What is universal reconciliation? Is universal reconciliation biblical? Why did Jesus have to die if all people will be saved? Why missions if there is no hell at all? What is the gospel, if it is not salvation from hell? Here you will find short and concise answers to these and many other questions about universal reconciliation.
1) What is universal reconciliation?
The core of universal reconciliation (or Christian universalism or apokatástasis) is the belief that one day all people will be reconciled to each other and to God and will live together in God’s future kingdom. The word universal reconciliation already contains the meaning: there will be a UNIVERSAL reconciliation. God will draw all people to Himself (John 12:32), all will know Him (Heb. 8:11), every creature will worship Him (Rev. 5:13), every knee will bow and confess Him as Lord (Phil. 2:10-11), the entire cosmos will be reconciled (Col. 1:20), God will have mercy on all (Rom. 11:32), and all will be united under His headship (Eph. 1:10).
2) Is universal reconciliation biblical?
At first glance, there are many passages in the Bible that seem to contradict the idea of universal reconciliation (UR) and seem to point to an eternal hell. People who believe in UR are nevertheless convinced that the doctrine of UR is biblical and believe that the traditional doctrine of hell, hell as an eternal place of torment, is often (unintentionally) read into biblical texts. This often happens unintentionally because every reader interprets and understands the biblical text through their theological glasses. In addition, we all read the Bible selectively, which means that we prioritize certain verses and ignore others. Other reasons may be that the Greek text has been translated one-sidedly (this often happens because many Greek works are very rich in meaning) or even translated incorrectly, the context of the verses are neglected, the genre of literature is ignored, or the Old Testament meaning of biblical concepts is not considered. Many passages that imply an eternal hell are parts of parables, apocalyptic literature (e.g., Revelation), or have rich meanings in the Old Testament that are often neglected (e.g., the word Gehenna). In contrast, many biblical passages that point towards universal reconciliation are clear and central:
Romans 5:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22: both chapters are a centerpiece of the respective letter and a centerpiece of Paul’s argumentation.
Romans 11:32: Paul summarized his entire argument from Romans 1-11 with these words.
Colossians 1:15-20 was probably a kind of confession of faith of the first Christians and shows how they understood Jesus and his work of salvation.
Ephesians 1:9 describes God’s eternal plan that He has revealed to us.
3) What biblical passages point towards universal reconciliation?
HERE you will find a list of Bible passages on the subject of universal reconciliation.
4) God is just. Doesn’t that mean he must punish all sinners?
This modern concept, adopted by many Christians, is characterized by Lady Justice, the lady with the scales. Lady Justice is about objectivity and impartial judging. This justice is sharp and cold. It comes from Greek mythology (from Zeus sending his daughter Dike to earth to test humans). It is strongly influenced by Aristotle who separated justice from kindness and demanded that judges must not have feelings. This understanding of justice, however, is far removed from the Hebrew concept of justice.
The Hebrew concept of justice (צְדָקָה) is associated 90% of the time in the Bible with grace, mercy, and goodness. Often also with faithfulness, joy, and rejoicing. God’s justice is not a cold and objective punishment, but His just action is a cause for joy, it is a helping action. God’s justice is a positive, salvific activity. It is never to be understood as punishment, but a positive gift of God (Ringgren & Johnson 1989:904-905). God’s justice is not a retributive (punitive) justice, but a restorative justice and thus completely alien to Lady Justice. Yes, God is just. And that is precisely why he will not punish and condemn forever, but through his judgment and justice, he will set everything right and redeem his fallen creation.
The idea that God’s justice and universal reconciliation are at odds is based on an unbiblical understanding of God’s justice. A biblical understanding of God’s justice points towards universal reconciliation. Click HERE to learn more about God’s justice.
5) Why did Jesus have to die if all people will be saved?
