If Jesus came to save the whole world, Why did he manifest himself only to the region around present day Israel?and the general gist is clear: how can a revelation, given historically in a specific place and time, be the standard by which the world BEFORE the event and the world ignorant of those events AFTER their occurrence be in ANY way fair? How can God punish those who never heard of Jesus? And the general implication that is drawn from this is clear: a God that confines His salvation to such a tiny, specific group CANNOT be a 'good' , loving, or even 'just' God... Now, although this last accusation against God is worthy of considerable study in itself, there is enough data from His revelation to give us an adequate model by which to understand this issue.
To construct this 'model', we do THREE things:
BC1: We know that SOMEHOW, at least SOME people from EVERY nation on earth end up in heaven! Cf. Rev 5:7:
And they sang a new song: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.So, whatever theory we come up with HAS TO ACCOUNT for a membership in heaven from every major group in history!
Notice that although I may not be able to come up with an explanation as to HOW this
occurs, at least God points out that the extent of His work is not as limited as the
objections might contend.
BC2: We know that this group, with representatives from every 'nation' is a VAST MULTITUDE--NOT a tiny minority of folks! Cf. Rev 7.9:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.Notice that it was a 'great multitude that no one could count'--with representation from every nation, tribe, people, and language. Again, we may not be able to account for this--God may not have explained His ways of doing this--but my failure to understand the MEANS cannot negate the truthfulness of God's ENDS.
BC3: There will apparently be MANY, MANY people in heaven that do not come from the historical Jewish locus:
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 8:10-11).
And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matt 24.31)
Notice that Jesus uses the phrases 'many'(!) and 'east and the west' (a general idiom
for 'from all over the world').
So, whatever model we come up with, if it cannot predict a LARGE number of
non-traditional celebrants in heaven (still based on faith), then it will, to that
extent, be inaccurate.
BC4: God is good, gracious, merciful to ALL people.
The data is VERY clear here:
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Ps 145.8f)
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5.44ff)
Notice that God's goodness is not limited to a narrow band of people, in a narrow band
BC5: God does what is fair, just, and right concerning ALL matters--including this
Shall not the God of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18.25)
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deut 32.4)
He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Ps 98.9)
Notice, that there will be NO excuse of 'not fair' with God's judgment...no one will
argue that their situation is Unfair!
BC6: There is universal revelation of God in nature, that apparently operates at a sub-conscious (or holistic) level.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. (Psalm )
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities -- his eternal power and divine nature -- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1.19-20)
We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." (Acts 14)
As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.' Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone -- an image made by man's design and skill. (Acts 17, Paul speaking to the Athenians)
Indeed, when Gentiles [i.e. non-Jews], who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, (Romans 2.14ff)
Notice that certain aspects of God's existence and character (and the consequent
accountability of humanity) is "PLAIN"(!), and that this type of revelation is
universal (to all speech and language groups).
This revelation is somehow immediate to us (with perhaps discursive possibilities as
well), and occurs in cosmology (e.g. heavens, skies), patterns (the seasons and
agriculture), moral notions (e.g. conscience), emotions (e.g. joy), the 'structure'
of humans (i.e. 'offspring' implies a not-inanimate God). It convinces us of His
deity, judgment, AND kindness.
BC7: "Extra-ordinary" evidence (e.g. miracle) is NO MORE PERSUASIVE than
'regular' evidence (e.g. the Bible).
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire."Notice that even a resurrection from the dead would not have had any more persuasive power than the simple content of the Old Testament. The MESSAGE itself (and not necessarily its 'supporting data') is somehow 'adequately confrontational and truth-bearing' to persuade/dissuade a person from accepting God. [Note: This is NOT to say that the regular revelation is not more persuasive than the NATURAL revelation, though--I think we will find a difference there.]
But Abraham replied, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us."
He answered, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment."
Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." "No, father Abraham," he said, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent."
He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Story of "Dives and Lazarus", Luke 16)
This phenomena is NOT restricted to 'those who haven't heard'. The disciples saw the
most number, of the most awesome, of Christ's miracles and STILL were 'slow to
believe' (Luke 24.25!). Consistently throughout Jesus ministry they just didn't seem
to "get it", prompting Jesus sardonic frustration the night before He died in
John 16.13 ("You believe at last!")! And Jesus can confront the Rabbis with
John 5.45:"But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is
Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me,
for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going
to believe what I say?" .
Western culture has this myth of intellectual neutrality--that given enough data,
ANYONE would believe. But this position is contradicted by everyday experience. The
vast majority of 'arguments' we have are NOT disagreements over data, but
disagreements over how important the data is, or what the data implies (often, for
our lifestyle choices!), or how much stronger the opposite data is. And we all have
had the experience where either US or our 'antagonist' decides those issues on
emotional grounds! Our will is a VERY BIG player in many of these types of questions.
