Salvation: What Happens to Those Who Have Never Heard?

If Jesus is the only way to heaven and all those who do not receive Him are lost forever–what will happen to people who have never heard of Jesus and God’s requirement to repent and believe? What will be the judgment of individuals who are not capable of understanding the Gospel?

The Salvation that Jesus came to offer the world has an expiration date. When is it too late for a person to be saved and what happens to those who die without Jesus–do they have a second chance?

These are important questions which are answered in the many prophecies of the Messiah from the Old Testament. When Moses wrote of the coming Savior, he described Him in terms of the important message that He would be bringing. Moses warned that anyone who would refuse to hear the words of the Messiah and heed those words–God would require an accounting for their own sins.

We all have two choices: We can stand before God and pay for our own sins, or we can allow Jesus to pay for our sins Himself and set us free from all future judgement.

According to Moses, the one who rejects the words of this Prophet/Messiah will bear his own sin.

Deuteronomy 18:19b “And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”

Jesus claimed that—to not believe that He is the Messiah will mean eternal death.

John 8:24 “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Acts 4:12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Jesus is making the bold assertion that only He has the right to be called the Messiah, the Savior of the world. He is claiming that He alone has the right to forgive all sins and grant eternal life to those who receive Him.

If these things are true, then how we respond to His affirmation is of eternal importance. If what Jesus says is true, then all other churches, religious leaders and religions that claim to be ways to God are lies and we should pay no attention to them.

These are bold statements and brazen claims. Yet, these declarations by Jesus are supported by a life of power unlike any other life which has been lived before. If Jesus is deranged, or worse yet, a liar or charlatan, how could He raise a person from the dead who had been in the grave for four days? (John 11:39) How could He allow evil men to falsely charge Him with crimes He did not commit and condemn Him to death without uttering a single word in His own defense? (Matthew 27:14) Why would He be willing to die for a group of people who have done horrible and unspeakable and sinful acts over the course of human history on the earth? (John 3:16) How could Jesus proclaim to us that “all of our sins are forgiven” and then state that because He is God, He has the power to set us free from all of our sins, if He were not who He claimed to be? (Matthew 9:6) How could Jesus raise Himself from the dead three days after He was brutally crucified if He was not the eternal God who has power over life and death? (John 10:18)

Jesus lived His life consistent with everything that He claimed about Himself. His goal was to lay down His life in one complete and perfect sacrifice for us so that we would have the opportunity to be justly forgiven and live with Him and behold His glory forever and ever. It is this knowledge that He has left with us so that we can decide whether we believe what He said or not.

Salvation is based in part, on knowledge:

The criteria that God will use to judge each one of us is our knowledge of what Jesus has said concerning sin, salvation, and eternal life.

If you have read the Bible, been to a church, or spoken to a friend who has told you that Jesus Christ is the one to whom God has chosen to reconcile the world to Himself and forgive sins, then you are responsible for what you do with that knowledge. If you chose to reject what Jesus has said, ignore His words, or pretend that you didn’t know what you were supposed to do, then you will stand before Him, with no excuse, on the day He judges your life.

Matthew 12:36-37 “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Mark 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.

Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man (Adam) sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—

Romans 5:15 But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense (Adam) many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many.

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

Those who have never heard the good news of Jesus Christ are not held accountable for their lack of knowledge of the written Gospel. Their judgment is based on a seldom known and often misunderstood criteria—the internal knowledge that God has hardwired into the heart of every human being. God has created us with a knowledge of Himself so that we are without excuse.

No Excuse

Romans 1:20-21 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Those who have never heard the Gospel will be judged based on what they did with the internal knowledge that God has created inside their heart; the conscience that tells us that God exists and that we are all accountable to Him.

God has placed Eternity in our heart

The reason that God will not accept the excuse that we didn’t know that He exists, or what He requires, is that He created us with a knowledge that there is a God and that we are sinners in need of a Savior.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 …He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

Those who have never heard

Certain isolated tribes of people who have been found in remote corners of the world, where no outsider has ever intruded, have spoken of their knowledge that God exists and that they knew they needed a Savior. When Missionaries had finally arrived to deliver the message of Jesus Christ, the missionaries were told by these remote people that they were already aware that God exists and that they were in need of His salvation; they simply did not know His name.

These people who have been cut off from the rest of civilization for centuries and have never seen a Bible, or spoken to anyone about Jesus Christ, already knew about Him and what He requires. They knew these things because God had placed a knowledge of Himself in their hearts when He created them. These people are a law unto themselves, much like the Centurion who declared to Jesus, principles of faith that even the Jews did not have in their hearts (Matthew 8:10).

It is only in societies where there are so many attractions and distractions, that people deny they know God exists and that they are in need of the forgiveness of their sins. Nevertheless, God declares that all of us are without excuse before Him (Romans 1:20).

Those without the capacity to understand

To those who are born mentally incapacitated or who die as children, they are covered by the Grace of God through the sacrifice that Jesus has made for their sins. The mentally retarded have no knowledge of their sin, nor God’s requirement for those sins to be atoned for. Therefore, God, in His mercy, will grant them the forgiveness of their sins, in Jesus Christ, and admission into heaven.

