehow there will be no more death while the majority are suffering an unending death? Would that not be an eternal paradox? Paul clearly states that all who died in Adam (which includes all without exception) will be made alive in Christ, the Last Adam, thereby destroying death forever (1Cor 15:22,26).
In the last session we saw that the English phrase “forever and ever” is eis tous aiónas ton aiónon, which simply means “into the ages of the ages” and does not speak of eternity but rather a series of ages. The preposition “into” (eis) only speaks of an open-ended entrance into the ages of the ages without specifying the duration within that time-period. The preposition eis could be rendered as “in” without altering its essential meaning. Each will be judged “according to their works” and will receive “their part” within the purifying Lake of Fire which is the second death to self which they didn’t undergo in life. The length of time each individual will remain in the Lake of Fire in the ages of the ages depends upon “their part” “according to their works.” They will remain there “until” they have paid the last penny (Matt 5:26). Rightly understood, the very purpose and nature of the Lake of Fire rules out an eternal duration. I explain this in my blog: “Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire.”
De Young asks the question: “If universalism teaches that those in hell will repent and believe the gospel, who will be there to preach it?” (p.229) The answer is that we, the elect firstfruits will. And we will not be the first to do it – Jesus was (1Peter 3:19). Where does it say that the Church will preach the gospel to those outside in outer darkness? We already saw that the Spirit along with us the Bride, will be inviting all those outside who are thirsty to enter and drink freely of the water of life (Rev 22:17).
In Ephesians 2:6-10 we see that we were seated with Christ in heaven, being His workmanship (poema) of grace in order that through us He might show the riches of His grace in the coming ages. To whom would He put us on display as His workmanship? To whom are our transformed lives a testimony of God’s grace in this age? To the lost who need to discover His grace. Then, to whom will He make His grace known in the coming ages, if not to the lost who need to be found and saved by grace?
The elect Church of this age is merely the firstfruits of His new creation (James 1:18); those who first trusted in Christ (Eph 1:12); the Church of the firstborn ones (pl. prototokon) (Heb 12:23). The “residue of men” or the “rest of mankind” will not be harvested until the Deliverer comes out of Zion (Acts 15:16-17).
A passage of Scripture which to me clearly speaks of the Church as making Christ known to all the rest of mankind when correctly translated is Ephesians 3:21. However, its meaning was hidden from us in the King James Version. It reads:
“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen (tou aiónos ton aiónon).” (Eph 3:21 KJV)
As we saw in the previous session, it should read as we see it in the Concordant Literal Version which reads:
“to Him be the glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the eons! Amen!” (Concordant Literal Version)
Or, taking into account the conjunction “and” (kai) and expressing the full sense of the word “generations” (genos) one could say:
“to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all descendants of all generations, into the age of the ages, Amen!”
The conjunction “and” (kai) is included in most translations, based upon the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament, and further clarifies that both Christ Jesus and the Church will be revealing the glory of God to coming generations (c.f. Isa 60:1-3). Also, a more precise translation reveals who will be seeing the glory of God revealed in Christ and in His Church. It will not just be the angels. The phrase “throughout all generations” indicates that it will be revealed in the Church and in Christ Jesus “to all descendants of all generations up to and including those of the final Age of ages.” The word “generations” refers to descendants or generations – not so much as to a period of time as to those born or generated. Angels do not generate and therefore do not have generations. Therefore, it is saying that in the Age of ages all will see the glory of God as displayed in Christ and His Bride, the Church. The prophecies of Scripture speak of a time coming when all people of all generations will see the Glory of the Lord and here we see that it will be revealed in Christ and in His Church, the bride:
“The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isa 40:5)
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab 2:14)
“Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. 2 For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. 3 The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isa 60:1-3)
It is the glory of the Lord upon the Church of the firstborn ones which will cause the residue of men to be drawn to Christ. His glory will be revealed and “all flesh” shall see it. The whole earth will be filled with the experiential knowledge (LXX ginosko) of His glory as the waters cover the sea.
So, Christ is the Savior of all men - especially of those who believe, to be sure, but also of those who didn’t believe in this life and died in a lost state (1Tim 4:10). Eventually every knee shall bow and every tongue in heaven, on earth and even under the earth, shall confess Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God the Father, resulting in God being all in all (Phil 2:10-11; 1Cor 15:28).
 The term “bride” (numphe) refers to the bride at the marriage ceremony in the bridechamber (numphon), or to the subsequent young wife and is never used of the Church before the wedding feast. Before the wedding feast we are said to be “betrothed” or “espoused” (2Cor 11:2 Gr. harmoso) but not yet the Bride.