BC8: There were a number of people in the OT outside of the covenant community of
Israel that had detailed (but not perfectly accurate) knowledge of God, somehow.
BC9: God's dealing with the pre-gospel, outside-Israel nations is described in
rather 'generous' terms.
We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. (Acts 14.15f, Paul to the folk of Lystra)
"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone -- an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17, Paul to those at Athens)
Notice the phrases "He let all nations go their own way" and "God overlooked such
ignorance". This does not exempt people from personal accountability, but does
indicate that their judgment is not any more/less severe because of an absence of the
BC10: God's universal and final judgment is according to the actions and motives of humanity--NOT to one's "exposure" (or lack thereof) to the NT gospel. Indeed, Romans describes a moral purity that is theoretically attainable by ANYONE.
God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2)
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (I Cor 4.4f)
All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. (Prov 16.2)
Notice that we are accountable for HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES--what thoughts, actions, and
the consequences of who we are that MAKE IT OUT INTO HISTORY. We are NOT judged by
whether we heard the gospel or not.
BC11: The Old Testament 'way' that God dealt with humanity did NOT instantly disappear with the advent of the birth of the NT Church--there was (and maybe still is) some overlap.
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. (Acts 19)Notice that these people were still living in the 'Old Testament relationship' with God--even AFTER the NT was in full swing. There may literally STILL be isolated peoples of the world in that 'less precise' relationship. (It MIGHT be the case that they are only 'transferred into' the new age when they first hear the good news about Jesus.)
BC12: Even in the OT, one did not have to become a member of Israel to be 'saved'-- salvation certainly was supposed to occur 'outside' of Israel.
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' (Ex 19)
Notice that a 'kingdom of priests' requires people OUTSIDE the nation, to be
represented by that nation (the function of priesthood)! That is, Israel was supposed
to be a source of blessing to outsiders, without REQUIRING the outsiders to become
part of the 'kingdom of priests'.
BC13: NO ONE ever is restored to a healthy relationship with God APART FROM the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14.6)
"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matt 11.27)
God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3.25ff)
Notice that Jesus is somehow necessary for ANYONE's salvation--even those BEFORE His
time on earth. God the Father accepted that future sacrifice (ahead of time) of the
historical Jesus Christ as the basis of forgiveness in the OT. (Also, please remember
that the pre-incarnate Son of God was active in creation and revelation BEFORE
assuming a human body in history.)
This does NOT necessarily require (in all cases) the recipient of that forgiveness
to know the name 'Jesus Christ'--obvious from the experiences of the OT saints!
Pushback: "But, Glenn, Acts 4:12 SPECIFICALLY says that there is no other
'NAME' whereby we must be saved--it looks TO ME that the name of "Jesus" IS critical!
Are you denying this verse, glenn? Are you ashamed of the name of Jesus? Are you
seeking to compromise the demands of the Gospel, in favor of some idol of tolerance?
Are you denying the Lord in your lust for intellectual respectability, according to
the standards of the world? Are you soft-pedaling the gospel to make it more
'acceptable' to reprobates? Are you [insert YOUR favorite 'pious-putdown' or
Christian slander-slogan here]?
Response: Actually, I am just trying to interpret the verse according to the
author's intention and historical setting. "Name" was normally used in such settings
to mean "person with authority". For example, in 4.18, the Sanhedrin "commanded them
not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus". "Name" referred to the status,
dignity, authority of the person.
This can be seen easily by just reflecting upon the difference between "
baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 8.16) and " baptized into Jesus"
(Rom 6.3) / " baptized into Christ" (Gal 3.27). The person is still what is in
So Peter H. Davids (More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, p40-41.)
We appeal to Jesus, doing so by name. No other name is appropriate, not in the sense that another of the names for Jesus of Nazareth would be inappropriate, but in the sense that calling upon any other person, religious leader or deity will not work. It will take us to the wrong address, to someone or something which cannot save... Therefore there is no mystical meaning in the name "Jesus."Finally, note that Hebrews 1 talks about the 'superior name' that Jesus inherited ("SON") and that John speaks of Jesus' name as 'the Word of God' (Rev 19.13; John 1). If Acts 4.12 meant the phonetic word "Jesus", then these designators could not be used. Instead, we find it is perfectly okay with scripture to say things like " you that believe on the name of the Son of God;" (I John 5).
So, it seems to me that if you force this passage into some 'magical name' theory,
you have missed the point of the passage and context. It DOES assert the criticality
of Jesus to salvation, but in the context of the Sanhedrin--who focused alot on
questions of 'where authority came from' (cf. Mt 21.23)--it focused on the exalted
mission and credentials of the Messiah.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
The above are boundary conditions that will have to be maintained REGARDLESS of
whatever theory we might come up with. And, quite frankly, given the above data,
the original objections simply DISAPPEAR! The narrowness and historical limitations
are OBVIOUSLY not severe enough to stop God from bringing many people, from all over
the world, into a joyous relationship with Himself!
