Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (8) Salvation after Death?

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
The question before us now is one that needs to be examined rather carefully. The problem is that people sometimes ask the question in such a way that they seem to avoid altogether the idea of a Òsecond chance.Ó People in various sects will try to confuse their ÔvictimsÕ by saying that it is not true they believe in a Ôsecond probation,Õ arguing something like this: ÒThe heathen and many other people never had even a first chance, for they never heard the gospel as we present it. When they now receive an opportunity to hear it after death, it is really their first, not their second chance.Ó This bit of trickery we must recognize when we deal with people such as ÒJehovahÕs Witnesses.Ó

Another error in this connection is sometimes made by people whose theology is otherwise quite good. The error is that they discuss this entire matter of a Òsecond chanceÓ as if those who teach it would say it is possible only during the intermediate state--the time between death and resurrection. This is not entirely true. True, many of those who hold to Òsecond chanceÓ theology have limited it to this intermediate state, but certainly not all. It is important for us to know that the Russellites (perhaps a better name than ÒJehovahÕs WitnessesÓ for that name gives them far too much credit--they do not witness to the truth of Jehovah at all, but are followers of the warped teachings of Charles Taze Russell, 1852-1916) teach that those who have died have gone Ôout of existenceÕ but that they will be recreated at the end of history, in exactly the same condition in which they were at the moment of death. They will have the same thoughts in their heads, the very same words on their tongues--and then, during the time of the millennium, they will receive the opportunity to be saved.

Whether a sect or a person teaches that there will be an opportunity to be saved immediately after death or shortly after death or later is really immaterial--they all teach there will be some opportunity to be saved.

The Grounds on which this is Believed
There is and has been considerable disagreement between groups who hold to this (except for the Russellites who have been around for more than 100 years, other groups who hold to this are hard to identify: they appear now here, now there). Most agree somehow that the fairness and the love of God demand that He give all men this chance to be saved after death. Some believe that in order to be damned, man must have consciously and wilfully rejected the offer of salvation. Some appeal to 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 1 Peter 4:6, interpreting these passages as meaning that Christ, in the period between his death and resurrection, went to the underworld and offered salvation to the spirits of the lost. Yet others base this thought on Scripture passages that refer to the restoration of Israel, applying this to men lost in an earlier age. They will have another chance, although they had already Ògone out of existence.Ó If they do not make good on it the second time, they will be punished by annihilation--being forever erased.

Proof that this Doctrine is False
In all this, we must turn to the Bible as our only and final authority.

1. The Bible teaches us that it is not up to us to say whether God is fair or not. Because of our sin in Adam and our own personal sins, we have absolutely no inherent right to salvation. (See Daniel 4:35: "...none can stay his hand or say unto him, What doest thou?Ó Romans 9:2: ÒNay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?Ó) Man cannot bring God to account.

2. The Bible does not teach that in order to be damned man must consciously have rejected the offer of salvation (See Romans 2:12, 3:23; Revelation 21:8.)

3. The interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-20, which twists the passage into teaching a second probation is Òa very precarious exegesis of a most difficult passage in PeterÕs epistle.Ó What does this passage mean? Most likely the reference is to the fact that in olden days, before his incarnation, Christ was preaching to men through his Spirit at work in the prophets (see 1 Peter 1:10, 11). Even the men of NoahÕs time, destroyed as they were in the judgment of the Flood, had Christ preached to them. Their spirits are now in prison, that is, in hell. It is by the Spirit (vs.18) that Christ preached to them and they have no excuse for not taking refuge in the ark of safety.

Even if the interpretation were correct that Christ did preach to such spirits after His death, it still would not prove the theory unless they insist that missionary activity of some sort has continued since then, for Christ is certainly not there now, preaching to them today. Also, it is difficult to understand why Christ would continue to preach to them who had received ample opportunity to repent under the lengthy ministry of Noah (120 years!).

The reference in 1 Peter 4:6 also does not support this position. Here the ÒdeadÓ to whom Jesus preaches are those who have already died when Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead. They heard the gospel in life, they did not receive it in faith, now they are dead and they will be judged according to their unbelief. The text does not at all mean that the gospel will be preached to men who are in the state of death.

4. The jump from IsraelÕs restoration to a future Òsecond chanceÓ for men is so big and would require such exegetical magic that we need not comment on this further except to say it is pure nonsense.

5. The state of unbelievers after death is fixed. This is clearly taught by the parable of the rich man in Luke 16:19-31--the gulf could not be bridged. The wicked are kept in punishment until the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:4,9). The blackness of darkness is reserved for them forever (Jude 13).

6. The Bible also tells us that when the Bridegroom arrives, those are ready will enter with Him and for the others the door will be shut (Matt. 25:10-13). This exclusion is permanent (25:46). Also, the resurrection is either unto life or unto death (Jn.5: 28, 29). Further, judgment is passed on all men, not on what they have done in the intermediate state, but in the state of this life, in the flesh (Matt.7: 22; 10:32,33; 25:34-46; Lk.12: 47, 48, 2 Cor.5: 9, 10; Gal.6: 7, 8; 2 Thess.1: 8, 9).

7. After death comes judgment, not probation (Heb.9: 27: ÒAnd as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.Ó

8. The Bible often warns men that the day of salvation is now, not at some later state (Ps.98: 7, 8; 2 Cor.6: 2).

ÒIt is not up to us to tell God what is fair and what is not.Ó Apply this to areas of life other than that concerning a Òsecond chance.Ó Which Psalm deals with this question and how did this Psalmist (Asaph) see his way out of the problem?

2. It is not true that a person must have rejected the offer of salvation in order to be damned. Does it make any difference in their judgment and their ultimate penalty? In other words, does one who rejected grace receive the same degree of punishment as one who did not hear this offer? What are the implications, if any, for missions?

3. What effect does the doctrine of a Òsecond chanceÓ have on effective mission work? (Keep in mind the ÒsuccessÓ of the Russellites.)

4. What is the main lesson of the ÒParable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins?Ó Does that dividing line run through or around the church? How should that affect our preaching?

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