|"Born to Win"
Daily Radio Program
by Ronald L. Dart
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Ronald L. Dart: "There are two kinds of people in the world," intoned the preacher, "the saved and the lost. There is no middle ground with God."
Now there is a sobering thought. If indeed there are only two kinds of people in the world, and if I am "people," I must be either saved or lost. And if I'm not consciously aware of having been saved, then I must be lost. And if I'm lost....
A parallel example has been drawn to the sinking of the Titanic. Outside the White Star shipping line offices in Liverpool, two notice boards were erected. They were marked "Known to be saved" and "Known to be lost." As the fate of the Titanic passengers became known, their names were added to the boards. Just as there were only two categories then, "Saved" or "Lost", so, it is claimed, there are only the same two categories now for all human beings. But, for the Titanic passengers, for a while, there was a third category, "fate not yet known - rescue being attempted."
|A reader emailed: Do you believe that we can lose our salvation once saved?
ABCOG answered: The problem here is that the word "saved" is ambiguous. Dwight L. Moody said "I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel, God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, `Moody, save all you can.'" Now think of the survivors from the Titanic. When were they saved? When they were pulled out of the Atlantic into a lifeboat? Or when they finally landed on the dock in New York harbor?
Christians are in the lifeboat, but we have not yet reached land. It is still possible for us to jump out of the lifeboat, to "make shipwreck of our faith" as Paul writes.
The New Testament contains many warnings that we must "hold fast", "persevere", etc.
What the preacher said sounds logical, but is it true? We have to ask, because his statement has some frightening implications.
For example, if there are indeed only two kinds of people in the world, then a newborn baby is either saved or lost right from the start. If a baby is born lost, and if all lost people must go to hell when they die, then what happens to this baby if he dies in infancy? After all, according to most Christian doctrine, only saved people can go to heaven.
On the other hand, if babies are born saved, then is it best that they die in infancy? At what age would sin be imputed to a child? If he steals at age three, does he become "lost" by that act? If he is rebellious at age two, is that where he gets "lost"? And if he is lost, does he go to hell if he dies?
Then there are those people in the world who know nothing of the Christian religion. Are they saved or lost? If they are lost, does God consign them to hell when they never had a chance at salvation? On the other hand, if they are already saved, then why do we send missionaries?
And, more important, if they are saved, there must be another way of salvation! If Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Jews, animists, sun and moon worshipers, as well as every conceivable variety of Christian, are all going to heaven when they die, then there could be dozens, even hundreds of ways to be saved! Christian doctrine rarely allows for that.
Then are the heathen lost? This question was asked recently by the moderator of a religious talk show in one of his newsletters. "The issue, of course," he suggested, "is whether God would consign to hell those who have never heard the gospel" (John Ankerberg, News and Views No. 384). He quotes one preacher as putting it this way, "Does it make sense to you that a little Chinese girl, age three and one--half, sweet little innocent baby, is going to be dancing from brick to brick, beating at flames for all eternity because a missionary had a flat tire?"
Ankerberg offers three points in answer to this question: (1) Men are not in total spiritual darkness (Romans 1:19-20). (2) God does not want the heathen to perish (2 Peter 3:9). (3) Anyone who wishes to establish a relationship with God will receive the necessary information on which to make that decision (I Chronicles 28:9; Psalm 9:10; Psalm 145:17-20; Jeremiah 29:13).
But skeptics will object that the heathen never heard of God, never knew His laws, and never understood His salvation. They want to know how God can hold the heathen responsible. Ankerberg responds that the nations are responsible because they had light from God and turned away from it (Romans 1:20). He continues to argue that "the heathen nations of men were never, at any period of their history, left totally without revelation." He cites the example of Melchizedek in Abraham's time, Balaam in Moses' time, Pharaoh, Abimelech, Nebuchadnezzar, and even the king of Nineveh to whom God sent Jonah. In New Testament times, he cites Cornelius to whom the Apostle Peter was sent, and the Ethiopian eunuch to whom Philip was sent.
So far, so good.
But what does all this mean? Does it mean that non-Christians will go to hell because they are fully responsible for their acts or that they will not go to hell because God will find a way to save them?
Ankerberg cites examples of primitive peoples of Burma and India who, though surrounded by Buddhism and idolatry through the centuries, retained a belief in the "one true God." He cites the Peruvian people of the fifteenth century who rejected nature gods and believed in the "one true God." He includes several other examples of primitive people who "retained knowledge of the one true God and followed Him."
