Is Universalism Heresy?
Universalist teachings focus on God’s love for humanity. They believe that God will draw everyone to Himself and that everyone will go to heaven whether they want to or not. It sounds great, but is it Biblical or a heretical teaching? Unfortunately, it is a dangerous and heretical teaching that comes from the pit of hell because it deceives people into thinking that they are going to heaven whether they come to Christ or not, when the Bible is clear that you must trust Christ and Christ alone for your salvation. I write this hub out of love because I want as few people to end up in hell as possible. Let us examine how a sovereign God could choose to relate to this fallen world.
Do you believe in an eternal hell?
Three Ways a Sovereign God Could Decide to Relate to a Fallen World
Now that we looked at several of God’s key attributes, let us take a look at three different ways that God could have decided to relate to a fallen world. These categories could be broken down further, but I think these three buckets give a good representation of the possibilities.
1. God Could Decide to Give no one an Opportunity for Salvation
If you or I speed through a school zone at 85 mph that has a posted speed limit of 25 mph, would the judge be a good judge if he or she let us off? He would be a bad judge, because we were endangering everyone in the school zone. It is the same with God. He is justified to execute his judgment against sinful people. After all, we are the ones who violated His laws. He is under no obligation to save anyone. Praise God that he did not decide to choose this possibility. He was willing to pay our penalty of sin, Himself. What is the penalty for sin?
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” Romans 6:23
That eliminates this first possibility. No one who has read the Bible at all could possibly come to this conclusion.
2. God Could Exercise His Power and Save Everyone (Universalism)
This is the Universalist’s position. They believe that Jesus’ death was not only sufficient for all the sins of the world, but that God will save everyone whether they like it or not. This position is not a Biblical position. I will dig into this further below, but read John chapter 3. It draws a distinction between those who believe and those who do not believe. Scroll up to John 3:16 above and look at the part that says “whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This part of the verse draws a distinction because those who believe and those who do not. Also, during the Last Supper, Jesus said that it was better for the one who betrays Jesus to never have been born. I am not a language scholar, but Jesus makes it clear that God is going to severely judge Judas for betraying him. If you go to heaven when you die, no matter your experience in this life, it will be awesome in heaven. Jesus can only be talking about hell when it comes to Judas.
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me.” John 14:6
3. God Could Exercise His Power and Save Some
This is the Biblical answer, as I will explain below. God gives us an opportunity to be saved. Jesus’ death is sufficient to pay for all the sins of the world, but like any gift, can be accepted or rejected. Once again John chapter three draws a distinction between believers and unbelievers. Look at the verses below:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18
Now let us take a look at Universalism in more detail.
What is Universalism?
Universalism is the belief that everyone will go to heaven when they die whether or not they have accepted Jesus as their savior. They believe it is unthinkable that a good God would send people to hell for eternity because of his love and mercy. Let us look more closely at their claims.
Biblical Texts Used to Support Universalism
Supporters of universalism will use verses that appear to support the idea of universal redemption and universal restoration. Let us look at a few of those verses in more detail.
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:3-6
Universalists lock on to the statement “all men” and conveniently skip over the “who wants all men to be saved.” Wanting something and it happening are two different things. I agree that Jesus died for everyone and that his death and resurrection are sufficient to cover all of the sins of the world. The problem comes when they try to say that this proves that “all men” will be saved. Universalists fail to properly exegete these types of verses in light of the context in which they appear and also in light of the rest of the New Testament, which says, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31) Another common error that they make along these lines is to take the word “all” and make it mean everyone regardless of the context. For example, I say that “I will give twenty dollars to all of you.” In order to correctly interpret that statement, you have to know who I am referring to as “all of you.” By “all of you”, I could be referring to everyone or just a few of you that are in the same room with me. The context is vital to understanding what I am talking about.“The Son came into the world not to condemn it but to save it.” John 3:17
I agree that Jesus came into the world to save it, but if you look at this verse in context, it does not mean universal salvation. Verses 16 and 18 actually tell you that only those who believe in the Son have eternal life. The key to Bible interpretation is context, context, context.
“And through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Colossians 1:20
The context of this verse is a letter that is written to the believers in Colossae. If you read the whole chapter, it is clear that Paul is not taking about universal salvation, but rather the salvation of believers. Cherry picking verses and taking them out of context is not a way to prove anything. No one reads a book that way. Reading a verse in its context is crucial to understanding the meaning. These three verses are a good sample of the type of verses that supporters of Universalism use to defend their beliefs.
