Universalism states that sooner or later all people will be saved. This position holds that the concepts of hell and punishment are inconsistent with a loving God.
The older form of universalism, originating in the second century, taught that salvation would come after a temporary period of punishment. The newer form of universalism declares that all men are now saved, though all do not realize it. Therefore the job of the preacher and the missionary is to tell people they are already saved. Certain passages--John 12:32, Philippians 2:11, and 1 Timothy 2:4--are typically twisted out of context in support of universalism.
Such passages, interpreted properly, do not support universalism:
- John 12:32 says that Christ's work on the cross makes possible the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles. Notice, however, that the Lord--in the same passage--warned of judgment of those who reject Christ (v. 48).
- Philippians 2:10-11 assures us that someday all people will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, but not necessarily as Savior. (Even those in hell will have to acknowledge Christ's Lordship.)
- First Timothy 2:4 expresses God's desire that all be saved, but does not promise that all will be. This divine desire is only realized in those who exercise faith in Christ.
The Scriptures consistently categorize people into one of two classes (saved/unsaved, also called believers/unbelievers), and portray the final destiny of every person as being one of two realities (heaven or hell).
- In Matthew 13:30 Jesus in a parable said, "Let both [tares and wheat] grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn." Here unbelievers and believers are spoken of as tares and wheat. Two classes!
- In Matthew 13:49 Jesus said, "This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous." Again, two classes are mentioned--unbelievers and believers spoken of as the wicked and the righteous.
- In Matthew 25:32 Jesus said that following His second coming, "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." Here believers and unbelievers are differentiated by the terms "sheep" and "goats." The sheep will enter into God's kingdom (vs. 34) and inherit eternal life (vs. 46). The goats go into eternal punishment (vs. 46).
- In Luke 16:26 we find Abraham in the afterlife telling the unsaved rich man: "Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." Hades apparently had two compartments: "paradise" for the saved, and "torments" for the unsaved--and these compartments were separated by a great chasm or gulf.
Clearly, then, the Scriptures speak of two classes of people (the saved and the unsaved) and two possible destinies (heaven for the saved; hell for the unsaved). And each respective person ends up in one of these places based upon whether or not he or she placed saving faith in Christ during his or her time on earth (Acts 16:31).