Some people believe that God will eventually allow every person who has ever lived on the earth (except, perhaps, some really wicked people) to enjoy the benefits of eternal salvation, but does the Bible provide any support for this belief? To answer this question, we will consider the scriptures that we think are the most relevant.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise.]
The first three scripture passages we will consider emphasize that, to have assurance of eternal salvation, it is necessity to believe (i.e., have faith) in Jesus Christ. (There are also other scriptures we could cite that indicate trusting in Jesus Christ is necessary to have eternal salvation.)
In John 3:16-18, Jesus Christ asserts,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Although Jesus Christ indicates in John 3:16 that God loves everyone, He declares in verses 17 and 18, as well as in Mark 16:16, that those who do not trust in Him (i.e., God’s Son) for eternal salvation are condemned (i.e., will not be forgiven for their sins). Although God is loving, He will do what is just (i.e., righteous), which includes punishing those whose sins have not been forgiven, because they have not trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior (see Romans 2:5).
Paul writes in Romans 10:9-10, “[I]f you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
This scripture makes it sufficiently clear that to receive eternal salvation, each person must affirm that they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. In other words, no one should expect to receive eternal salvation unless they are trusting in the death of Christ on the cross to be the only sacrifice that God will accept as the necessary atonement for their sins.
In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
This scripture likewise indicates that faith is necessary to receive eternal salvation, and the context of the passage infers that this faith must be in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this scripture emphasizes that salvation is not earned by doing good works.
Although all three of the preceding scriptures indicate that assurance of eternal salvation is dependent on whether or not a person has trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior, some people may argue that unbelievers will have an opportunity to trust in Christ after they have been resurrected, prior to the final judgment. However, the following scriptures indicate otherwise.
Hebrews 9:27 states, “[I]t is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment. . . .” The NIV translation of the Bible provides a clearer understanding of this verse of scripture, as follows: “[P]eople are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. . . .”
This scripture certainly does not support the belief that between the time a person dies and the time they face the final judgment they will have an opportunity to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and receive eternal salvation.
Furthermore, Revelation 20:4-15, which specifically pertains to the final judgment, declares,
And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
This last scripture passage makes it clear that, at the final judgment, every person whose name is not written in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire, which is generally understood to refer to eternal hell. Therefore, many people will not have eternal salvation. [Note: A more extensive discussion of Revelation 20:4-15 can be found by clicking on “What Is the Significance of the Great White Throne Judgment?”]
There is no indication in either of these last two scriptures or in any other scripture that a person who does not trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation before they die will be given an opportunity to do so after they die (i.e., between the time they are resurrected and the time they are judged).
Nevertheless, some people may argue that the Bible states in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is not willing that any should perish and, therefore, everyone will eventually receive eternal salvation. However, this scripture needs to be understood in its context, which indicates that God wants to give people ample time to repent and receive His gift of eternal salvation before He brings judgment on mankind. Thus, the verse does not support the belief that everyone will ultimately receive eternal salvation. [Note: For a more detailed discussion of this scripture, click on “Why Is God Waiting to Bring about the Consummation of Human History?”]
The foregoing discussion indicates that the Bible provides absolutely no support for the belief that everyone will have eternal salvation or that people who do not trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation before they die will subsequently be given an opportunity to become a believer after they have been resurrected, prior to the final judgment. Although God offers everyone eternal salvation, each person has free choice during their lifetime to decide whether or not they want to accept God’s offer. If they reject God’s offer during their lifetime, the Bible provides no hope that they will be given an opportunity to accept God’s offer after they have been resurrected. As a result, everyone who does not trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior during their mortal life has no legitimate assurance that they will be among those who will have eternal salvation.
[Note: For discussions of several matters that are closely related to this article, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?” and/or “What Is the Biblical Basis for Believing that Only Christians Will Have Eternal Salvation?”]