Theological Arguments Used to Support Universalism
Supporters of Universalism will make statements like “God is a failure if Jesus’ death and resurrection does not save everyone” or “A God of love would not send anyone to hell.” There are two problems with these arguments. First, is the presupposition that God intended to save everyone with Jesus’ death and resurrection.
“Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” Romans 9:13
“but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Malachi 1:3
God chose Jacob over Esau and the Bible goes so far as to say that God “hated” Esau in both of the verses above. I checked a bunch of different translations and they were all the same. For a little context, Esau was the first born son of Isaac and yet God rejected him and chose Jacob instead. The same thing happened with Isaac and Ishmael. God chose Isaac and rejected Ishmael. We need to be careful anytime that we think we have God figured out, because if we have him figured out, He is no longer God. God is always greater and bigger than we can know in this life. Second, these arguments ignore the clear teaching of Scripture. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly punished sinners for their sins, not as a way of purification, but because they simply deserved it. Sodom and Gomorrah are great examples of this along with the people of Jericho. In the New Testament, the emphasis on putting your faith in Christ and on evangelism makes no sense if everyone is going to be saved. If Universalism is true, eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Live however you want, there are not any consequences. If you read the Bible, that does not line up with what the pages actually say.
Key Attributes of God
Let us look at some of the key attributes of God to gain some more clarity. God is so much bigger than we can ever understand. He is always greater and bigger than we can think of Him. That is what makes Him God.
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my way’s, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
God is a Holy God
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” Revelation 4:8
Holiness is the only attribute of God that is repeated three times in a row. In ancient writings, repeating something three times showed the importance of it. In ancient writing, they did not use punctuation marks. The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk wrote that God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil. When God appeared in a burning bush to Moses, the very ground around the bush became holy. Years later, when Moses went up Mount Sinai to meet with God, the Israelites were not even allowed to touch the mountain because of God’s holiness. We still see the reference to the holiness of God in the writings of Peter and in the book of Revelation. God is serious about his holiness.
God is a Righteous Judge
“God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.” Psalm 7:11
“He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” Psalm 9:8
“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Hebrews 10:31
“You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged.” Revelation 16:5
God is a righteous judge who sees and knows everything. One day in the future, we will all stand before Him in one of two judgments: Judgment Seat of Christ or the Great White Throne Judgment. The Judgment Seat of Christ is a judgment that all believers in Jesus Christ will go through. They will be judged on what they have done for Christ, either to be rewarded or suffer loss, but they will go to heaven because they trusted Christ. On the other hand, the Great White Throne Judgment is for all unbelievers. They will have to answer for every sin that they have ever committed. The Book of Life will be opened, and anyone’s name that is not found in there will be cast into the Lake of Fire. Everyone at this judgment is not a believer and will be eternally separated from God in hell (Rev 20:11-15).
God is a Sovereign
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand.” Job 38:4
“Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ Just as it is written: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I hated. What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’” Romans 9:10-15
God is sovereign and in complete control of the Universe. Nothing happens apart from Him allowing it. He is the Creator of everything; He has the right to deal with mankind however he wants. He chose Jacob over Esau before they were born. Isaac and Ishmael are another great example. God chose Isaac and rejected Ishmael. Remember the verse that I opened this section with that says God’s ways are not our ways.
God is Love
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“God demonstrated his own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
God is love. Notice though, it does not say that God is love, love, love. God is not obligated to love us. He could have chosen to destroy the human race when Adam and Eve sinned and start over again. He chose to be brutally beaten and crucified on a Roman cross than to spend eternity without us. However, his death and resurrection offer us the gift of salvation. Just like any other gift, we must choose to accept it. His death was sufficient to save all that will come to repentance, but that does not mean all will. In fact, Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven.
Now that we know more about what God is like, let us look at the words the Bible uses that are associated with hell.
Biblical Words Associated with Hell
The Bible has three different words that are associated with hell: Gehenna, Hades, and Sheol. Let us take a look at each one more closely and look at how they are used.
“1. A place or state of torment or suffering. 2. The abode of condemned souls; hell.” Free Dictionary
“In Judaism, Gehenna is a fiery place where the wicked are punished after they die or on judgment day. . . Gehenna is often mentioned in the New Testament of the Christian Bible as the place of condemnation of unrepentant sinners.” New World Encyclopedia
Gehenna is the Greek word for hell. Of the twelve times it is used in the New Testament, Jesus used it eleven times. As you read the seven verses below, pay attention to how the word “hell” (Gehenna) is used.