But we would do well to see if we can penetrate this further, and to see if there
are other lines of argumentation that bear on this.
The first principle is progressive clarity of the gospel:
Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you."Here you have the very basics--and God accepts them.
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city -- a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
"By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish."
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
The second principle is that of revelatory continuity and selection.
It is precisely here, as I see it, that we may find a ray of light by going back to what we have already said about those multitudes of Jews who, in Old Testament times, turned to God in repentance, brought the prescribed sacrifice, and threw themselves on his mercy. It was not that they earned that mercy by their repentance or obedience, or that an animal sacrifice could ever avail to atone for human sin. It was that their repentance and faith (themselves, of course, the result of God's work in their hearts) opened the gate, as it were, to the grace, mercy and forgiveness which he always longed to extend to them, and which was to be made forever available at the cross on which Christ 'gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time'. May we not believe, then, that the same would be true of the follower of some other religion in whose heart the God of all mercy had been working by this Spirit, who had come in some measure to realize his sin and need for forgiveness, and who had been enabled, in the twilight as it were, to throw himself on the mercy of God? Is not this, perhaps, the meaning of St Peter's words in the house of Cornelius: 'I now see how true it is that God has no favourites, but that in every nation the man who is godfearing and does what is right is acceptable to him'. This cannot mean that the man who tries to be religious and strives to be moral will earn salvation, for the whole Bible denies this possibility. But does it not mean that the man who realizes something of his sin or need, and throws himself on the mercy of God with a sincerity which shows itself in his life (which would always, of course, be a sure sign of the inward prompting of God's Spirit, and especially so in the case of one who had never heard the gospel), would find that mercy--although without understanding it--at the cross on which Christ 'died for all'? (Christianity and Comparative Religion, pp101-102).
This element of continuity is confirmed by the experience of many who have become converts to Christianity from other religions. Even though this conversion involves a radical discontinuity, yet there is often the strong conviction afterwards that it was the living and true God who was dealing with them in the days of their pre-Christian wrestlings." (L. Newbigin, The Finality of Christ, SCM: 1969, p. 59)
The third principle is that of providence:
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
The fourth principle is response to truth.
The fifth principle is that one cannot explicitly reject Christ himself and still
have a positive relationship with God:
"He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10.16)
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3.36)
But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (Rom 2.8)
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10.28ff)
The point is fairly clear: to reject Jesus is to reject God the Father. "Rejection"
is a very ACTIVE word--it is not apathy, ignorance, neglect, ambivalence, doubt,
misgivings, or lack of attention. It is a conscious choice about truth--considered
and evaluated--and then actively and completely repulsed.
But there is a MAJOR question here--especially in light of all the phony Jesus-images
being passed around today. If someone preaches a highly legalistic Jesus to a person,
and that person rejects THAT IMAGE OF JESUS, have they REALLY rejected the Jesus of
the Bible, or have they not even been presented with Him? The same question could be
raised concerning 'social Jesus' or 'cynic sage' or 'confused military hero' or
whatever...has Jesus REALLY even been seen in that case?
It has been my experience that many of the non-Christian skeptics and atheists have
rejected a caricature of Jesus--that they have truly never seen His heart of love,
His quiet commitment to their noble freedom, His patience in the face of unrequited
love. The same may be true of members of non-Christian (and especially non-Western)
religions--they may have rejected a false Christ--and probably one WORTH rejecting!
But the Jesus of the Bible, when seen in pattern, balance, and in the blinding light
of His love on the Cross...such a leader, such a lover, such a Lord!
The final principle is God's goodness and compassion--HE is much more concerned
about this issue than we are!:
Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? (Ezek 18.23)
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! ( Ezek 18.31f)
But the LORD said, "You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?" (Jonah 3)
These verses could be multiplied and multiplied..."for God so loved the WORLD, that
He gave His unique Son, that WHOEVER trusted in Him would NOT perish, but have and
enjoy life forever and fully" (Jn 3.16).
The first thing I want to do is to deal with a text that is often quoted in support of this 'tiny scrap saved' view--Matt 7.13-14:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.This verse, in context, is talking about the difficulties facing the soon-to-be disciples. They are being confronted (in the Sermon on the Mount) with the extreme severity (outwardly) of the call to be in the first generation of Jewish Christians. Persecution awaits them, but so does the life-that-is-real. This verse does indicate that 'only a few' find it, but there are a number of considerations about this that must be raised.
While the passage MAY be indicating a less-than-majority citizenship in
heaven, it MUST be interpreted in the context and issues noted above.
A second principle to note is that children who die before being confronted
with Christ are accepted into heaven (in my theological understanding of Scripture).
