What is the Fate of Those Who Never Hear about Jesus?
I think this is one of the first questions I had questioning what is revealed in the Bible, and the questions can run deep on this issue. For example, ancient Chinese or American/African Tribes; they never had a chance to hear about Jesus, so how can they be placed on the same scale with someone that rejected Jesus purposefully? Also, what about other cultures during the time of the Israelites? They weren’t God’s chosen people and couldn’t be part of the covenant. I believe that the Bible has an answer to these questions that arise when we think of those who have never heard the Good News of Jesus, but the answers might never fully satisfy us.
“Have you heard the Gospel? So this question doesn’t apply to your eternal future, does it?”
“Is it possible for God to inadvertently and even directly reveal himself to mankind, apart from mankind? If so, how could he do that and do you think he has?”
Option 1 – God has Revealed Himself to Everyone Answer – These questions fail to recognize that God has revealed himself to everyone, even those who have not heard the Gospel message. God has revealed himself in two different ways, general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is what God has revealed about himself from what he has created. Romans 1:18-20 says, “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.” If such people have suppressed the truth of what God has already revealed, what would ensure that they wouldn’t do the same with the Gospel? Ultimately, God’s general revelation places everyone in a state of guilt. Everyone is left without excuse.
General revelation itself is not enough for salvation. Special revelation is God’s direct communication of himself to mankind through his Word and through the person of Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is explicitly required for salvation. Faith receives the benefits of grace. Scripture teaches that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus directly speaks this truth to Nicodemus in John 3:16, stating, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” A person can only believe the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, which served as a substitionary atonement for the penalty of our sins, if he or she has heard the good news! (Romans 10:12-15)
Option 2 – We Deserve Damnation Answer – Sin is the cause of death. God did not create sin. He created the world and it was good! God did not tempt Adam and Eve and he has no blame for sin or its effects. Since he is a just God, he must punish sin. These questions seem to imply that the people who have not heard the Gospel are going to perish and suffer hell, not because of their fault, but because of God’s fault or the fault of the church for not sharing the Gospel with them. This is totally, and utterly, not true. Those who have not heard the Gospel are sinners! They still deserve eternal punishment for their sins, and general revelation leaves them without excuse.
Option 3 – Check the Numbers Answer – The numbers tell us that there are more people living now than ever before. There are more Christians in this world than ever before too. We can travel to far off lands and communicate with more people all over the globe without even leaving our house because of the Internet. This means that in this period of time, more Christians can reach more people than ever before in history. This means it is time for Christians to quit asking why and what if about the unevangelized from the past, present, or future, and simply get to work sharing the Gospel.
Option 4 – God Can Reveal Himself to Anyone – God is not limited to saving only people who have heard the Gospel through a proclamation of the message of Jesus Christ via a human agent. God can and has stepped in to reveal himself directly to people through direct communication through vehicles other than men. God can communicate the Gospel directly to people through dreams, visions, angels, and even through burning bushes and talking animals! We have no guarantee that everyone will hear the Gospel at once during their life, but we do know that it’s possible for people to receive knowledge directly from God apart from human intercessory, if God chooses to reveal himself in this way.
Option 5 – We Must Trust God Answer – I know that these answers aren’t satisfying, but in this case the unsatisfying answer must be trusted. When we look to the person of Jesus Christ, we see that he was a righteous man who upheld his own moral teachings. He established his divinity through his public miracles and especially his resurrection from the dead. In light of Jesus’ demonstrated love for humanity and his power to overcome death, we must come to trust God in areas of his revelation to us that our unsettling to us. We might question the nature of God’s judgments, but Jesus gives us the assurance that God is just.
God speaks through a dream – Matthew 2:1-23 and Genesis 37:5-7.
God speaks through a vision – Daniel 2:19, Acts 10:9-17, Acts 9:10-14, and Acts 16:6-10.
God speaks through an angel – Daniel 10-12, Luke 1:26-38, and Judges 13.
God speaks through a burning bush – Exodus 3:1-4.
God speaks through an animal – Numbers 22:21-41.
Jesus directly reveals himself to Paul – Acts 9:1-9.
Back to the Gospel:
Because God is not at fault in our sin, He didn’t need to give anyone a second chance. If God chose to damn everyone, he would still be holy and just. We must remember that God suffered dearly in the process of bringing about salvation for mankind. He sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die as a ransom for the sins of all of mankind. When we see the price that God himself had to pay for there to be salvation for any of us, our response should be one of repentance, praise, and thanksgiving, not ridicule and disdain.
I know that this answer isn’t satisfying, but in this case the unsatisfying answer must be trusted. When we look to the person of Jesus Christ, we see that he was an upright man who upheld his own moral teachings. He established his divinity through his public miracles and especially his resurrection from the dead. In light of his demonstrated love for humanity and his power to overcome death, we must trust that God him when he says he is just in his judgments.