Presumably, Ankerberg believes that these primitive peoples will be saved--that is to say, they will be in heaven as opposed to hell.
But is monotheism all that is required for salvation? Does it make no difference who that one God is? How are we to know that these people who worshiped what they call the "one true God," were not in fact worshiping someone else? James brings the question in sharp focus when he says, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But will Thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:19-20).
And what are we to make of Peter's argument before the elders of Israel: "Be it known unto you all, and to all of the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him does this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Act 4:10-12).
Ankerberg concludes that the three and one-half year old Chinese girl "is not at the mercy of an uncaring God, nor will she be consigned to hell because she missed her only chance to receive God's grace."
In this we totally agree.
But not all Christians would agree. While Ankerberg may represent a broad spectrum of Christian thought, there is another important perspective held by many other Christians. It's represented, for example, in a letter sent by Rex Humbard, a prominent television preacher, to his supporters in and around Sutton, West Virginia. The personalized letter begins, "I'm afraid I've got some bad news. It looks like we may lose your station. We've talked with the station representatives again and again. But we're averaging over three months behind on our payments ... It's not the money I'm worried about--it's the eternal souls of the people out there who need to hear the Word of Jesus. If we go off the air in Sutton - or anywhere - there are men and women, little boys and girls who could spend eternity in hell. People will miss heaven because I lost God's call to Sutton."
So we don't have to go to China to find a little girl who might go to hell because one Christian or another failed her. We need go no further than Sutton, West Virginia!
Humbard, of course, does not believe that there are many ways of salvation. He only believes in one way - Jesus Christ.
If one adopts Ankerberg's position, then he may be left with the feeling that there is no relationship between missionary work and the numbers of people who will be in God's kingdom. If missionaries are active in one area and hundreds of people are baptized, while across the river there are no missionaries and no one is baptized, then are we left to conclude that there was no one across the river who was seeking after God? Or will those across the river be saved some other way?
On the other hand, if we accept Humbard's point of view, we are left with people who spend eternity in hell through no fault of their own!
Indeed, the problem of the heathen--who is saved and who is lost--poses a terrible dilemma for many Christians. It's not just the heathen in foreign lands that bother them, it's the "heathen" in their own families! For indeed, which of us does not have a loved one who died without accepting Christ? Perhaps it was an uncle, or a grandfather who was a crusty old fellow, but a kind man, a generous man, good-hearted, and kind to little children. The problem was, he didn't have any use for religion!
Well, how does traditional Christian doctrine view your grandfather, uncle, or brother? If they died "unchurched," are they consigned to hell? What did they do to deserve the traditional destination of the damned?
If it seems unjust to condemn the heathen to hell, does it seem right to give them access to heaven some other way?
How did Paul look at this question? He said, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?" (Romans 10: 13-15).
Of course, Paul says that the heathen have heard through creation. But is there a difference between knowing that there is a creator God, knowing that there is a law, knowing that murder, theft, and lying are wrong, and knowing the way of salvation? Did not Paul risk his life to carry the knowledge of salvation throughout the known world? Why did he do this if his work made no difference?
And why did Jesus say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: No man cometh unto the Father, but by me"? (John 14:6).
Saved or Lost
But let's get back to the preacher who said that everyone in the world is either saved or lost. Was he right?
Before we can determine whether the preacher's statement is true or false, we need to understand what is meant by the word "lost". We might consult any number of sources to determine the meaning of the word, but of paramount importance to this discussion is how Christ used the word.
In Matthew's eighteenth chapter, we find a perfect illustration. Here Jesus uses the word "saved" and the word "lost" in the same sentence and sets them in opposition to one another. So if we study this carefully, perhaps we can understand what Jesus Himself meant when He spoke of those who were lost.
Interestingly enough, the reference comes right in the middle of a discussion about children. The disciples had come to Jesus asking Him who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. "Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:1-6).
It is clear that Jesus had a special place in His affection for little children. Later, when little children were brought to Him that He should put His hands on them, He said, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. "
Jesus, then, did not see children as little sinners, as little receptacles of all the guilt of their ancestors. He said that those who would enter the kingdom of heaven would have to be converted and become like little children!
Does that mean, then, that children are born saved?
Well, hardly. After warning His disciples about the danger of offenses, He said, "Take heed that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18: 10-11).
So Jesus on the one hand tells us that we need to be converted and become like little children if we're to enter the kingdom of heaven, and then on the other hand He seems to say that children are indeed lost after all. Could it be that we have misunderstood what He means when He speaks of the "lost"?
