One of the more humbling experiences from my days in corporate life was being told that my reserved seat on a company jet was revoked at the last minute to make room for a late-arriving executive. Not to worry. I was offered the one remaining seat, located in the plane’s lavatory, where the toilet came equipped with a safety belt. Rather than cool my heels on the tarmac, I swallowed my pride and took my place on the aluminum throne.
It reminded me of Jesus’ parable rebuking those who reclined at the choicest seats at a wedding banquet. Even more, it brought to mind the future humiliation Jesus said would come to those boasting of a place in the kingdom of heaven, yet being cast out. Though the kingdom is open to all who receive Christ by faith, the day is coming when those who falsely stake their claim will be unceremoniously shown the door.
There are at least three types of people who will be cast out of the kingdom of heaven.
Christian apologetics is more than being ready to give an answer to anyone who asks a reason for the hope in us (1 Peter 3:15). Sometimes it means asking tough questions of those who deny — or sincerely misunderstand — the Christian faith.
A case in point is Eben Alexander, a celebrated neurosurgeon who recently granted an interview with FoxNews.com’s online magazine. Alexander knows a great deal about the human brain, and for years he used that knowledge to refute claims by those who said they visited heaven during near-death experiences (NDEs).
He believed NDEs were fantasies the brain produced under extreme duress. But as the magazine interview reveals, all that changed when Alexander had his own near-death experience, which he outlines in his book, “Proof of Heaven.”
I like to watch certain films again and again no matter how many times I have seen them. My list of honey-please-back-away-from-the-remote movies includes “Gladiator,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Outlaw Josie Wales,” and just about any 007 film.
Oh, and don’t forget the Mad Max trilogy starring Mel Gibson. One of my favorite scenes in the third film features Max squaring off against a brutal, masked bodyguard named Blaster in Thunderdome, a caged orb in which the only rule is: “Two men enter … one man leaves.” A fight to the death. Pass the popcorn.
Sometimes I think Christians favor the Thunderdome approach for determining proper interpretation of difficult Bible passages or theological issues. Let’s pit Calvinists against Arminians, young earthers vs. old earthers. premillennialists vs. amillennialists. Toss them into Thunderdome. Two men enter … one man leaves.
This column appeared July 17 in The Pathway of the Missouri Baptist Convention.
The story is told of a Christian missionary who traveled deep into the heart of a distant land where the gospel message had never penetrated. The missionary labored for years learning the language and adapting to the culture.
At long last, he was able to clearly communicate the story of Jesus. Many of the once animistic people eagerly became Christians.
But not their chief. He listened intently and weighed the missionary’s every word. Finally, he asked, “Would I go to this place called hell if I never heard about Jesus?”
“Well, no,” the missionary replied.
“Then why,” said the chief, “did you come?”
The story illustrates an issue that has perplexed us for centuries. If faith comes by hearing, as the apostle Paul makes clear (Rom. 10:17), then what about those who have never heard of Jesus?
Are they going to hell? Getting a second chance in the afterlife? Will everyone be saved in the end, anyway? Or is this an unanswerable question – perhaps even a foolish one akin to asking whether God could create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?
No doubt, some people ask the question in an effort to justify their unbelief. And for them, the simple response is: “Well, you’ve heard of Jesus. What will you do with Him?”
Still, the question is a haunting one. And the Scriptures seem to lack a single, clear proof text that satisfies those who like their answers in sound bites or 140-character tweets. Take heart, though. There are a number of biblical truths to ponder as we share our faith with others and trust the Holy Spirit to draw them to Christ.
Consider these 10 simple truths:
- Jesus Christ is the only Savior. Jesus declares this when He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter affirms it in Acts 4:12: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.”
- God loves all people and desires their salvation (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).
- God is just and will judge all people justly (Job. 34:10-12; Ps. 9:8; 98:9; Jer. 11:20; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:5-11).