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:22
“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” Matthew 5:29
“And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole to go into hell.” Matthew 5:30
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” Matthew 18:7:9
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” Matthew 23:33
“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” Mark 9:42-48
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” James 3:6
How does the New Testament define the word “Gehenna”? It is clearly described by Jesus as a place that you do not want to go to. He talked about how it is better to go through life maimed than to go into hell. It is described as a place where the worm will not die and the fire is never quenched. Read the surrounding verses and verify the context and you will find that Jesus is talking about a place of torment.
“1a. The underworld abode of the souls of the dead. 2. The abode or state of the dead. 3. Informal hell.” Free Dictionary
“The term Hades in its cosmological sense, has sometimes been used in Christianity to refer to the abode of the dead, where the deceased would await Judgment Day in either peace or torment.” New World Encyclopedia
Hades corresponds with the Old Testament word Sheol. It is used a total of ten times in the New Testament, four times by Jesus and six times by others. New Testament translators sometime translate this word as hell or they leave it as Hades. I believe the latter is the better definition because it describes the place where the dead gather awaiting final judgment. This is the place that Jesus is talking about in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. As we can tell from that story, Hades is a place of torment. Before Jesus’ death, it was a place with two compartments, one for those who were condemned and one for those who would be saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Now, it is only those awaiting judgment are their in a conscious state of suffering. According to Revelations chapter 20, Hades will be thrown in to hell at the Great White Throne Judgment. Let us take a look at a few of those verses.
“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18 NASB
“In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:23 NASB
“and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” Revelation 1:18 NASB
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelations 20:13-14 NASB
David Platt on Universalism, Rob Bell, Love Wins, Heaven and Hell
“The abode of the dead in the Bible.” Free Dictionary
“In the Hebrew Bible Sheol (שאול) is the ‘abode of the dead,’ the ‘underworld,’ ‘the common grave of mankind’ or ‘pit.’ It is said to be the destination of both the righteous and the unrighteous dead, as described in Book of Job (3:11-19). ‘Sheol’ is also depicted as a comfortless place beneath the earth, beyond gates, where both slave and king, pious and wicked must go after death to sleep in silence and oblivion in the dust (Isa. 38:18; Ps. 6:5, 88:3-12; Job 7:7-10, 3:11-19; Gen. 2:7, 3:19).” New World Encyclopedia
Sheol is a Hebrew word that is used 66 times in the Old Testament. It is the Hebrew version of Hades. Some say that it should be translated as “grave”. The King James Version translates it 31 times as “grave”, 31 times as “hell”, and 3 times as “pit”. The verses below show that Sheol means much more than grave.
“For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death (sheol) below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains.” Deuteronomy 32:22
“The dead are in deep anguish, those beneath the waters and all that live in them. Death (Sheol) is naked before God; Destruction lies uncovered.” Job 26:5-6
“The grave (sheol) below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who where leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations.” Isaiah 14:9
“From within the grave (sheol) the mighty leaders will say of Egypt and her allies, ‘they have come down and they lie with the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.’” Ezekiel 32:21
“Then I will bring you down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living.” Ezekiel 26:20
Let us look at specific Bible passages in their context that will demonstrate why the arguments for universalism are unbiblical.
Why Universalism is Unbiblical
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for ever good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16
“Do no be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” Matthew 10:28
When it comes to interpreting the Bible, we cannot just ignore passages that we do not like. We must read each passage in its context and in context of the rest of the Bible. The Bible is filled with references to God’s wrath and judgment. Let us look at the following proof texts and their context.
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” John Piper
“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5
Everything that God does is for his glory. He created mankind to worship him. God gave us free will to decide whether to obey him or to disobey him. He wanted us to choose to worship Him. Genesis chapter 3 tells us of how that turned out. Adam and Eve decided that they would rather be “like God” than to obey God. It does not make sense that God would force us to go to heaven if he gave us free will in the first place. Think about it this way, trying telling someone you love, that you only love them because you have to. Nobody wants love like that.