Look at how He uses the term in this context: "How think ye? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, does he not leave the ninety and nine, and go into the mountains, and seek that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:12-14).
Do sheep get lost because they are bad? Does one sheep get separated from other sheep because of wrong doing? Of course not! Sheep get lost because they are sheep. They spend most of their lives with their heads down munching grass. Why should it be a strange thing that after doing the things that a sheep does all day, a sheep should raise her head and suddenly find herself completely alone? Is she guilty of some evil-doing? Is she a worse sheep than any of the rest of them? Is she inferior to the others? Of course not. She's just lost. And being lost has to do not with what you are, but where!
Suppose while our ewe is lost out on the mountainside, she gives birth to a lamb. Is the lamb lost? In a way he is just as lost as his mother.
A lamb can be born lost, not because it has done evil, or because it is defective in any way, but simply because its mother happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Can we understand the simplicity of Jesus' teaching? This is the sense in which every human being born into the world is "lost". It is the sense in which all of us have suffered for the sins of Adam. It is not that we were born guilty of "original sin" as some suggest. To be "lost" is not to be guilty of sin or worthy of hell. To be "lost" means nothing more than to be disoriented, misplaced, unable to find the way, helpless, lost. To be lost is not to be condemned. This distinction seems lost on many preachers.
But do we not all suffer because of original sin? By "original sin", Catholic theologians mean "the hereditary sin incurred at conception by every human being as a result of the original sinful choice of the first man, Adam." As a result of Adam's sin, it is suggested, we are all born in a "condition of guilt, weakness, or debility".
Yet strangely there is no suggestion of this in the account of the original sin. Eve partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, encouraged her husband to eat of it, and in so doing, they both sinned. It's instructive to review God's response to this sin. He told the woman that He would greatly multiply her sorrow and her conception and that her relationship to her husband would be changed. He told Adam that the ground would be cursed because of him, that it would bring forth thorns rather than good fruit, and that he would have to sweat in order to get the ground to bring forth good food. They then were both driven out of the garden of Eden and away from the presence of God. Nothing is said here about hereditary sin, or guilt being passed onto all of Adam's children. There is no suggestion of any basic change in the nature of man.
But something was very different. Adam and Eve were away from God, and away from the perfect environment created for them by God. Consequently, their children would be born, not guilty, but away from God. They were born "lost sheep."
But what happens to these "lost sheep" if they die without being found, rescued, saved?
The Second Resurrection
First, there is some truth in what the preacher said. We can divide mankind into two classes: More accurately, "saved" and "not saved".
And, we can easily determine what will happen to the saved. Paul says quite plainly, "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first" (I Thessalonians 4:16).
The "dead in Christ" are obviously all those who died in a "saved" condition. Paul further identifies the time of the resurrection of the just as the time of the last trumpet (I Corinthians 15:52). But this tells us nothing about the remainder of mankind, the "not saved", the rest of the dead. We must go to the book of Revelation for the answer: "And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:4-5).
This scripture is not difficult to understand. The "saved" are brought back to life in the "first resurrection". And since the "rest of the dead", the "not saved", do not live again until the thousand years are finished, then there is clearly a resurrection of the "not saved", one thousand years later.
It is as plain as anything could be, that there are at least two resurrections, but curiously the Bible seems to contain little information about this "second resurrection". How are we to understand it?
Jesus Himself taught that there were at least two resurrections: "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:28, 29 RSV).
If it weren't for the book of Revelation, we would never have known that these two resurrections are separated by a thousand years!
Now we have names for these two resurrections. Instead of simply calling them first and second, Jesus called one the resurrection of life, the other the resurrection of judgment.
Fortunately, He has told us a bit more about this resurrection to judgment.
Having done many mighty works in Judea and Galilee, there came a time when Jesus began to upbraid the cities in which He had done these works: "Woe unto thee, Choraizin! " He said. "Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you" (Matthew 11:21-22). He then continued to chastise Capernaum, telling them that it would be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for Capernaum.
Clearly, when He speaks of the day of judgment, He is talking about the second resurrection. Interestingly enough, it is a time when some very wicked cities will find a measure of toleration! What could this possibly mean?
Returning to the book of Revelation, let's take a look at what happens at the end of this one thousand year period revealed to us by John (Revelation 20:5). Remember that the dead in Christ, the "saved", were resurrected one thousand years before. After the thousand years are finished, the devil is released for a short period of time, and ultimately defeated (Revelation 20:7-10).
