Are billions of people now in their graves eternally lost? If this were the only day of salvation, the answer would be yes. But what does the Bible say?
Christianity is not and never has been followed by the vast majority of the world’s population. But, while most churches teach that salvation is only through accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, how many have satisfying biblical answers about the fate of the “unsaved billions”? What will happen to people who aren't saved when they die?
Actually their fate is easily proved from God’s Word. The Bible shows that this is not the age in which God is trying to save the entire world. As we will see, this is not the only day of salvation!
Is God fair?
Consider how few Christians there are today, however you define Christianity. According to the Pew Research Center’s December 2011 report “Global Christianity”:
- Only 31.7 percent of the world’s population is considered Christian. (“Christian” for the purposes of these statistics refers to everyone nominally associated with some form of Christian faith; this is not the same as the biblical definition of a Christian.)
- Therefore, those who do not profess Christ number almost 70 percent.
- In China, which has nearly one-fifth of the earth’s population, only about 5 percent of the people profess to be Christians.
- India, with 17 percent of the world’s people, is only 2.6 percent Christian.
- Japan is less than 1 percent Christian.
- In the Middle East and North Africa only 3.8 percent of the population is Christian.
Although Christianity is considered the largest religion today, clearly the vast majority of humanity currently is not and never has been part of any form of Christian worship.
According to Christian teachings, humans are made in the image of God; and as such, all should have an equal opportunity for eternal life. The Bible expresses exactly that: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality: But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35).
If God is fair and just—which He is—then why are the vast majority seemingly cut off from their Savior, from understanding the Bible and from salvation?
Facing this perplexity, some suggest that an all-merciful and wise God might give eternal life to all sincere people who commit to any good principles. But according to the Bible, that is not God’s plan. What does the Bible say?
The common misconception about life after death
Many sincere people wrongly assume that every person has only two possibilities for the afterlife:
- He or she will be saved.
- He or she will be punished in an ever-burning hellfire.
These assumptions are associated with beliefs such as:
- This is the one and only time when God is trying to save humanity.
- The mission of the Church is to save the world now.
- Soon it will be too late for God to call people to His truth.
But are these assumptions and beliefs taught in the Bible?
Is there another way to salvation?
All Scripture is inspired by God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16-17), and it clearly reveals that there is but one name whereby we may be saved—the name of Jesus Christ.
Speaking of Jesus, the apostle Peter declared, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
God’s Word allows for no other way to gain eternal life.
But few have heard
But the vast majority of people on earth through the ages have heard little of that name. Most living today know little about salvation from sin, God’s plan for eternal life and what the gospel is. Very few have learned these things and accepted them with deep faith.
Such people cannot be saved! Yet it is not God’s will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Is Scripture then broken? Has God failed to achieve His purpose?
Can anyone truly believe that a God of love (1 John 4:8) has consigned the majority of those who have ever lived to eternal punishment because they never had a chance? Because they happened to be born where they were not able to hear the full gospel message?
Or are people correct to assume that God considers “saved” all those who live to the best of their knowledge, without accepting Christ’s sacrifice for sin? In other words, is there some other name, some other way to salvation and eternal life?
There is no such teaching to be found in the Bible.
Many opinions—only one truth about eternal life
God is not trying to save all of humanity at this time! But God obviously would be able to do so if that were His purpose. What then is the truth?
In His wisdom God has allowed humanity an allotted time in which to learn eternity-lasting lessons of righteousness and unrighteousness, cause and effect. God’s purpose is for mankind to indelibly experience the inevitable consequences of not living “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). He wants us to learn to not lean on our own understanding or determination of right and wrong.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Actually, there are seemingly infinite ways that seem right to people! If they make the wrong choice—following human ideas instead of God’s way—they are in danger of missing out on salvation.
Since Adam’s sin about 6,000 years ago, human beings have essentially been allowed to go their own way under the subtle influence of Satan, called the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4). People form their own religions; their own educational, social and political systems. The lesson to be learned is that any way other than God’s way has led to every ill, unhappiness, grief, frustration, suffering and—eventually—to death.
That will continue to be the case until God does finally call all humans to be saved at the return of Jesus Christ to set up the Kingdom of God on earth.