For the rest…

There is an opportunity to hear the words of God’s Messiah today and be saved. Very soon this allotted time of grace will expire and then it will be too late. As with all great offers, they have an expiration date. The Expiration date for the forgiveness of sins and the availability of eternal life will soon come to an end. If we should die in these bodies without receiving Jesus Christ as the atonement for our sins, there will be no second chance. There is no hope of eternal life after death has occurred. God has given us the limited time of one life here on the earth to decide. The consequences of our action or inaction are determined by the decision that we make regarding Jesus, while we are alive. That decision is sealed and eternal at the moment of death.

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.

There will be no reincarnation (we will die only once), soul sleep, or second chance after death. This is the day, now is the time, that God will hear us. The reward for receiving Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior is eternal life. The punishment and consequences of rejecting Jesus Christ is eternal death. Both the reward and the punishment are equal; both last forever. It is fair and just for God to make the consequences of our actions equivalent to each other, by eternal duration.

God’s Messiah has come to earth and He has made His life the One sacrifice for all of our sins. God has accepted the death that Jesus has died upon the cross, as payment in full for the sins of all people, for all time. However, this forgiveness is not credited to our account until we willingly respond to God’s offer and then continue to live the rest of our lives for Jesus.

Romans 10:8-11 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if 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. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

This prophecy of Deuteronomy 19:18-19, reveals that when Moses spoke to the people and they ignored him or refused to believe what he said, they died. In the same way, when anyone today refuses to hear the One whom Moses spoke of—Jesus, that Prophet, and they refuse to hear Him, they will also die eternally.

Deuteronomy 18:18-19 I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.

Matthew 17:5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

Whoever will not hear and obey the words of God’s Messiah–God will require the life of that individual—Eternal death. Whoever hears the words of the Messiah Jesus Christ, repents of his sins and relies upon Jesus for the rest of their life, will be saved –Eternal Life.

Is Salvation possible after death?

The Bible is clear that we have only one opportunity to be saved and that opportunity ends at the moment of our death.

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…

After our bodies cease to function, our spirit departs immediately. Those who have obeyed the Gospel and have received Jesus as their Savior–are taken to be with the Lord in Heaven. Those who have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus death and resurrection–are taken to Hell where they will await future judgement for their sins.

2Corinthians 5:8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Without the removal of all our sins–no one will enter heaven. A person might be very good while living their life, but they will never be perfect. God requires moral perfection in all of His law. Those who try to be acceptable to God by keeping the the ten commandments have discovered that it is impossible to keep all the commandments of God. We may never kill, or commit adultery in a physical sense, but all of us have been angry enough or looked at a person to lust after them, which are violations of the true intent of God’s law–the heart.

Matthew 5:22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If we have broken even one of the commandments–we are guilty of breaking them all. The standard is perfection. God does not grade our lives on a “curve,” He requires perfection. It is certain that all of us have told a lie at some point in our life. On this basis alone–we are all guilty. Having broken the ninth commandment (lie), we are guilty of breaking all the law of God.

James 2:10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

How one life can pay for all lives

The Bible teaches that Jesus is the Eternal God, dwelling within the body of a man. Jesus lived a life completely free of sin and did not fail to complete any requirement of God’s demand for perfection (Hebrews 4:15). For this reason, His life being of infinite value and perfect in every regard, Jesus is able to offer His life in exchange for all of our lives. Jesus was able to take upon Himself–all of our sins and remove them so that we become perfect in the sight of God.

1 John 2:2 And Jesus Himself is the payment for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

Having been made perfect, we are fully ready for heaven.

2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Jesus who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Hebrews 10:10 …we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:12, 14 But Jesus, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever… For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

All people, for all time, have the opportunity to obtain the removal of all their sins and be perfect and ready for heaven–if they will receive Jesus as their Savior. Although the provision has been made for our sins, we do not have this benefit applied to our account until we personally ask Jesus for it. If we examine the narrative of Jesus in the four Gospels. we will see that He never used force on anyone. Jesus presented His offer of forgiveness and then allowed each person the opportunity to decide for themselves–whether they would receive or reject Him.

John 1:12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name…

Those who hear and believe are saved. Those who have never heard, will be judged–based on their internal knowledge of their sin and whether they seek mercy from God Those who are without the capacity to understand or receive Jesus offer of forgiveness, will be covered by the provision of grace in Jesus sacrifice and obtain the forgiveness of their sins.

The unborn
The mentally incapacitated

God is fair, merciful, and gracious. He will not condemn anyone who does not genuinely understand the requirements of Jesus Gospel. He also knows all things and understands that every person has a consciousness of their sin and whether they have been seeking mercy from Him. Even without knowing how their sins can be removed–every person knows that they are a sinner and understands their need for forgiveness. God knows this because He created us with a conscience which bears witness of our guilt.

Romans 1:19 …because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.

It is on the basis of our conscience that God will judge those without full knowledge of Jesus and His sacrifice for their sins. Those who lived and died before Jesus made His sacrifice–as well as those who have lived and died after Jesus has complete His sacrifice, are all saved in the same manner. Either looking forward to the coming of the Messiah–or looking back to His arrival. We are all saved in the same way, by Jesus sacrifice as the only One who was able to remove our sins forever.

Acts 15:11 But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

Categories: Children who die, One Way to Heaven, Salvation through Jesus, Those Who Have Never Heard

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