Next, John saw "a great white throne, and Him that 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, stand before God [the second resurrection]; and the books were opened: and another book was opened which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works."
What is this "book of life" that John mentions? Paul is the first biblical writer to mention it specifically by that name. In writing to the Philippians he said, "And I entreat you also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life."
Is it possible to have your name written in the book of life, and be "not saved"? Surely not.
There are other indirect references to the book of life. Daniel, for example, spoke of it in relation to the time of the great tribulation saying, "At that time thy people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book." Moses also spoke of this book while praying that God would forgive Israel of their sins saying, "And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said to Moses, whosoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book" (Exodus 32:32-33).
Jesus also spoke of this book indirectly saying to His disciples, "Not withstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven."
There are several references to the book of life in Revelation. In the letter to Sardis, Jesus said, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before the angels" (Revelation 3:5).
In a negative sense, John was told concerning those who worshiped the beast, "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8, 17:8).
Of the New Jerusalem, John said: "And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: But they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."
It seems certain that all those who are written in the Lamb's book of life will be in the first resurrection. If that is the case, why is the book of life opened in the second resurrection?
There could be two reasons for opening a book like this. One is to find out whose names are there, the other is to enter new names into it!
Most people have assumed that when this life is over, the books are closed on all of us. The symbolic opening of the book of life in the second resurrection may be one of the most important revelations in John's prophecy.
Is it possible that there could be opportunity for salvation for those who lived and died without ever knowing the name of Jesus Christ?
The Salvation of Israel
Paul was deeply troubled by the response of the Jews to his gospel. Time after time he entered a synagogue only to encounter overt opposition, outright hostility, and sometimes physical violence from his own countrymen. Paul knew better than anyone that "salvation is of the Jews", and it must have troubled him deeply that the Jews were not responding to Christ.
He wrote to the Romans, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites..." (Romans 9:1-3).
This entire passage of scripture is a record of Paul's troubled thoughts regarding his own countrymen. How could a man go further than to wish himself cut off from Christ if it would somehow help his kinsmen to be saved? Paul continued: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge."
"For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God" (Romans 10: 1-3). Paul continues to reason that some good must come of Israel's failure to respond. He asked, "I say then, has God cast away His people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people which He foreknew" (Romans 11:1-2).
There had to be an answer. Surely these Israelites who were rejecting Christ (and would die in that condition) would not be permanently lost.
Paul continues: "What then? Israel has not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election has obtained it, and the rest were blinded" (Romans 11:7).
But if they were blinded, how can they be held responsible? Paul continues, "I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy" (verse 11).
So Paul saw in Israel's rejection of the gospel the opening of the door to the Gentiles. It was goal-oriented, "for to provoke them [the Israelites] to jealousy." But jealous to what end? That they might return.
"Now if the fall of them [the Israelites] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? ... For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?" (verses 12-15).
Notice that Paul expects those Israelites who at present reject Christ to be saved at some later time. And it is no coincidence that he used the expression "life from the dead", an allusion to the resurrection. He then draws that analogy of Israel being broken off like the branches of an olive tree in order to make room for the Gentiles to be grafted in their place. But then he asks, "And they [the Israelites] also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again" (verse 23). So Paul saw Israel, broken off, but grafted back in to the olive tree once again. Then he pulls the whole thing together. "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved' (Romans 11:25-26).
So Paul expected Israel as a whole to be saved. But how? When? For we know that during this period of time when Israel was blinded, many Israelites who rejected Christ died in an unsaved state. They died while they were blinded--when they could not see. How are they to be saved?
Paul calls it a mystery (verse 25) concluding, "Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that the might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:31-33).
And so exactly how Israel will be saved is a mystery. It is a part of God's unsearchable wisdom. But are there any hints in God's Word as to how this will take place?
We have already seen that there is a second resurrection to judgment, at a time when the book of life is once again opened.
There is another hint to be found in a curious prophecy. Most people have heard of the valley of "dry bones," thanks to an old Negro spiritual. But not too many people have paid careful attention to what this prophecy says. You'll find it recorded in the thirty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel. Here the spirit of God comes upon Ezekiel and carries him out in vision and sets him down in the middle of a valley full of bones. God had Ezekiel walk all around these bones to get an impression of what was here. He said there were very many in the open valley and that they were very dry. God said to Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" This is the fundamental question. Are these dead people lost forever?
Ezekiel is told to prophesy upon the bones--a commission that must have seemed strange indeed. Imagine standing in the middle of a broad valley full of dry bones and preaching a sermon to them! But notice what God told him to preach: "O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:4-6).