There is no Bible verse that says Jesus died to save us from hell. How did Jesus understand his death? In Mark 10:45, Jesus explains his purpose as “to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”. The word ransom (λύτρον) is to be understood in the context of “ransoming a slave/prisoner.” The question is from whom did we humans have to be ransomed? Who enslaved us?
Jesus did not give us an abstract theological construct to understand his death, but he gave us a meal. Jesus explained the meaning of his death to his disciples at the Passover meal. The Passover was celebrated to commemorate the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jesus chose the Exodus as the context in which we are to understand his death and resurrection. Jesus made possible a new exodus through his death and resurrection. But from what slavery do we need to be freed?
In John 12:31, Jesus declares that through Him the “ruler of this world” will be overthrown. We humans are all slaves to the ruler of this world and his evil minions. Because we are their slaves, we are prisoners of death and sin. They are the powers behind much suffering and evil. They blind our eyes and prompt us to live selfish lives. Jesus came to defeat and disempower these dark powers and thereby free us from this slavery. He accomplished this through his death and resurrection, a truth we find in many places in the New Testament.
Hebrews 2:14-15 (NET): Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death.
1 John 3:8 (NET): For this purpose the Son of God was revealed: to destroy the works of the devil.
Col. 2:15 (NET): Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Through Jesus, we can become free from the dark powers that enslave us and enter into His promised land (the life to which He has called us). Through the work of Jesus alone we can find salvation. Without His death and resurrection, there would be no hope of salvation for us humans. Biblical universal reconciliation believes that His work on the cross means salvation for the entire cosmos (see 2 Corinthians 5:19).
6) Why missions, if there is no hell?
Jesus’ message was not salvation from hell. Jesus’ central message was the Kingdom of God. The Bible understands this world as the domain of evil forces rebelling against God. Jesus’ message was that God, as the rightful king, reclaims this world and builds his kingdom piece by piece, pushing back the evil powers. The devil steals, destroys, and corrupts (John 10:10). But Jesus is the light of the world that pushes back the darkness of the world. He alone is the source of true life. His kingdom dawns where His will is done. He wants all people who are still trapped in darkness to recognize His light and become free from the tyranny of the dark powers. Missions establishes the Kingdom of God in the darkest regions of the earth. The result is healed hearts, reconciled relationships, good news for the poor, and worship that comes from the heart.
7) What is the gospel, if it is not salvation from hell?
Jesus proclaimed Himself as the Messiah, the expected Savior. He revealed Himself in Mat. 28:18 as the eternal King promised in Dan. 7. He is the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament for which all Jews have been waiting, that is why in 1 Cor. 15 it is repeatedly said: “according to the scriptures”. The writers of the Gospels tell the story of how Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah and eternal King. The good news of Jesus is his ascension to the throne. The Gospel is that Jesus is King, how this came about, and what this means for the world. The Gospels summarize the good news (how Jesus became King) and thus deserve the name Gospels themselves. Because Jesus reigns, we can find freedom through him from the powers that enslave us: the evil forces, sin, and death. At the end of time, Jesus will finally establish his kingdom and we will join him in ruling his creation.
You can find more thoughts on what the Gospel is HERE.
8) How does universal reconciliation fit in with human free will?
[This section is not to be understood dogmatically. The Bible does not give us any detailed information about how the judgment will take place. The following understanding of judgment is based on my understanding of God’s character and the overall testimony of Scripture as I understand it].
Each person is massively influenced by the upbringing of their parents, their own culture, and the times in which they grew up. These factors massively influence one’s worldview and thus one’s ability to see and understand the world and God neutrally. For whatever reason, people in this world decide against God. But one day, God will judge all people with truth. This judgment will be painful, but restorative in character, and not retributive. He will take away the delusion of all people and help them to see and understand themselves, this world, and Him unfiltered. This will be like a cleansing fire because we will see the consequences of our deeds and understand the suffering we have caused. But at the same time, all people will see God in His beauty and glory. This will cause all knees to bow before Him and worship Him as King (Philippians 2:10-11). Ultimately, God’s love and beauty are irresistible. He is the Father who patiently waits with open arms for the last prodigal son. He will not have to force anyone. Sooner or later, even the last knee will bow before Jesus and worship Him out of a heart full of love.