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” John 4:22-23
Purpose of Evangelism
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20a
“At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” Acts 7:57-58a
“After they were severely flogged, they [Paul and Silas] were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.” Acts 16:23
Another great argument against universalism is the emphasis that the New Testament writers put on evangelism. His disciples were imprisoned, persecuted, and ultimately all martyred (except for John who was exiled to the Island of Patmos). Stephen preached Jesus before the Sanhedrin and was stoned to death. Paul preached all over Europe and Asia and was routinely imprisoned, beaten, and eventually beheaded in Rome. Since then, Christians have been persecuted and martyred ever since. If everyone is going to heaven when they die, why was there so much emphasis on preaching the gospel? Why lay down your life to spread the gospel? Would it not have been better to spend time taking care of the poor and sick? Why does the New Testament tell us to “believe” on the Lord Jesus Christ and we will be saved if we all are going to be saved anyway (Acts 16:31)?
Exodus 12 - Passover
“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every first born—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” Exodus 12:12-13
At the time of the first Passover, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God was sending plague after plague against Egypt so that Pharaoh would let his people go. God told the Israelites to kill a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost of their homes so that when God passed through Egypt, He would see the blood and skip over that house. The Israelites had a choice to make; they could disobey at the loss of their first-born or obey and be saved. Remember that the Passover is symbolic foreshadow of Jesus, the Lamb of God, being sacrificed for our sins. We too have a choice to make; we can either accept that sacrifice or reject it.
Matthew 7:13-14 - The Narrow and Wide Gates
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
The context of these verses is the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was teaching the crowds who were amazed at his teaching because he taught with authority. Jesus is clear that we need to enter by the “narrow gate” and that only a “few will find it.” John chapter 10 matches up with these two verses and gives us more insight.“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” John 10:9
Jesus is the narrow gate. We must come by him if we are to go to heaven (John 14:6). If we take the broad road, we will not go to heaven. Unfortunately, most people will make this choice. A companion passage in Luke 13:22-30 gives us further insight.
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I do not know you or where you come from’ . . . ‘Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” Luke 13:24-25, 27
This passage tells us that many will try to enter, but not be able to. It goes on to tell us that those people who are left outside knocking will be sent away and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for all of those who worn thrown out.
Matthew 7:21-23 - A Tree and Its Fruit
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.” Matthew 7:21-23
The context of these verses is to watch out for false prophets. These verses serve as a warning that not everyone is going to heaven. They further serve to show us that we need to have a personal relationship with Him, otherwise we will be sent away.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - The Parable of the Weeds
“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:40-42
The parable of the weeds compares the kingdom of heaven to a man sowing good seed in his field. Then the enemy snuck in and sowed weeds alongside of the good seed. The field owner instructed the servants to leave the weeds until the wheat was ready to harvest so that they would not accidentally pull up the wheat. The verses above come from the second section where Jesus explains what the parable of seeds means. He said that in the end times, he will send out his angels to weed everything out of his kingdom that causes sin and everyone who does evil. Those people will be thrown into the fiery furnace where they will be punished. This is a clear reference to hell. The passage ends talking about how the righteous will shine like the sun.
Matthew 22:1-14 - Parable of the Wedding Banquet
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:11-14
In this parable Jesus tells a story of a king who prepares a wedding banquet for his son. His servants went to those that the king invited, but they refused to come. He sent the servants again except that this time they were mistreated and killed. The king sent out his servants again but this time invited everyone. The king saw the guests coming and noticed a man not wearing wedding clothes. The man was tied up and thrown into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This parable starts off by talking about how God sent his servants to the Jewish people. They repeatedly rejected the prophets and killed them. Then God sent out his servants to everyone and invited them into his kingdom. However, the parable shifts in verses 11 through 14. The king spots someone who is not dressed for the wedding and the man is thrown out into darkness, which is a representation of hell along with the weeping and gnashing of teeth. This parable is a foreshadowing of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Verse 14 makes it clear that many people are invited into the kingdom, but few are chosen.
Matthew 25:31-46 - The Sheep and the Goats
“Then he [God] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:41, 46
In this passage Jesus is talking about his second coming when he will come in all of his glory. All nations will be gathered before him. Jesus will separate people into two groups saved (sheep) and goats (unsaved). He will then instruct the goats to depart into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Verse 41 & 46). This is a clear reference to hell. The only way that you can interpret this text differently is to make it up and ignore what is clearly written here.