This, coupled with the fact that in the pre-modern ages OVER HALF the world
population died in infancy, would yield QUITE A LARGE MEMBERSHIP in heaven.
Third, there is at this point in time a practical matter: the vast majority of
the world today HAS access to the message in the Bible. When we compare the number of
languages in the world with more than 100 speakers (i.e. 2,110--Cambridge Ency.
of Language) with how many languages major portions of the Bible had been
translated into by the end of 1992 (i.e. 1,978--Wycliff Bible Translators), one can
easily see that the VAST MAJORITY of the world has linguistic assess to data that is
AT LEAST as adequate as resurrection-style data!
Fourth, we have the principle that the linguistic revelation somehow 'generates volitional/cognitive' freedom as it is encountered. Only a couple of verses need be adduced here.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8.31-32)
in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (I Tim 2)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor 3.17)
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, (James 1.25, see also 2.12)
I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts. (Ps 119.45)
The point here is that the presence of the linguistic Word of God somehow 'adds
freedom' into the historical situation. It MAY BE that this 'freedom-force' might
allow MORE non-believers to have ADDITIONAL levels of freedom in judgment, over and
above what they have from the revelation in nature. (This may be an additional reason
why we are supposed to "go into all the world and present the Good News about Jesus".)
Fifth, in a very real sense, God knows how individuals WOULD HAVE responded to the gospel, and factors that into the judgment criteria. So Jesus gives the strange example of Tyre/Sidon and Sodom/Gomorrah in Matt:
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Mt 10.14,15)
Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (Mt 11.20ff)
These passages contain some challenging notions, but for our purpose it is sufficient
to notice (esp. in the last passage), that future judgment is somehow "MORE BEARABLE"
for those whom God knew WOULD HAVE responded to extra-ordinary evidence.
God's judgment is completely fair and His kindness is communicated (and operative)
to all. God reveals Himself to humanity through several non-linguistic forms
(nature, anthropology, morality, patterns, emotions), and even linguistic data (in
the form of tradition) has been preserved for all the descendants of the original
pair of humans.
God deals with people according to the information they have--with specific focus on
how they welcome or resist that truth. God's moral judgment is based on actual deeds
and actual motives--a very fair standard for everyone.
With those that respond to God's revelation in nature and extra-biblical tradition,
seeking grace and His activity on their behalf, God initiates a relationship with
them, that typically eventuates in additional disclosures of God's special, special
All of God's overtures to man, and the acceptance of imperfect people into a living
relationship with the morally pure God, is based on the penalty-removing sacrifice
of God the Son on the Cross--sometimes unbeknownst to the recipients of that grace
(e.g. OT saints).
Throughout the stretch of history, God has given additional detail, precision,
instruction in the record of His disclosures and actions in history (i.e. the Bible).
This is no way compromises or diminishes the 'power-to-save' of the "least-precise"
statement of God's gracious nature and God's saving actions in history.
The elements of original truth are mixed with historical distortions all world
religions, but there are sects within EACH of these major religious traditions that
'look very much like' aspects of OT religion, and there are often adherents of those
religions that misunderstand their traditions 'in the correct direction'!
The small, selected slice of history reported in the bible indicates considerable
action on God's part in 'getting the message out' to individuals--often involving
providence and 'odd chanced' events. A sufficiently competent God (!) could obviously
orchestrate events, dreams, visions, rumors, conscience, mis-understood traditions,
in such a way as to reach those who seek Him earnestly.
The response to truth in natural/universal revelation always witnesses to
Christ--and never against Him. That is, a person who truly rejects the Biblical
Christ (not some cardboard cutout or "engineered re-construction" of Him!), does NOT
have a relationship with the Eternal God of heaven. (They may LATER come to accept
Him, since many of us resisted His kindness for long periods of time before
'softening before the warmth of His Love'.)
God's concern for humanity and His interest in our welfare transcends both our
petty attempts to criticise His plan, and our well-meaning attempts to 'justify'
His plan! A love that sent a volunteering Son to earth, to die miserably and
scandalously at the hands of "reluctant wrath" and "justly outraged holiness", is a
love that invites all to "come, drink of the Fountain of life".
His instructions to Judeo-Christians to present/offer this message to the whole
world is to be obeyed on His authority only, regardless of outcomes in any given
setting. But we delight in the fact that His love drives us on, and that His Word
can give life and freedom to those often un-interested or even openly hostile.
God is so perfectly good and so perfectly fair in ALL His dealings with us. His
patience in delaying judgment (2 Pet 3) and His provision for forgiveness through t
he death of His Son (2 Cor 5), although often cast in His teeth in derision, is ample
witness of His heart. His dealings with us incorporate ALL of the issues of our
hearts, our background, and our basic attitudes toward truth/life.
"Shall not the God of all the earth do right?!" (Gen 18.25)