Obviously this is a prophecy of a resurrection. But let's consider for a moment what we know about the resurrection. When Nicodemus came to Jesus inquiring about His ministry, Jesus talked to him about being "born again," saying, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
Jesus continued to describe the difference between those born of the flesh and those born of the Spirit saying, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit... The wind bloweth where it lists, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it comes, and whither it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:6-8).
Those in the first resurrection are "born of the spirit". They are spirit beings able to go and come without being discerned.
On another occasion the Sadducees had challenged Jesus on the subject of the resurrection and in the process of answering their ignorance, Jesus described the resurrection this way: "For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:30). Those who are in the first resurrection are not resurrected to physical life, but to spiritual life.
Now take another look at Ezekiel's prophecy. First, these who are resurrected are going to have sinews, flesh, and skin, and they must have breath put in them in order to live. This is a resurrection to physical life!
Who are these dry bones? God answered Ezekiel this way, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts."
Paul was alluding to this in the eleventh chapter of Romans when he talked of Israel being like branches of an olive tree broken off or cut out of the tree. To all intents and purposes, they looked as though they were lost. But the prophecy continues: "Therefore prophesy and say unto them Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves" (Ezekiel 37:12).
Is this a resurrection or not? These people are dead and buried. And what is He going to do with them? Continue: "I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel."
So we have a physical resurrection with physical people being put back into their own land. But to what end?
Listen to the prophecy: "And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, and shall put my spirit in you, and you shall live, and I shall place you in your own land; then you shall know that I the Lord have spoken it and performed it, saith the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:13-14). Now we have a physical resurrection, with people placed back in the land and given an opportunity to receive God's spirit.
Can there be an opportunity for salvation after the grave? Clearly Ezekiel's prophecy answers with a resounding yes!
Why have so few understood this concept?
The Last Judgment
Traditionally we have thought of the judgment day as being a point in time when all men are gathered together before the judgment seat of God to have sentence passed for the things they did in this life. But there is a subtle difference between judging and sentencing. Athletic events such as boxing, gymnastics, and diving, are all judged while the contest is going on. The judgment does not take place after the contest but during the contest. Only the results are announced afterwards. Even a basketball game has judges. They're called referees, and they judge the game while it is going on. When the game is over, their judgment is finished.
Is there a parallel in this with God's judgment of men? Notice Peter's response, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: And if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?" (I Peter 4:17). If those who can be called "the house of God," His church, the saved, are being judged now, perhaps we need to rethink our idea of judgment day. For those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life, when they come up in the first resurrection their judgment is finished. Who is going to stand in some "final judgment" and condemn those who are "in Christ"?
The truth is that judgment is a process. It goes on over time.
With this in mind, the opening of the book of life when the thousand years are finished becomes highly significant. The process of judging goes on. The prophet Ezekiel suggests that physical, flesh and blood people are put back in the land and given a chance to receive God's spirit.
Isaiah may give us a hint as to how long the process of judgment takes. He says, "For behold I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered nor come to mind. But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy... There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed" (Isaiah 65:17-20).
The verses following are clearly millennial in nature, so the scripture is probably dealing with the time before the second resurrection. Nevertheless, God's pattern is to grant a hundred years for a person to make his decision.
So is there a second chance for little children? Will they be saved or lost? What about the heathen of the world? And what about old Uncle John? You know--the good old boy who would never do anyone any harm. He was always good to little children, kind to stray dogs, generous to people in need, but he just never got around to going to church?
How many mothers have lain awake nights agonizing, weeping over the fate of a son who died "unsaved"?
What would it be worth to you to know that when you have lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years, and the time for the second resurrection has come, that you could make your way out to the old graveyard where your grandfather, you mother, your son, your sister, or your brother, is buried. Would you like to sit yourself down on a nearby tombstone and wait for the exact moment when that loved one will rise from the grave, and be the first face they see when they live again? Who do you know who would be better suited to sit them down, explain the mysteries of life, death, and the resurrection, to teach them about the true God, to start them out on a new life free from the influences of Satan the devil? Who do you know who would take better care of them, look better after their interests, want more than anyone to bless them? Who would be more likely to extend mercy to your loved ones? Wouldn't you want that job yourself?
As Paul put it, "Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:31-36).
Note: COGUK Bible Basics 4 study course, lesson 4. What is Man?
By Ronald L. Dart
Christian Educational Ministries
P.O. Box 560
Whitehouse, TX 75791
Web Site: www.cemnetwork.com
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