- All people are aware of God’s existence (Rom. 1:18-23). They have failed to act responsibly on what God already has revealed to them, whether through the light of creation (Romans 1), the light of conscience (Romans 2), or the light of Christ (Romans 3).
- All people are sinners and know it. God has written His law in their hearts and all people are aware that they have violated the law of God (Rom. 2:1-16). No one will be able to stand before God in judgment and claim that he or she never willfully did wrong.
- Men and women are not sentenced to hell based upon whether they heard of Jesus Christ. Rather, they are justly and fittingly condemned based upon the fact that they are sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23).
- It appears that if people respond to the light they do have, God will send them the brighter light of the gospel. Consider the Ethiopian eunuch, for example, in Acts 8:26ff, and Cornelius in Acts 10:25ff.
- Evidently, God will judge people based on their response to the light He has given them as expressed in their deeds (Rom. 2:6-11), words (Matt. 12:36-37) and thoughts (Heb. 4:12). This does not mean good works save people, or that salvation is found in other religions; rather it means that people’s response to God in faith, or lack thereof, is evident in their thoughts, words and actions.
- It appears there will be stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel than for those who have never heard (John 3:36; 12:48). Jesus also told the Jewish leaders – who had greater degrees of knowledge of the Scriptures – they would receive “greater damnation,” and He pronounced many “woes” on them (Matthew 23).
- Christian evangelism is essential for at least three reasons: 1) God commands us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); 2) the preaching of the gospel is the means by which people hear and are saved (Rom. 10:13-17); and 3) all people may share in the blessings of eternal life, not only beyond the grave, but now (John 10:10).
Rev. 7:9 – After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. 10And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! 11All the angels stood around the throne, the elders, and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying: Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength, be to our God forever and ever. Amen. 13Then one of the elders asked me, “Who are these people robed in white, and where did they come from?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” Then he told me: These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15For this reason they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His sanctuary. The One seated on the throne will shelter them: 16no longer will they hunger; no longer will they thirst; no longer will the sun strike them, or any heat. 17Because the Lamb who is at the center of the throne will shepherd them; He will guide them to springs of living waters, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (HCSB).
They cried out in a loud voice
The redeemed cry out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (v. 10). Their praise reflects at least two biblical truths. First, salvation is of God and not of man. We are bankrupt in our sins; lost and separated from God; under condemnation; deserving only of His wrath; self-sold into the slave market of sin; blinded; bound; citizens of the kingdom of darkness; spiritually dead. The redeemed know this and declare it openly before their Savior. The lost do not know their desperate state – and cannot know it unless the Holy Spirit touches their stone-cold hearts, convincing them of their unbelief, their futile self-righteousness, and their future lot with Satan (John 16:7-11). God has taken the initiative to save lost sinners and has completed the work necessary for our salvation. All that remains is for the sinner to receive the gift of eternal life by faith – and even faith is a gift of God.
The second truth in this cry of the redeemed is that salvation is the finished work of the triune Godhead. God the Father, seated on the throne, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ (Eph. 1:3). He chose us, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4). He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself (Eph. 1:5). He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). Take note that all of these wondrous acts of the Father are accomplished through the Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
While the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the praise of the redeemed in Rev. 7:10, other scriptures make it clear that He, too, plays an active role in our redemption. He convicts lost sinners of their need for salvation (John 16:7-11); regenerates believing sinners, imparting new life into their once-dead spirits (John 3:5, 6:63; 2 Cor. 3:6); seals believers, or places God’s mark of ownership upon them (Eph.. 4:3); confirms that they belong to God (Rom. 8:16); equips them for ministry through spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7); and helps them in prayer (Rom. 8:26-27).
Yes, Christ is our Savior, and His finished work on our behalf is accomplished in full cooperation with the Father and the Spirit. Just as the Bible teaches that each member of the Godhead played a role in creation, it also teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in the “new creation” of redeemed lives and, ultimately, new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).
Next: All the angels stood around the throne