What will happen to the people who have never heard of Jesus Christ?
by Rich Deem


Is God a Moral Monster?Will all those people who have never heard of Jesus Christ be sent to hell? First we must note that the Bible says God will judge all people righteously.1 It seems there will be a stricter judgment for those who have rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ than those who have never heard.2 Paul tells us that those who have never heard of the law are not imputed sin under the law.3 Paul also tells us that those who follow the law (e.g., practicing Jews) will be judged by the law.4 The people who have never heard of the law are judged by the law of God which He has placed into their hearts:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)

Judgment is coming

A further indication that the judgment of God is based upon what we know and what we have been given can be seen in a warning by James:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1)

In other words, those who know the gospel, study it, and teach it will be under stricter judgment, since they have the ability of guide others, or lead them astray. Jesus, in the parable of the Master and the slaves (Luke 12:41-48) talked about the difference in judgment between those who know the will of God vs. those who do not know:

"And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Luke 12:47-48)

God's desire

Strict Calvinists say that God chooses only some people for salvation, while damning the rest to hell. However, the Bible indicates that God wants all people to be saved and none to perish.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Although God would want that all be saved, He doesn't force anyone to spend eternity with Him. So, all must freely make the choice to seek after Him or reject Him.

Babies who die

There is one particular class of individuals that certainly go to heaven even though they haven't accepted Jesus as Savior. The Bible makes it clear that infants and children who die go to heaven on the basis of their inability to fully understand the difference between good and evil and make a rational choice.5 It is likely that older individuals who are, likewise, unable to choose because of a mental disability, go to heaven without the requirement of having to directly choose Jesus as Savior.

Don't know the name "Jesus"

7 Truths that Changed the World: Discovering Christianity's Most Dangerous IdeasDo people have to know the name "Jesus Christ" to be saved? Many people do not know that "Jesus" is not the "real" name of the Savior. His real (Hebrew) name is "Yeshua," which is usually translated into the English as "Joshua." The Greek transliteration is "iaysous." In fact, in three verses of the New Testament (Luke 3:29, Acts 7:45, and Hebrews 4:8), iaysous is translated into the English as "Joshua," since the text refers to the Old Testament saint. In addition, the word "Christ" is not Jesus' last name, but His title. The Greek word "christos" (translated "Christ" in the English) means "Messiah," the "anointed one." This is why the New Testament letters often refer to Jesus as "Christ Jesus," which means "Messiah Jesus." Other languages have different pronunciations of the name of Jesus. However, God is able to understand whom we are talking about and save us no matter what we call the name of the Savior. In addition, Job, from the Old Testament, was saved even though he did not know the name of the Savior.6 Therefore, although it is true that Jesus is the only way to get into heaven,7 you don't necessarily have to know His name to get there.

What about the Great Commission?

Does the fact that people do not need to know the exact name of the Savior mean that Christians should not evangelize those who have never heard the gospel? When Jesus appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, He commanded them to "make disciples of all the nations," which has been called the Great Commission.8 Although it might be possible for people to be saved in the absence of knowing the gospel, it isn't likely to occur in very many instances. Therefore, it is important that Christians proclaim the gospel as much as possible. Since we don't know if any particular person knows the gospel, sometimes we seem to be a little pushy. If you are a non-Christian, please don't take it personally. We are not trying to annoy you, but genuinely want you to experience the peace of Jesus Christ and join us in eternity.

Conclusion Top of page

Know Jesus, Know Life - No Jesus, No LifeI know there are many Christians who say that all those who die without faith in Christ will be relegated to spend eternity in Hell - even if they have never heard the gospel. I think scripture suggests otherwise - that we are judged on the basis of what we know and how we act upon it. This is not any sort of ecumenical theology or "all ways lead to God." Those who have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and have refused to believe have rejected Him, and, as such, will fall under the condemnation of God, because they have rejected His provision for our disobedience.2 Therefore, atheists are still without excuse8 in rejecting God. Those who perpetrate evil, even without the knowledge of the gospel, will likewise be condemned, since they have violated their God-given conscience. In the same way, those who play the "religion game" of going to church on Sunday, but living apart from a relationship with God, will be condemned.9

References Top of page

  1. And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. (Psalm 9:8)
    Before the LORD; for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98:9)
    But, O LORD of hosts, who judges righteously, Who tries the feelings and the heart, Let me see Thy vengeance on them, For to Thee have I committed my cause. (Jeremiah 11:20)
    But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; (Romans 2:5-7)
    see also Genesis 18:25, 1 Kings 8:32, 2 Chronicles 6:23, Psalm 7:8, Psalm 7:11, Psalm 9:4, Psalm 9:8, Psalm 19:9, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 96:13, Psalm 98:9, Isaiah 11:4, Jeremiah 11:20, Acts 17:31, Romans 2, 10:12-14, James 2:12, Revelation 16:7
  2. 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)
    There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. (John 12:48)
  3. for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. (Romans 4:15)
    for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. (Romans 5:13)
  4. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; (Romans 2:11-12)
  5. See What Happens to Infants and Children Who Die? Do Babies Go To Heaven?
  6. "And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth." (Job 19:25)
  7. Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)
  8. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
  9. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20)
  10. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.' (Matthew 7:21-23)

Last Modified January 20, 2011


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