NOTE: This is part 1 of a three-part Breaking News. Part 2 consists of a portion of the large amount of evidence in the early Christian period regarding the wide-spread belief in Universal Reconciliation.
There is a legitimate question that many people ask concerning the reliability of any biblical doctrine—and this especially applies to that concerning a salvation of all humanity to Christ. It is this: If the doctrine is clear in the Bible, did later Christians believe it—particularly those in the first few centuries after Christ? The answer concerning universal salvation is a resounding YES! It was common knowledge among many Christian scholars of the early centuries that the teaching represented the bedrock of Christian belief. This survey shows that universal reconciliation was recognized and accepted by many in the centuries after Christ!
The doctrine of a universal world reconciliation to Christ is plainly revealed in the Bible. There are many sections of Scripture which are devoted solely to this matter, and if people would simply believe what they read (instead of inserting into the text their own theological conceptions and their desire to perpetuate traditionalism), there would hardly appear a doubt about the fact of the biblical teaching. Especially is this so if people correctly apply the factor of grace in every aspect of man’s salvation to God. The biblical teaching of grace demands a universal salvation in Christ when it is understood fully. The New Testament shows grace in salvation (without any works by man), and that salvation has its commencement in Christ, is sustained by Christ, and that it will be completed by the exclusive power of Christ (Romans 11:36).
The apostle Paul taught in the clearest terms that our salvation (and that of all in the world) was given to us before the world’s foundation (2 Timothy 1:9). What was given as a gift before birth will not be taken away by works in this life (1 Corinthians 3:15; 5:5). Yet most Christians assume that each human being must partially (or wholly) provide “works” for his salvation. This is not true! Salvation comes to all through the agency of grace, and grace is something that is the antithesis of work. It is God’s gift, without human works (Romans 11:5–6).
The fact is, Christ performed all the works necessary to obtain our salvation for us. [See our article "The Way of Salvation in the Christian Gospel" for a clear explanation of this matter.] And, since Christ accomplished his work of salvation for all of the human race, it follows that all will obtain their salvation given before the world’s foundation (2 Corinthians 5:19; 2 Timothy 2:4–6; 1 John 2:2). That is the simple New Testament teaching!
And, really, many Christian leaders presently believe that Christ will redeem the totality of the world to himself one day. Not long ago I talked to a Presbyterian minister with impeccable theological credentials from one of the Ivy League universities and he informed me that a full 95% of ministers he knew personally believed in a universal salvation by Christ—though most held the belief secretly, since it was not generally accepted by the denomination. I have not the slightest doubt that the percentage would be high in other denominations as well. Anything less than this would be incompatible with the love and attitude demonstrated by Christ for the world that He created (John 3:16–17).
True enough, God exercises judgments upon evildoers (and these can be severe), but these disciplines are temporary and corrective in nature. Yet how inconsistent the traditional interpretations are! It is normally believed that when people die they immediately receive their judgments by going to heaven or to hell (or to a purgatory). But the Bible teaches no such thing! Man was created mortal and must remain in the grave until the resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). There is no one alive (doing works, devices, expressing knowledge or wisdom) in the grave (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Of all humans who have ever lived, only Christ presently has immortality (1 Timothy 6:16). As for mankind, the apostle Paul said all of us are mortal, and must await the resurrection from the dead at Christ’s second advent in order to have a restored life (1 Corinthians 15:53–54). Man is not immortal because it is possible to destroy both soul and body (Matthew 10:28).
The only hope that mankind possesses for a future life is to become resurrected from the dead—and note that the New Testament teaches that it is a resurrection from the DEAD, not from a living existence either in heaven, purgatory, or hell! Indeed, even Christ himself was dead for three days as a result of the crucifixion. His spirit (breath or life-principle) returned to God in heaven, while Christ himself remained in the grave for that three day period.
[ In no way should it be conceived that Jesus went, as some disembodied spirit, to preach among angelic spirits imprisoned in the depths of the earth. People should read closely 1 Peter 3:18–19. Peter said that Christ was first quickened (made alive once again from the dead) and then (and only then) did he preach to the spirits in prison. ]
The fact is, for a resurrection from the dead to take place (that the Bible teaches), the individuals in their graves must first be dead—not alive in heavenly bliss or in a fiery torment!
The inconsistency of the traditional opinion is self-evident. It is normally taught that at death humans go immediately to heaven, purgatory, or hell. And then, for some unknown reason, they must be “re-united” with their dead bodies that will be resurrected from the dust. Modern interpreters must resort to this “gaining life” in a double sense, because the New Testament is specific about the need for our bodies to be resurrected from the dead at Christ’s second advent. But how can we be resurrected from the dead, if we are already alive in heaven or hell? No one can explain this need. And no wonder! The doctrine is not biblical. It is to satisfy Plato’s doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul. Yet, people who have died are still in their graves awaiting a resurrection of the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). And that includes all the righteous people of the past—such as King David (who is prophesied to have a glorious existence in the resurrection).
“Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us to this day ... for David is NOT ascended into heaven.”
• Acts 2:29, 34
Even Christ said: “No man hath ascended up to heaven” (John 3:13).
But why mention these matters about the state of the dead in an article concerning universal salvation? There is a good reason, because the Bible makes it clear in no uncertain terms that all the dead will one day receive a call from Christ and come forth from their graves!
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which ALL that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.”
• John 5:28–29
The point that needs to be made is the fact that all will participate in the resurrection. There will be no granting of rewards or punishments (or corrective actions by God) until the resurrections occur, and all are standing alive before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10).
And what will be the final result of this procedure placed into motion by God? It means that all intelligent beings throughout the universe will finally worship God and openly (and freely, on their own volitions) come to the place of confessing Christ as Lord and Savior.
“That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven [throughout the universe], and things in earth [all earth beings], and things under the earth [angelic beings confined to Tartars]; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, TO THE GLORY of God the Father.”
• Philippians 2:10–11
And, in this confession by all intelligent beings on earth and throughout the universe, it should be understood that this will finally result in a spontaneous adoration for Christ, and for the salvation He provides for all. One should note that the word “confess” (or its cognates), as used in the Old and New Testaments, is always within a context of free expression (non-coercion) by those performing the “confessing.” Indeed, even the apostle Paul said no individual is able to sincerely confess that Jesus is Lord without being prompted by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). More than that, Paul went on to say in Philippians 2:13 (after having stated that all in the universe will one day confess and worship Christ),
“For it is God which worketh in you both TO WILL and TO DO [perform] of HIS good pleasure.”
These scriptures are powerful ones to show that God will provide “the will” for all creatures to accept Christ. All things are destined to become like God (1 Corinthians 15:28).
“For of him, and through him, and to him are ALL THINGS: to whom be glory for ever.”
• Romans 11:36
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one ALL THINGS in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.”
• Ephesians 1:10
“And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile ALL THINGS to himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in heaven [the totality of the universe], or things in earth [all upon or under the earth].”
• Colossians 1:20
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that THE WORLD through him might be saved.”
• John 3:17
Ernest L. Martin