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In talking to people about Jesus, once in awhile, I come across a person who rejects Christianity because Jesus leaves too many people out in John 14:6.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 ESV
They cry, “What about the people that never hear the name of Jesus?”
I think many Christians had this same question at one time before they came to Christ. While it can be an excuse for some to not accept the gospel, if it is sincere, it is an important question that deals with the character of God. I would suggest they are voicing this objection because their conscience tells them it is wrong to condemn a person for unbelief, when they have never heard of Jesus or the gospel. We see a similar concern for the lost in Scripture from Moses who would give up his salvation if God wiped out the Jews.
But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” Exod 32:32 ESV
From Abraham when he negotiated for Sodom.
Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” Gen 18:32 ESV
From Paul, when he was grieved for the Jews, wishing that he could trade places with them so they would be saved.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. Rom 9:3 ESV
Two Options When it Comes to Those Who Have Never Heard
God is love and a just God. God the Father, and the Holy Spirits nature, and character, are exactly the same as we see in Jesus. Due to this truth and based on scripture, I have come to understand that there are only two options when it comes to those who have not heard the gospel.
1) God knows who will accept and reject his offer, those who never have a chance to hear the message, were placed where they are by God because he knew they would reject the gospel even if they did hear it. Cannot be denied as a possibility.
2) Everyone gets to hear about Jesus and the gospel, even those who have died without hearing it. Those who accept it are saved and those who reject it are lost.
This study focuses on and offers scriptural support for option two.
What I am about to present will be considered controversial by some Christians. Yet, what I am presenting is very clear in scripture.
This message only pertains to those people who will never hear the gospel message or have a chance to know about Jesus in this life. These are the people the reader has expressed concern about.
If you are reading this, while you may not personally know Jesus, the odds are that you at least know about Jesus. This means you have heard about Jesus and the gospel message. If this is you, today is your day to accept the gospel. Do not use this topic for an excuse any longer! What I am presenting is solely to answer the question: “What about those who have never heard the gospel?” It does not apply to those who have heard the gospel and have had an opportunity to accept or reject it. If this is a sincere objection on the readers part, this study should remove the objection about those who have not heard and allow you to place your faith and trust in Jesus and the gospel message.
1) Even those who never hear the gospel were made sinners of no choice of their own.
For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, Rom 5:19a ESV
Our fallen nature inherited from Adam and this fallen world is what Jesus came to rescue us from. This is why a person must be born again. The only hope anyone has is Jesus, believing the gospel message. God is a fair and just God. Everyone gets to hear according to scripture.
who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father Gal 1:4 NASB
2) God’s desire is that all people come to a saving knowledge of the truth.
Who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Tim 2:4 ESV
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Eze 18:32 ESV
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 ESV
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17 ESV
If God desires “all people come to a saving knowledge of the truth”, then I think it would be obvious that he would give them every opportunity to be saved.
3) To come to a saving knowledge of the truth, scripture states people must hear the gospel, hear of Jesus. The same must apply to a person who rejects the gospel, they must hear it first.
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Rom 10:14 -17 ESV
Faith comes when one hears the gospel message about Jesus. So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. Rom 10:17 NLT
Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and finding him, he said, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, And who is he, Lord, that I may believe on him? Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that speaketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him. John 9: 35-38 ESV
But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 2 Tim 4:17 ESV
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Gal 3:2 ESV
Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith Gal 3:5 ESV
For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. Heb 4:2 ESV
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 1 Thes 2:13 ESV
God always went to great lengths to warn the lost of pending judgment, giving them a chance to repent. He even reached out to the ruthless Ninevites who have been compared to today’s ISIS.
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Matt 12:41 ESV
Before pronouncing his righteous judgment on the Canaanites, Sodom, the people in Noah’s day and many others, God always gave them a clear message and chance to repent. He does the same in the book of revelations with unbelievers, even Jezebel who led many astray in Rev 2:21.
4) The only unforgivable sin is unbelief, rejecting Jesus and the gospel message that Jesus is our righteousness.
In the following verses, Jesus is stating that the Pharisee’s were guilty of rejecting him as the Messiah because they heard his message and saw his miracles, they had no excuse for their sin of unbelief.
