“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Universalists believe that everyone will eventually make it into heaven, no matter whether they repented or accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation. Since universalist pastors’ sales pitches are unsupported Biblically, they claim Biblical translations are erroneous – and the original Greek and Hebrew passages on eternal fire, eternal torment, and eternal punishment are erroneous and an existence in hell (or Hades or Sheol) is temporary. Their ideas are based on wishful thinking, ignoring many Biblical passages and Jesus’ own warnings and parables. The intention of this blog is to discuss what the Bible says on our salvation and destiny.
When Colton Burpo had a near death experience as a small boy, he went to heaven and encountered a sister he had never met. She said their mother had miscarried her and she didn’t have a name. When Colton told his parents, they were shocked. They had never mentioned the miscarriage to Colton and they hadn’t named their daughter. They then gave her a name.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is never named. After living a life of luxury in the midst of a sore-covered beggar named Lazarus, who longed for his table scraps, the rich man found himself in the flames of Hades. In his agony, he spotted Abraham and Lazarus in a much better distant place across a chasm, so he called out, begging for water to relieve some of his pain. Abraham reminded him of his life of luxury and Lazarus’ life of suffering. The script had been flipped. The rich man asked Abraham to warn his five brothers about Hades, but Abraham did not.
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’”
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’”
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’”
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’”
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
This parable paints a grim picture of time in Hades, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Sheol. Various translations of the Psalms equate Sheol with death. Sheol is a place where the dead go, which is “below.” People reside in Sheol until the day of judgment, whose date only God knows. When Jesus died, He went down to Sheol and freed the saints, bringing them to heaven. Others remained in darkness and silence to await the day of judgment.
“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
The Gospel of Matthew details how Jesus opened the gates of Sheol and freed the saints following His crucifixion.
“At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’”
The appearance of the saints would undoubtedly have shocked bystanders, yet at first blush, the tearing of the curtain in the Temple seems more mundane. But it wasn’t. Josephus detailed the enormity in size and symbolism of the curtain of the Temple in Jewish Wars 5.5.4:
“But then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth: but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple: and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation: but was a kind of image of the universe. For by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire; by the fine flax, the earth; by the blue, the air; and by the purple, the sea. Two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance: but the fine flax, and the purple have their own origin for that foundation. The earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens; excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.”
The curtain was therefore of monumental significance, as was its location within the Temple as a separator of the holy place from the holiest of holies. It tore in half, marking God’s signal to humanity that He is accessible to all. No longer would the holiest of holies only be accessible to the Jewish high priests. He had opened the doors to the world.
“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
The lake of fire from the Book of Revelation is the final hell of burning sulfur, which is where those who refuse to repent go. It is an eternal punishment and separation from God.
In Old Testament times, the souls of the righteous resided in Sheol with the souls of those judged in contempt, but that changed with Jesus. Since Jesus’ resurrection, the souls of the righteous have gone to heaven (or paradise) after death, as evidenced when Jesus promised the thief on the cross that he would meet him in paradise that very day. Jesus didn’t require much of that thief – only that he showed trust. Since time in heaven is nonlinear, a day in heaven is not the same as a day on earth, so calculating the precise time between one’s death and one’s arrival in heaven isn’t possible using our measures of time.
The souls of those in contempt remain in Sheol until the day of judgment. It is likely they are conscious while in Sheol, as Jesus indicated by the consciousness of the rich man in the aforementioned parable.
According to Green, McKnight, and Marshall, the general belief is that once one passes through Hades’ portals, they will not be able to return and they will be bound to silence and darkness. These views are Biblically supported.
So the big question is whether the unrighteous in Hades will be given the chance to repent. Conservative Biblical scholars believe that anyone who denies Jesus Christ while on earth will end up in the lake of fire. This view is supported in a variety of Biblical passages. C. S. Lewis, some Catholics, and more liberal Christian scholars consider the temporary place (e.g., Hades/Sheol or Purgatory) to be one in which people are given the (after death) choice of accepting the Lord. In his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis spelled out his version of such an existence.
