We often ponder what our faith is all about. In my experience, especially when I was young and before I started actually studing God’s words, it all boiled down to one thing: Heaven or Hell! As I studied Scripture and to seek a relationship with the Living God, indeed, Jesus….I saw a different focus. The focus that I see in all of Jesus’ teachings as well as all of the Old and New Testament is that of a “relationship” with God (indeed, with Jesus). This relationship is a present reality and again, extends into eternity.
A friend of mine asked me this question:
“I was thinking and I have a question. From some people I’ve heard that everyone who doesn’t know Jesus and has never had the opportunity to know Jesus goes to heaven. I’ve also heard that everyone who doesn’t know Jesus goes to hell and that’s why we, as Christians, must minister to others. I wanted your opinion. Thank you.”
I am so thankful for questions! I belive that it is more about the questions than the answers. We must seek…and the place to start is with questions. I would love to give an easy answer in a few words, however, I believe that is often how we get in trouble when speaking the truth of Scripture and the truth of Jesus. I will try though to make my answers as clear as possible.
My friend said, “From some people I’ve heard that everyone who doesn’t know Jesus and has never had the opportunity to know Jesus goes to heaven.”
In my experience, this has often been a hotly debated question among scholars and even the early church fathers (disciples of Jesus and their disciples). Included in this category also, are, I believe, the eternal state of infants, children, and those not mentally capable of accepting Jesus Christ. First, I have to say that God is sovereign and judgment will be made by Him and Him alone (Jesus). In other words, essentially, I cannot say “who” will go to heaven or hell….however, I do know this….. if a person chooses to follow Jesus and repents of their sins, the Scriptures teach us clearly that they will spend an eternity with our Father in Heaven.
I have not been able to find in the Scriptures any direct or explicit answer to these questions. The condition of salvation is personal faith in Jesus. Some that have been listed above are incapable of fulfilling this condition.
I choose to believe that based upon the justice and character of God, salvation for anyone that does not have the true opportunity or even knowledge of Jesus is an implicit certainty, whether it be infant, child, or those not mentally capable of making a decision. I say this humbly as this is not a decision for man…but is a decision of our Father who will certainly do what is right!
Additionally, I found an article online titled, “Do Christians believe that everyone who hasn’t heard of Christ will be damned to suffer eternal agony in hell?” that might help you in understanding this question. It is on a website hosted by , “RBC Ministries”, the publishers of the devotional booklets, “Our Daily Bread”.
You also said: “I’ve also heard that everyone who doesn’t know Jesus goes to hell and that’s why we, as Christians, must minister to others.”
Yes, it is important for us to share our testimony with others (what God is doing in our life). From these two questions I sense a focus on heaven and hell “after we die”.
I believe, from studying Scripture, that Jesus’ focus was less on “where we go when we die” and more on the present reality of life in a relationship with Him, indeed, a relationship with God. Many people (including me at one time) focus on salvation as something that is realized when we die. I believe, again from Jesus own words, that salvation begins at the moment of belief, repentance, and choosing to follow Jesus…… and this then extends into eternity. Like the kingdom of Heaven, salvation is both a present reality as well as a future reality and hope.
Jesus tells us many times that the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God is, or has come, near (Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7, 12:28; Mark 1:15, Luke 17:20 & 21, and more). It is also clear from Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God extends into eternity.
The focus that I see in all of Jesus’ teachings as well as all of the Old and New Testament is that of a “relationship” with God (indeed, with Jesus). This relationship is a present reality and again, extends into eternity. I guess that what I am trying to say is that it is important to share Jesus, not only for eternal reasons, but also for the reality of a relationship that is here and now.
I have done a little bit of biblical math on my website about heaven and hell. You might find it helpful in looking at the bigger picture here.
The short answer to your 2nd question is that if one knows Jesus as their Savior, they will indeed spend eternity with the Father in heaven. I pray that I have not been too confusing here. I certainly believe in heaven and hell. However, however, I am cautious about passing judgment (Jesus tells us not to judge) and I choose to leave judgment to God.
I choose to focus, as Jesus did, on the present reality of a relationship with Him, indeed with God.
Again,I am thankful for questions . Humbly, I don’t have all the answers but I sure do like the journey !