Jesus also states that if he had not spoken to them and done the works he had done, they would not be guilty of sin. In other words, they could not be guilty of rejecting a Messiah and a gospel message they had never heard.
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ John 15:22-25 ESV
Here again, Jesus states that the words he has spoken will judge a person on the last day. A person must hear his words at some point to be judged by his words on the last day.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. John 12:48 ESV
The following verse is telling us a person needs to hear the gospel to accept or reject it.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16 ESV
In the next verses, Jesus had just healed a man who was born blind. The Pharisee’s see the obvious, he is healed and healed by Jesus. They had the Old Testament prophecy pointing to Jesus. Yet, they harden their hearts, deny what they have seen, and continue to reject Jesus. Therefore, their guilt remains. The ones who would still be blind and therefore not guilty with regards to the gospel message, would be the ones who had not heard the message like the Pharisee's.
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains. John 9:39-41 ESV
God is a just God. Just like sin is not counted against a person where there is no law.
sin is not counted where there is no law. Rom 5:13b ESV.
A person cannot be guilty of the one unforgivable sin of rejecting Jesus and the gospel, of unbelief, if they have never heard the message. Read: What is the One Unforgivable Sin?
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; John 15:22a ESV
"The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deut 29:29 NLT
These support the argument that God will not condemn a person for rejecting a message they have never heard. They need to hear it at some point to be held accountable. It is also clear, if you have heard the gospel message and know of Jesus, you need to trust him now, this is your chance.
5) Jesus preached the gospel (good news) to those who died in unbelief, during the days of Noah. These people had never heard the gospel or knew of Jesus.
The following verses tell us that after the crucifixion and before his resurrection, Jesus proclaimed the righteous for the unrighteous, which is the gospel,to the spirits in prison, the dead. During the days of Noah, these people did not obey, missed the boat, did not believe God. The only reason the gospel (literally the good news) is preached, is so people will believe. These verses state, they formerly did not obey, implying they did obey when they heard the good news.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (this is the gospel), that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and (proclaimed/preached) to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 1 Peter 3:18-20 NIV (emphasis mine)
The Greek word in the above verse is the same for preached or proclaimed. It is used 61 times in the New Testament and always deals with the proclamation of the gospel message, in some form, to the lost for salvation so they can hear and be accountable.
Strongs defines the underlying Greek word: 2784 /kÄ“rýssÅ ("to herald") refers to preaching the Gospel as the authoritative (binding) word of God, bringing eternal accountability to all who hear it.
This fits perfectly with point three above. Those who do not hear the gospel in this life cannot believe it or be guilty of rejecting it. Therefore, because God shows no partiality, does not play favorites (For God does not show favoritism. Rom 2:11 NIV), anyone who has not heard of Jesus and the gospel, may very well be offered the gospel just like those who were disobedient in the days of Noah.
The Bible is very clear as to why the gospel (good news) was preached to the dead, so all would be accountable to God's command to believe the good news.
but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel (literally the good news) was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 1 Peter 4:5-6 ESV
How could it be good news to the dead if they could not choose to believe?
That is why the Scriptures say, “When he ascended to the heights, he led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to his people.” Notice that it says “he ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same one who descended is the one who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that he might fill the entire universe with himself. Eph 4:8-10 NLT
In first Peter above, it states Jesus preached the gospel in the spirit, to the spirits in prison. Here are some additional verses that speak of setting prisoners free, which would include all imprisoned by sin, physically alive or dead.
To open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name; Isa 42:7-8a ESV
Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Psalm 107:10-14 ESV
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; Isa 61:1 ESV
saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; Isa 49:9 ESV
All who are not born again are dead, good as dead. This includes the living and the physically dead who are not born again.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:25-29 ESV (Righteousness in the Bible is exclusively by faith never good deeds. Those who do good point people to Jesus for salvation and righteousness. Those who do evil, point people away from God and the gospel.)
Could the following verse, a further sign to believe, be connected to Jesus preaching the gospel, the righteous for the unrighteous, to the dead who had not heard in 1 Peter 3:18-20?