9) How does this fit in with the doctrine of God’s judgment?
Through Jesus, God has already reconciled the entire cosmos to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). Just as ALL people are sinners, ALL people are saved through Jesus (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-26). From God’s side, nothing separates us humans from God anymore. This does not mean that every person can enter God’s kingdom just like that. The Bible clearly talks about the fact that no human being who is still attached to sin can enter God’s kingdom (1 Cor 6:9). This makes sense because if God allowed sinners in His future kingdom, it would no longer be a kingdom without suffering. Only those who repent from the heart and accept Jesus as Lord with all their heart can enter the kingdom of God (= the realm where God reigns).
Christians who believe in universal reconciliation assume that there will be the possibility to repent even after death because God’s love never stops and never gives up on anyone (1 Cor 13:7-8)! The Bible also clearly speaks of the fact that God will judge. He will bring all evil, selfishness, and injustice to light and judge with justice and truth. This judgment will have a restorative character and not a retributive one. God’s goal is to save ALL people (1 Tim 2:3-4) and He will accomplish this goal through His judging, correcting, and cleansing actions.
10) Do all religions lead to God?
People who believe in universal reconciliation are often accused of claiming that all religions lead to God. This accusation is not justified. The Bible is clear: Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father (John 14:6). No religion in the world leads to God, only through the work of Jesus can we humans be reconciled with God again. No religion of the world can save, only in the name of Jesus alone is salvation. Biblical universal reconciliation believes that every person must repent and accept Jesus as Lord in order to be saved, either in this world or in a future age (Eph 2:7).
11) Is universal reconciliation a modern idea?
Some Christians think that believing in universal reconciliation is a rather modern concept. The opposite is true. Belief in UR may even have been the dominant belief of the early Christians. More info about this can be found HERE.
12) When did the concept of “eternal torture hell” originate?
“Eternal hell is a constant doctrine throughout the whole Bible” is a myth. It is not true! In two-thirds of the Bible (in the Old Testament), hell is not mentioned at all. (“Sheol,” the Old Testament word sometimes translated as “hell,” by definition means only “grave,” and that is where all people in the Old Testament went when they died – good or bad, Jew or Gentile.) Therefore, the Old Testament does not contain the concept of eternal hell!
The roots of hell are found in paganism and not in the Bible! Many peoples surrounding Israel in the Old Testament believed in a hell-like punishment in the afterlife because they served bloodthirsty and evil gods, while the Old Testament taught only the grave (Sheol) and the hope of a resurrection.
The apocryphal books of the intertestamental period had a tremendous influence on the Jews at the time of Christ. From these books, especially the Book of Enoch, came many of the Jewish myths and fables about hell, heaven, demons, and angels, and many other fables that first became part of Judaism and from there became part of Christianity. The myths and fables of these books came from pagan influences (namely Zoroastrianism) during and after Israel’s Babylonian captivity. Paul repeatedly warned to stay away from such Jewish myths and fables (1 Tim. 1:4; Tit. 1:14)!
If hell really exists, why was it first revealed to the Gentile nations and not to God’s covenant people? Did God expect Israel to learn about the afterlife from the Gentile nations? If so, why did he repeatedly warn Israel not to learn from their ways?
If hell really exists, why did God tell the Jews that burning their children alive in the fire for the false god Molech (in the Valley of Gehenna) was so abhorrent to Him? God said that such a thing “never entered his mind” (Jer. 32:35). How could God say such a thing to Israel when He intends to burn alive a large part of His own creation in an eternal hell of His own making?
13) How does universal reconciliation fit with the wrath of God?
