In the Bible we don’t find many allusions to the beginning of all the creation of God. All this was indeed hidden in Christ, the beginning of the creation of God (Revelation 3:14). The ancient creation record is greatly ethnocentric, speaking of the world known to the forefathers of Israel, and centered on them (Genesis 1; 2:10-14; 5:1 etc.). We are told of the heathens, that they were left to themselves but not forgotten by God (Acts 17:26-30) yet as nations excluded from the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). But with Christ there will come a time where every knee will bow and confess Christ is Lord, the remote Islands will be glad (Philippians 2:10, Psalm 97:1).
In the popular Christian understanding, Christ does offer grace to the world, but if someone dies without faith in Christ, they are forever lost, immortal in some underworld of pain and misery. There is no doubt that the great non-biblical assurance of this dark doctrine and the sophisticated and devious defenses of it have been used in the interest of unforgiveable oppression and abuse of power. Evil will find an excuse. This teaching is not found in the Bible, but we will briefly look at some verses believed to say so.
Quoting from Luke:
Luke 13:1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Now what is special about this situation? Not that people die but that they die in a disaster. So is Jesus saying if you don’t repent, you will die in a disaster? Yes. In AD 70, a disaster happened to Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the hands of the Romans. It is believed a million Jews died in the Roman war AD 66-70. Those who accepted Christ obeyed his words:
Matthew 24:15 “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
Now is the popular interpretation of Luke 13:1-5 even possible? Were saints not killed in horrible manners? Do we know if these victims spoken of were saved or not? No, but if the listeners did not repent, they would all die in a disaster. Taken in a general universal way, countless saints have perished in disasters.
Now are those perished done for if they did not die believing?
Matthew 10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Luke 15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’
There nothing in the terminology saying so. Tradition speaks of the lost in hell, but the not-saved are already lost in this life.
Briefly we may also look at:
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,
People die and then come the judgment. There is no suggestion in the Bible that the judgment is a mock trial like the ones men have conducted through history. On the contrary:
Luke 8:17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.
But what about the lake of fire found in Revelation 19 and 20? Revelation is a highly symbolic book. What exactly the lake of fire means is difficult to say but it seems reasonable to see it as a kind of alternative situation to the death with Christ mentioned in Romans 6, also symbolic.
Romans 6:6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more.
That old man needs to die somehow and it is certainly the old man that goes into the lake of fire, not the new. Fire in a very positive way is used here:
Zephaniah 3:8 “Therefore wait for Me,” says the Lord, “Until the day I rise up for plunder; My determination is to gather the nations To My assembly of kingdoms, To pour on them My indignation, All My fierce anger; All the earth shall be devoured With the fire of My jealousy. 9 “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him with one accord.
This indeed would be a very happy end.
Now how can we as believers in the Bible know that the end scenario of Revelation is not the “real”/final end?
Revelation 21:24 And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it.
Revelation 22:2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:14 Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. 15 But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
1 Corinthians 15:24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 27 For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. 28 Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
There will be an end to reign, when it is no longer needed. There will an end to the healing mediator purpose. Notice in Revelation 21:24 of “those who are saved” is disputed, NKJV footnote says: “NU-Text and M-Text omit of those who are saved”.
Now you might ask what about the “forevers” in the Bible. Now those forever’s have to be taken a little carefully. Consider:
Exodus 12:24 And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. (this speaks of Aaron and his sons)
1 Kings 12:7 And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.”
The common New Testament translations don’t really contain such an obvious blur in translation, instead a certain creativity is used;
Romans 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began.
Hebrews 9:26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Ephesians 2:7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
These are common examples that every respected source will accept. You are wellcome to tell me otherwise. The Greek word is aion, so often translated forever or eternal but here it speaks of the world or the ages. The common explanation is that the same word is used for eternal life. So these examples are exceptions but generally it does mean eternal, the explanation goes. I think a much better solution is that eternality was not a concept of the Hebrew Old Testament cultures as demonstrated well in the previous Old Testament verses.
All in all, there are solid Biblical reasons to hold to a larger hope.