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Questions and Answers
Question: The article titled, "The Biblical Festivals That Reveal Christ's Role in God's Plan" in the September-October issue is totally wrong. There is nothing in the Scriptures to support anyone getting a second chance for salvation once they are dead.
This is a very dangerous teaching, as it can give people a false sense of security in thinking they will have another chance that is not in the Bible. If we don't see a written rebuttal of this article by your next issue, we want to cancel our subscription.
—Couple in Newton, New Jersey
Answer: We appreciate your concern and the opportunity you have given us to clarify. An important point to understand is that God is "the Judge of all" (Hebrews 12:23). It is He who decides the salvation of all men and women, and we can trust Him to do it with utmost justice and mercy.
Is there hope for a person who has already rejected God's calling and spurned His way of life? No, a person who has been given every opportunity but has knowingly refused God's calling will die in what the Bible calls the "second death"—ending his or her existence forever (Revelation 21:8; Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)—not eternal life in hellfire. This death is the cessation of existence.
However, there is another type of unbeliever—one who never had the opportunity to choose or reject God's way of life.
What about the people who have lived out their lives without ever hearing the name of Christ or anything that He taught and therefore had no chance at salvation (Acts 4:12)?
Are people condemned because of geography or the timing of their birth? Billions of people, by no choice of their own, have been born, lived and died in regions or during eras in which the Word of God was never available to them. How could a just and loving God condemn people born into such a situation?
Would it be fair for God to destroy them forever when they never really had an opportunity to understand His truth? Indeed it would not be just or fair. That's why the Bible reveals that God's plan encompasses the billions of men, women and children who have lived and died under just those circumstances.
Many know that God will resurrect the saints at Christ's return (1 Corinthians 15:52), but most read right over Christ's teachings about a second resurrection.
He spoke of people from different eras of human history coming face-to-face in "the day of judgment" (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41-42; Luke 10:12-15). Jesus said that God will bring back to life the people of ancient Sodom, Tyre, Sidon and Ninevah along with the Queen of Sheba in a physical resurrection at the same time as those people who heard Christ speak these words in the first century.
The only way for this to be possible—for people who lived many centuries apart to live again at the same time—is for God to resurrect all of them at the same time. Then, learning God's truth for the first time, they will be able to choose whether to follow Him or not—and be fairly judged for the first time.
The Scriptures are plain about the fact that all people have only one opportunity for salvation. It is not a "chance" at all but a matter of choice and God rewarding that choice.
A second life is not the same as a second opportunity for salvation. Coming to life again will enable those brought to life in the second resurrection to have their only real opportunity for salvation. Only a few out of the multiple billions who have ever lived have had this one and only opportunity in the present lifetime.
The apostle Paul referred to this second resurrection in his writings (Romans 11:26-27), and in Revelation 20:5, 11-13 Christ again speaks of it as specifically as He did during His earthly ministry. These references are plainly not about the resurrection spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:52, for God did not judge the people in the above references in terms of their eternity.
In Revelation 20:5 the expression "This is the first resurrection" refers to the resurrection of the saints. We know from the above reference in 1 Corinthians that God raises them at the beginning of the thousand years, not at the end. The first part of the verse ("But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years are finished") is a parenthetical statement that speaks of dead people who will not live again until the thousand years are over.
Clearly, the first part of the verse, which says, "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished," isn't speaking of the resurrection of the righteous dead, who have been judged in this life (1 Peter 4:17) and are raised at Christ's second coming, but rather of those who died without ever having had an opportunity for salvation.
Of those to be brought to life in the second resurrection, Jesus said it would be "more tolerable" for some than for others during this "day of judgment" (Matthew 10:15).
If God resurrects these people only to sentence them to death, Christ's comments wouldn't make any sense. If all were to die, judgment would not be "more tolerable" for one than for another. But clearly, their judgment is incomplete, and hence, God brings them back to physical life. Judgment is a process rather than a one-time sentencing, and these people will be judged at this time.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 describes the second resurrection in colorful detail. This chapter shows how God will work with people of all nations, for Israel has no spiritual advantage over other people (Galatians 3:26-29).
Ezekiel 37 describes an entire nation that died without hope of eternal life and without the knowledge of God that could lead to the people's salvation. God promises them two things—renewed physical life in a resurrection and spiritual understanding (verses 10, 14). The gift of God's Holy Spirit will enable them to live the Christian way of life, and if they are faithful to the end of their future natural lifetime, they will then receive eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Most people in the grave have never known the only name by which salvation is possible (again see Acts 4:12), yet God's clear desire is that all humankind have an opportunity for salvation (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). If there were no second resurrection, the majority of people down through history would suffer unfair condemnation to death in the lake of fire without ever having an opportunity for conversion and salvation.
We realize that this second resurrection is a shocking concept to most people because they have never heard anything like it in the churches they've attended. Yet the Bible's revelation is clear once we get past our preconceived notions and misunderstandings.
Interested readers can find more information on this important and often misunderstood subject in our free booklets What Happens After Death? and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?
©2004 United Church of God, an International Association