Paul clearly defines the wrath of God in Romans 1. Three times (verse 24, 26, 28) he says that God’s wrath is expressed in leaving people to their own desires. God’s wrath lets people go their own way, which often leads to harm and destruction because without Jesus we are slaves to sin, and sin is intrinsically always destructive. This understanding of God’s wrath coincides with God’s wrath in the Old Testament. There is a detailed article on this HERE.
God gives people over to their own ways in the hope that they will see their foolishness and turn back to Him. The parable of the prodigal son illustrates this beautifully. The father did let his son go his own way. This path led the son into misery, which moved the son to repent and return home. God’s anger is, at its core, an expression of His love. His wrath is His way of moving us to repentance, and this is not through coercion and force, but by giving us freedom and letting us gather our experiences.
14) Will even people like Hitler and Stalin be saved in the end?
The beauty of God is shown in that he takes lost and broken people and heals and restores them. He is the God who brings beauty out of ashes. All tyrants in history have tortured and killed their own enemies. But the God of the Bible is not a tyrant. The whole trajectory of the Bible indicates that he is not interested in torture and death. The Bible reveals God as a redeeming God and this is part of his glory. The traditional understanding of hell deprives God of his glory and equates him with all the tyrants of history and all other deities who hate and vengefully punish their enemies. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. This is at the core of following Jesus. Jesus is not a hypocrite. He lived what he taught. He forgave those who crucified him. God destroys His enemies by redeeming them through his love and making them his children.
This does not mean that Hitler died and went to heaven. The Bible clearly talks about God judging all people (e.g. in Rom 2:6; 2 Cor 5:10). God will judge Hitler with the truth. The spirit of truth will open Hitler’s eyes and Hitler will realize all the suffering and pain he has caused. I can imagine that he will experience all this suffering, that he will feel the pain. The truth is God’s purifying fire. Hitler will go “through hell,” but this process of purification will make him repent. He will repent and seek reconciliation with everyone and God. Only in this way will a world be possible in which everything is reconciled. This reconciliation, by the way, is also necessary for the people who were hurt by Hitler, because as long as they carry bitterness and hatred towards Hitler in their hearts, they will not be able to live reconciled and in the shalom of God.
15) Why is it important to think about hell and universal reconciliation?
Our belief in what happens after death will shape and influence our worldview, our actions, and our understanding of God’s character. If we believe that God does not forgive but punishes eternally, then we will be quicker to do the same and give up on people because, after all, God does. If, on the other hand, we believe that God will not give up on anyone and will eventually redeem everyone, then we will not give up on people as quickly either. Our image of God massively influences our own thoughts and actions. Belief in UR usually leads to more mercy and love for other people.
If we portray God as a God who will eventually give up or even torture the majority of all people eternally, then we are not portraying God as merciful and gracious, but as an eternal torturer. What kind of father wants to torture his children eternally? Are human fathers more merciful than God? No, this is a twisted image of God.
The most frequently repeated biblical description of God is: “his mercy endures forever” (literally: “his mercy/love endures from eternity to eternity”). Certainly, as long as there are ages and people in need of mercy, God’s mercy will not cease. The overall witness of Scripture points to a God who conquers evil and finds and restores that which is lost. His love will prevail. Many have become accustomed to seeing God as one who is compelled by his justice to create an eternal hell and who, against his own will, sends most of his creation there, but this idea of a God “who has tried his best” completely contradicts the biblical idea of a God who is absolutely sovereign, victorious, merciful, and good.
Some people believe that God does not want to save all people. Others believe that God cannot save all people. But those who believe in universal reconciliation are convinced that God wants to save all people, that he can do it, and that he will do it!
Ringgren, H., & Johnson, B. (1989). צָדַק. H.-J. Fabry (Ed.), Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament (Vol. 6, pp. 904–905). Stuttgart; Berlin; Köln; Mainz: Verlag W. Kohlhammer.
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