Why does the Bible suggest a waiting period between the time of the death of the unrepentant and the final judgment, while stating those who’ve accepted Jesus will be in paradise on the day they die? Is it possible the Lord is giving the unrepentant time to repent? Is the door to heaven still open for them? Jesus’ parable of the banquet suggests the door is closed to those who failed to accept His invitation. “I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”
People who endorse universalism believe everyone will eventually make it to heaven, regardless of whether they have repented of their sins or believed in Jesus while on earth. They elevate God’s mercy and deny His justice. They ignore the words of Jesus in the aforementioned parables or in passages in Matthew (10:28; 23:33; 25:46), Mark (9:43-48), Luke (16:23), and John (3:36). They also ignore the inspired words of other Bible authors about God’s sovereignty and justice, such as Isaiah (61:6), Psalms (9:7-8), Revelation (20:12-13), Colossians (3:25), Romans (9:15), and 2 Thessalonians (1:8-9).
The following are verses typically used by universalists to justify their beliefs:
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
“Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”
“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Jesus’ reconciled God’s perfect justice with His perfect mercy. He died for ALL of our sins, but only those who repent of our sins and accept His offer of salvation will receive salvation. In other words, He has made the offer to ALL, but not ALL will receive. Many don’t want to accept Jesus’ offer, which He forces on no one. Heaven wouldn’t be heaven if God forced its inhabitants to be there.
We remain accountable to God for our sins. Jesus’ death at Calvary did not trivialize our sins or diminish our need for repentance; it instead magnified our imperfections and need for a Savior who could pay the price for our sins and overcome this world.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
Universalists often claim that the Bible is riddled with errors, all of the English interpretations of the Bible are mistranslated, and that the original Hebrew and Greek said something different about eternal torment. Positing that hundreds of Bible translators who specialize in Greek and/or Hebrew languages all failed to properly interpret God’s Word equates to positing that the USSR and the US colluded during the Cold War to make a false claim that men landed on the moon. It equates to denying the Holocaust. Universalism is based on a conspiracy theory so absurd that even Dan Brown of the “Da Vinci Code” would be embarrassed to present it. I wouldn’t be surprised if a new universalist translation of the Bible emerges at some point, which omits all references to an eternal punishment at judgment day.
In conclusion, rather than fall for the unsupported ideas of universalists, one should do what’s rational, which is to accept Jesus now as our Lord and Savior. Why risk eternity? Why trust conspiracy theorists who claim all translations of the Bible are inaccurate? Why test God? His morality is the standard against which we judge whether someone’s actions are consistent. No one will be judged inappropriately by the One who created us. God will ensure justice, mercy, and love are applied as He is the standard of all.
 Matthew 7:13-14
 Colton Burpo’s story is recounted in the book, Heaven is for Real. His story is not to be confused with the little boy who recanted his near death experience, Alex Malarkey.
 Luke 16:19-31
 Psalm 88:3; Psalm 88:5
 Deuteronomy 32:22
 Daniel 12:2
 Matthew 27:51-54
 Revelation 20:12-15
 Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23
 Green, J.B., McKnight, S., & Marshall, I.H. (1992). Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: A Compendum of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 After passing through Hades’ portals (Isaiah 38:10), there will be no return (e.g., Job 7:9-10; Psalm 49: 14-20; 1 Samuel 2:9; Isaiah 38:10, 18) and they are bound to silence (1 Samuel 2:9; Psalm 6:5; 31:17; Isaiah 38:18) and darkness (Job 17:13). Some evidence of future hope for the righteous does exist, however (Hosea 13:14; Psalm 16:10; 49:15; Job 14:13; 1 Samuel 2:6). And of course, Jesus opened the gates of heaven to the righteous.
 Matthew 10:28; 23:33;25:46; Revelation 20:11-15; Mark 9:43-48
 Luke 14:24
 Romans 5:18
 Colossians 1:19-20
 Acts 3:21
 Hebrews 2:9
 Hebrews 6:4-6