Matthew 26:17-30 - Judas Iscariot
“The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Matthew 26:24
The context of this verse is the Last Supper. Jesus prophesied that one of his disciples would betray him. We know from the verses that follow this one that it was Judas who was going to betray Jesus. This is a devastating argument against universalism because the words are coming straight out of the mouth of Jesus. If it was better for him not to have been born, we are only left with one conclusion, that Judas would experience severe judgment. Since we know that he committed suicide later, the only way that this verse makes sense is in context of eternal damnation. No other interpretation makes sense.
Luke 23:26-43 - Thieves Being Crucified with Jesus
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Do you not fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:39-43
The two thieves that were crucified on each side of Jesus offer further evidence that not everyone is going to heaven. Both thieves spoke to Jesus; however, he only told the one who repented that he would be with him in paradise.
Luke 16:19-31 - Lazarus and the Rich Man
“The time came when the beggar (Lazarus) died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell (Hades), where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Luke 16:22-24
The context of this passage is Jesus teaching those around him with the Pharisees present. This section is unique in that if it is a parable, this is the only one where Jesus gave one of the characters a name. The NIV translators, in verse 23, translated the word “Hades” as hell. I think that is a bad translation. It should be left as Hades because it describes two chambers, one that will go to heaven, and the other that will be thrown into hell (Rev 20). The chamber that Lazarus went in was only used until the death and resurrection of Jesus because we know that from Paul’s writings that for believers if we are absent with the body, we are present with the Lord. In addition, Jesus told the thief on the cross who repented that today he would be with him in paradise. This passage tells us about how the “rich man” was in torment. It also tells us by omission that the “rich man” thought the judgment was just because he does not whine or complain. We also learn that all of our senses will be intact in eternity. The “rich man” pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus back to his brothers. He all of a sudden becomes very evangelistic. Why? Because he does not want to see his brothers in the same torment that, he is in.
You Must be Born Again
John 3 - Jesus and Nicodemus
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” John 3:36
John 3:1-21 records a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. The context that I took the verses above is that you must be born again. All of the verses have conditions related to them. Whoever believes will have eternal life, whoever does not believe is condemned because God’s wrath remains on him. These verses are plainly written and easy to understand. Once again, the words are coming directly out of the mouth of Jesus. This section is another devastating blow against universalism.
John 5:16-30 - Life Through the Son
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” John 5:28-29
The context of these verses is Jesus proclaiming that whoever hears his words and believes the Father has eternal life and will not be condemned. Once again, we can see Jesus draw a distinction between believers and unbelievers. In verse 29, Jesus continues by saying there is a day coming where the dead will rise from the grave. Those who have done good will rise to life and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. These are not words of a Savior who is teaching that all will be saved, on the contrary, this is a clear line in the sand between those who do good and those who do evil.
Romans 2:1-16 - God’s Righteous Judgment
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done.” Romans 2:5-6
The context of this passage is God’s righteous judgment. It starts out by warning people not to pass judgment on each other. It says if you do that, you condemn yourself. It goes on to tell us that God’s judgment is based on truth. In verse 5, Paul tells us that if we are stubborn and unrepentant, we store up wrath against ourselves on the day of God’s wrath. Verse 8 gives the self-seeking and those who reject the truth are warning of anger and wrath. Paul also emphasizes that God will judge justly and does not show any favoritism.
1 Corinthians 6 - Lawsuits Among Believers / Sexual Immorality
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
These two verses appear at the end of the section that talks about the fact that believers should not be involved in lawsuits against other believers and as a transition to the next section on sexual immorality. It is important to remember that these section headings were added after the fact and were not included in the original manuscripts. Verses 9 and 10 are a great transition into warnings against sexual immorality. If people known for these types of sins are not going to inherit the kingdom of God, it is safe to assume that they are going to hell.
Galatians 1:6-10 - No Other Gospel
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I saw again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you have accepted, let him by eternally condemned.” Galatians 1:6-9
Paul is warning the church in Galatia against turning to a different gospel. He goes so far as to say twice in this passage that anyone who is preaching a different gospel should be “eternally condemned.” If Paul taught the Universalist position that everyone is going to be saved, it should not be a big deal what gospel is preached because in the end everyone is saved, but it did upset Paul. His letter to the Galatians church is the only one in which he does not offer any commendation. The “gospel” that he warned against was a group of Jews who were teaching that you had to submit to the Mosaic Law before you could become a Christian. Paul was defending the fact that justification comes by faith in Christ. Let us look at the gospel that Paul preached:
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
Notice the “otherwise, you have believed in vain” statement in 1 Corinthians 15:2. Paul uses this to make a distinction between saving faith and non-saving faith. James 2:19 adds more clarity to this verse:
“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shudder.”