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Matt 27: 51-53 ESV (all believers are called saints)
The early church father, Clement of Alexandria, wrote about Jesus preaching the gospel in Hades to those who had not heard, in chapter six of book six of The Stromata - HERE.
6) Many Muslims and others who are turning to Christ are coming because of dreams and visions (here), indicating that God can reach people with the gospel anywhere.
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; Acts 2:17 ESV
7) God’s nature is the pinnacle of morality, compassion and love for the lost as displayed in Jesus’ life and teachings. We can also see his unconditional love for us displayed in the ultimate sacrifice he made to save us. We know that God the Father and the Holy Spirit have the same nature as Jesus. In seeing Jesus, we see them too. Therefore, Christians, by faith, believe God will deal with anyone who does not hear of Jesus in the fairest manner possible. God is a just and fair God.
The Bible tells us that God is love.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Cor 13:4-8 ESV
Jesus even taught us to love our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Matt 5:43-46 ESV
Jesus walked the talk when he died for sinners, enemies of God. Something Jesus chose to do at God the Fathers request, of his free will.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:8 ESV
God always acts out of love and in a just and fair manner and will do all possible to save the lost.
8) Conclusion - From the beginning God has been very clear with his commands. With Adam he told him what not to do, he did not withhold his command and then judge Adam for breaking it. God's desire is that all come to a saving knowledge of the truth. God is love and God is just. People must hear the gospel to accept it and by default they must hear the gospel to reject it.
9) Objections - A valid objection must address only those who have never heard the gospel or of Jesus.
Romans states man will be without excuse because of creation and their conscience - It also says that they are storing up wrath because they are supressing the truth in unrighteousness. This is very true for the existence of God, not the gospel message. The Bible is clear that a person can only believe the gospel if they hear the gospel.
a) Many of those who reject the evidence (creation & conscience) for the existence of God in this life, have heard about Jesus and the gospel. Therefore, this message does not apply to them, they are accountable for what they have heard.
b) If some reject the existence of God and have never heard of Jesus and the gospel, God may not see the need to offer them the gospel. If you reject the primary and obvious evidence for God's existence, the light you have been given, you are obviously going to reject the Bible, Jesus and the gospel. If they deny the evidence that is undeniable and claim God does not exist, they would also be in the category of a false teacher.
I am saying that if a person believes God exists, but has never heard the gospel or of Jesus, They get a chance to hear it.
Once appointed for man to die and then the judgment. (Heb 9:27) Jesus told us in the verses in point three, “the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” If they did not hear of Jesus or the gospel, Jesus words cannot judge them. They must hear it at some point, possibly right before judgment if not here and now.
Rich man and Lazarus – The rich man was a picture of a Pharisee. They knew about Jesus, heard his message and saw his miracles. They had been waiting for the Messiah, but they rejected Jesus.
Depart from me I never knew you. These are clearly people who had heard of Jesus and the gospel message but rejected it. So if you hear the gospel, do not reject it. Read: Who is Jesus Talking to with Depart from Me I Never Knew You?
Repent or perish – Jesus preached this message and so did the apostles. But this would only apply to those who had heard the message. The word repent means (change mind). The message is “change mind and believe, or you will perish.” How can someone change their mind if they have never heard the message?
Are you saying people get a second chance to accept Jesus? - No. I am saying they get a chance just like you. God does not show favoritism.
Why should we preach the gospel if those who do not hear will hear? First, because God commands it. Can you imagine what things would be like on earth without the influence of God's church? If the message was not preached, the church would have died out long ago.
God created some things for ignoble use and some things for noble use - Simply means that God knew who would believe and who would not, and still created even those who would not believe. God created Satan and the angels who rebelled with him too. They certainly knew the truth but chose to rebel and reject it. If all hear the gospel, the choice of their eternal location is fully in their own hands.
If the reader can think of any additional objections, I would love to hear them so I can address them in this section of the article. Legitimate objections must relate to those who have never heard the gospel.
For those who have heard the gospel, you are accountable because you have heard, you need to accept it today.
Send me a private message with comments, questions or objections, or post them below.
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