God is not saving all people now
The Bible teaches a fact almost unbelievable in the light of church tradition—that God has not set His hand to save the world now! We have been living in the age of Satan’s reign over the earth and its inhabitants. God has allowed Satan to rule this present evil age (2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9).
Another biblical fact is that during this present time of Satan’s rule, it is simply not given to most to fully understand God’s truth. Ask the question: Why, really, did Jesus speak in parables? Most believe it was in order to make His teachings clearer. But that’s not what Christ Himself said.
Jesus hid the truth
Jesus Christ spoke in parables to hide His real meaning so many would not understand! It was Jesus’ intention that not all His hearers understand the message He brought then. “To you [His chosen disciples] it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside [not yet chosen], all things come in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand; lest they should turn, and their sins be forgiven them’” (Mark 4:11-12).
Notice, even those who heard Him speak in person did not understand the full spiritual meaning of Jesus’ words!
Most people are not called now in Satan’s age. God is simply not trying to save the world now. If He were, the sad truth would be that God is losing to Satan.
God is just and denies no one a genuine chance at salvation. He will give all the “unsaved” who have ever lived their opportunity to understand His great purpose—to truly repent, be converted and receive eternal life.But there is no contest. God alone is in charge, and Satan can do only what God allows. God gives him permission for a specific purpose. The Almighty God does things in His way and in His time. And in His plan for the salvation of man, not all are called now. They are neither saved nor lost yet!
God gives all a real chance
God is just and denies no one a genuine chance at salvation. He will give all the “unsaved” who have ever lived their opportunity to understand His great purpose—to truly repent, be converted and receive eternal life. He will bring them back to physical life to accomplish His purpose. This will not be their “second chance” to be saved, but rather their only chance.
Did you know that the Old Testament and New Testament alike prophesy a second resurrection for this reason? If this is new to you, read “Second Resurrection: A Second Chance?” and “Resurrections: What Are They?” for a fuller explanation.
So although a very few—the “little flock” (Luke 12:32)—are being called today, the vast majority will have their opportunity to truly understand God and His plan of salvation later. “No man can come to Me unless the Father … draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” said Christ in John 6:44. But He did not mean that all others are condemned without being given a calling.
God does things at the right time
There is a time order for mankind’s salvation. Have you wondered what Paul meant by writing that people will be resurrected “each one in his own order” (1 Corinthians 15:23)? God’s plan calls for offering salvation to every person ever born, but at precise points in time.
Those called out of the world and into the Church now are called for a specific purpose and a specific work. Doing that work is part of the spiritual training needed to assist in the conversion of humanity as a whole in the future. The “little flock” has been called at a time when believers face the full opposition of Satan. Over the centuries, that has included temptations, trials, persecution, violence and even martyrdom.
At Christ’s return, Satan will be captured and bound—blocked from interfering with God’s plan to save the rest of humankind (Revelation 20:1-4). Without Satan’s interference, people will be guided by Christ and by the saints, then made immortal in the Kingdom of God. God’s festivals (Leviticus 23) portray the whole of His plan of salvation for humanity as it is being worked out today (see “Plan of Salvation: How God’s Festivals Reveal His Plan”).
Satan is “the god of this world” only temporarily
We are nearing the end of Satan’s allotted time. Satan’s work is a labor of deceiving humanity—of replacing God’s truth with “the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9), causing sincere people to accept a counterfeit, deceiving the people into sin. And how successful he has been (Revelation 12:9)!
But soon, Christ will dethrone Satan and seize all power over the entire earth. Satan will be utterly shorn of influence. He will be chained, restrained and thrown into the symbolic “bottomless pit” (Revelation 20:1-3). Then he will not deceive a single soul (read “God vs. Satan” and “Satan Destroyed! How?”).
Jesus will return to earth not only to rule but, as our High Priest, to save.
Many have grieved unnecessarily over departed loved ones they have felt were lost when, in truth, their loved ones probably will yet have their opportunity to accept God’s offer of salvation. They will be resurrected; their spiritual blindness removed. They will be able to understand the way to eternal life. Then, they will choose whether to accept salvation.
You can learn more about God’s plan for you and all of mankind in our free booklet. You can also study further on the topic of what happens when you die through this helpful resource page.