Ephesians 5:1-21 - Be Imitators of God
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” Ephesians 5:5-6
In this passage, Paul is instructing believers to be imitators of God. In verses 3 through 6, that no immoral person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ. If he were to stop there, I would say that this passage could refer to believers who make it into heaven by the skin of their teeth, but Paul continues by saying that God’s wrath will come on those who are disobedient. Believers are not under God’s wrath.
“Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 - God’s Judgment is Right
“All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.” 2 Thessalonians 1:5
“He [God] will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
The context of this passage is that the Apostle Paul is writing a letter to the believers at the church of Thessalonica. The two verses that I have listed above illustrate what this whole hub is about. In 2 Thessalonians 1:5 talks about God’s judgment being right and how you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom. However, if you read that verse in the context of the rest of the chapter, the meaning becomes clear. Paul is talking to the believers in the church of Thessalonica. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, Paul says that you will be punished with everlasting destruction if you do not know God. This verse lines up well in context and with other verses such as John 3:36.
2 Peter 2:3 - The Day of the Lord
“By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men. . . The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” 2 Peter 3:7, 9-10
The context of the passage is the second coming of Christ. Peter tells us that the heavens and the earth will be burned up on the Day of Judgment. That will be global warming! Peter also tells us that ungodly men will be destroyed in verse 7. I think that the even more important thing that Peter tells us is at the end of verse 9. God does not want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance. Notice that is says “does not want”, not “everyone will repent.” I encourage you to read this whole chapter. It is only 18 verses long. As you read, it is clear that God is patiently waiting for people to come to repentance; however, the warning is clear. Judgment is coming on this world and on the wicked.
2 Peter 2 - The Rise of False Prophets
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.” 2 Peter 2:4-9
“These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people what are escaping from those who live in error . . . If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were in the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.” 2 Peter 2:17-18, 20-21
The Apostle Peter is writing to believers to warn them to be on the lookout for false teachers. He goes on to say that their destruction is coming. Peter then reminds us that God did not spare the angels that rebelled, the ungodly people of Noah’s day, or Sodom and Gomorrah. On the contrary, God judged them severely. Verse 9 tells us that God is going to hold and punish the unrighteous. Verse 17 makes a clear reference to hell by saying that the blackest darkness is reserved for the bold and arrogant. Verse 20 also draws attention to the fact that there are people who do not know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Jude 1:3-23 - The Sin and Doom of Godless Men
“Though you already know this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe . . . In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 1:5, 7
“They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.” Jude 1:13
“Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Jude 1:22-23
The Book of Jude was a letter written to believers (v1). Jude 1:3-23 talks about the sin and doom of godless men. Jude reminds us in verse 5 that God destroyed the Egyptians who did not believe. He then reminds us of the punishment that is coming for the fallen angels in verse 6. Next he talks about Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 6, who gave themselves over to sexual immorality and perversion. The end of verse 6 is the takeaway for us: “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” That is a clear reference to hell. Verse 13 further clarifies that hell will be a place of darkness that lasts forever. Jude makes a clear distinction between believers and unbelievers in this entire passage.
Revelation 20 - Great White Throne Judgment
“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 20:10
“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14-15
The context of Revelation chapter 20 starts out at the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ and ends with the great white throne judgment of the living and the dead. It also contains the final judgment of Satan, who will be thrown into the lake of fire. This passage is extremely clear that if you do not know Jesus, you will spend eternity in hell.
“Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” 1 John 5:10-12
Verse 12 is the whole point that Universalists miss or choose to ignore. If you have the Son you are saved, if you do not have the Son you are lost. John 3:36 is almost identical to this verse, except that verse adds that if you reject Jesus, God’s wrath is still on you. Hell and eternal punishment seems so antiquated and old-fashioned in our modern world. However, the Bible is clear on both. I urge anyone who has not trusted Christ as their Savior to repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ and Christ alone to save them. How to be saved in Christianity is a great resource that has more detailed information on coming to know Christ as your Savior.
I encourage you to not take my words for this. Grab a Bible and look up the verses yourself. Read them in their context. Pray and ask God for wisdom and help in understanding his Word.
*All Scripture was quoted from the NIV, except where it is noted.
© 2013 Eric Cramer