Scriptures that Some People Believe Indicate Everyone Will Receive Eternal Salvation
Are there any scriptures in the Bible that may support the belief that everyone will ultimately receive eternal salvation.? To answer this question, we will briefly consider the scriptures that we think are the most relevant.
In Genesis 12:3, God tells Abraham, “‘I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
The two primary considerations regarding this scripture are: What is the meaning of “all the families of the earth?” and What is the meaning of the term “blessed”? Several translations of this scripture mention “all nations” instead of “all the families of the earth.” Although people will be blessed within families (as very broadly defined) and nations, neither of these translations nor any other translation indicates that all people or even most people will receive this blessing. As for the term “blessed” in this scripture, it evidently refers to the opportunity for everyone to be sanctified by trusting in Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ, as their Savior who will save them from the otherwise severe consequences of their sins.
Psalm 145:8-10 states, “The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. All Your works shall praise You, O LORD, and Your saints shall bless You.”
Just because God is gracious, full of compassion, slow to anger, and great in mercy, this does not imply that He will not send anyone to eternal hell. God is also just and, therefore, He will punish people for their sins, if they have not been made righteous by sincerely trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Joel 2:28 declares, “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”
Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible states with regard to this scripture,
It does not include every individual in the race, but it includes the whole race, and individuals throughout it, in every nation, sex, condition, “Jew or Gentile, Greek or Barbarian,” i. e., educated or uneducated, rich or poor, bond or free, male or female.
In other words, this scripture does not infer that every person will ultimately receive eternal salvation or the Holy Spirit. Only Christians receive eternal salvation and the Holy Spirit. [Note: A discussion in this regard can be found by clicking on “Filling versus Indwelling by the Holy Spirit”]
Luke 3:6, which is a quotation from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, asserts, “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
The meanings of the word “see” and the term “all flesh” in this verse are not clear. However, in light of other biblical teachings, such as those we discussed in the main body of this article, this scripture probably means that people throughout the world will see the positive influence of salvation on people’s lives, including their own, if they trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
In Luke 15:4, Jesus Christ says, “‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?’” And, in verse 8, He adds, “‘Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?’”
Although God wants every “lost” person (i.e., everyone who has not trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior) to have eternal salvation, He allows each person to have free will and, as a result, many people choose not to place their trust in Jesus Christ to be their Savior.
Jesus Christ states in John 15:16, “‘You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.’”
Regardless of whether or not the statement by Jesus Christ that “I chose you” pertains to the eternal salvation of His listeners, He definitely was speaking to only His inner circle of disciples, as indicated in chapter 13, which begins the lengthy discourse He had with them.
Romans 3:23-24 declares, “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Grace is a gift from God, but people must accept that gift, which comes “through redemption that is in Jesus Christ.” Each person has free choice in this regard. If a person does not trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, that person is rejecting God’s grace and, as a result, he or she will suffer the consequences.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In this scripture passage, Paul was writing to the Christian church in Rome and encouraging them with his statement that nothing could separate them (or “us”) from the love of God. His statement is not applicable to non-Christians.
Romans 11:32 says, “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”
This verse of scripture indicates that God allows people to be disobedient, so that He can demonstrate His continuing mercy to them throughout their lifetime, despite their disobedience. There is no inference that everyone will ultimately be given eternal salvation.
1 Cor. 15:22 states, For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.
According to this scripture, everyone who is “in Christ” (i.e., everyone who has trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior) will be made alive (i.e., have eternal salvation). Based on other scriptures, such as those in the main body of this article, there does not seem to be a valid reason to believe that every person will have eternal salvation, even if they do not trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
1 Timothy 2:3-4 declares, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
As we previously indicated with regard to Luke 15:4 and 8, although God “desires all men to be saved,” (i.e., to have eternal salvation), He allows each person to have free will. And, because many people choose not to place their trust in Jesus Christ to be their Savior, they will not have eternal salvation.
It is our hope that our responses to the scriptures cited in this Appendix, when considered with our discussion in the main body of this article, are sufficiently convincing to refute the belief that everyone will receive eternal salvation.