WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO HAVEN'T HEARD?
This is a good question for Christians to ask. When we ask this question, it means that we actually care about the eternity of others. Of course, some will ask it because they think that it is close-minded of Christians to say that Jesus is the only way to receive salvation. But, because we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, then we trust that Jesus is the only means of salvation because the Bible says it is thus. (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Romans 10:13-15) Therefore, the topic of whether or not Jesus is the only to salvation will not be dealt with here. * Instead, we will ask this question: “Since Jesus is the only means of salvation for ALL of mankind, what happens to those who have never heard?”
How can people who have never heard of Jesus be saved?
The Bible says that they can not. Does that mean that the only people who can be saved are those living in Christian nations? No! God has made a way. I must caution us at this point because it is clear from the Word of God that Jesus is “THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and that no one comes to the Father but by me. (Jesus)” So, Jesus is the only one who can save. That is clear, but God has made a way for people to get to Jesus or for Jesus to get to them even though they may be in the middle of a jungle somewhere. God will make it possible for them to have faith in His Son. Let’s begin to look at the Word of God and see how this works. How can God get salvation to those who are not in range of the Gospel? It will probably, and often does, take a miracle.
And yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. Acts 14:17
We see first that God has never left Himself without a witness on the earth to all men. All men have seen seasons and rain. All men have tasted food and been glad. These are witnesses to the fact that there is indeed a God according to the Bible.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20
We see, also, that men should be able to look at creation and understand the “eternal power and divine nature” of God. That is almost shocking, isn’t it? That God, in creation, has made it so clear to ALL men that He exists that they are “without excuse” for not submitting to Him.
As we realize that all men have enough revelation from God to begin to respond to Him, we should begin to feel hope. God is merciful. That doesn’t mean that is going to open wide the gates of heaven and let all unrighteous inside, but it means, in this case, that if someone is responding to the revelation that God has given, then God will give a greater revelation of Himself.
Psalm 19:1 reads that “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
Two thousand years ago, if you were living in Asia, you would have looked up and saw a new star shining. The heavens declare the glory of the Lord, and this new star was placed there by Him. If, in your wisdom, you began to travel towards the star, eventually you would have come to Israel, to the region of Judah, and finally to a little town called Bethlehem. Just as the Lord used general revelation, such as this star, to guide the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, so He has continued to guide those that respond to the revelation of God to deeper and deeper understanding, eventually leading them to the ultimate revelation of Jesus Christ our savior and the savior of the world. As men and women throughout the world respond in obedience to what they know of the one true God, He will reveal Himself in greater ways. Let’s look at how this happens in scripture. Pay close attention to what great lengths the Lord will go to just to reach one person.
Read the following passages and answer the questions that follow.
- How did Phillip end up meeting the Ethiopian?
- What revelation of God did the Ethiopian already have?
- Who was the Ethiopian reading about? (Isaiah 53)
- If the Ethiopian was already worshipping God (v.27), why did he have to know about Jesus?
- How did the Ethiopian respond to this new revelation?
- What all did God do to get the Gospel of Jesus to this one man?
- How did Peter meet Cornelius and his family?
- What revelation did Cornelius already have of God?
- How was Cornelius responding to that revelation?
- If Cornelius was a “God fearing man,” why did he need to hear about Jesus?
- What further revelation did Peter reveal to this family?
- What all did God do to get the Gospel of Jesus to this one family?
- Where did Paul try to go in verses 6 and 7?
- Who stopped Paul from going?
- How did Paul finally find out where he should go?
- What city in Macedonia did Paul eventually arrive at?
- Who did he meet there?
- How was Lydia described in verse 14?
- How did Lydia respond to the preaching of Paul?
- What extremes did the Lord go to in order to get the Gospel to Lydia and her family?
Wow, what a God we serve who will reroute missionaries, send dreams, and even rebuke Peter to get the good news of Jesus to those who are responding in obedience to Him. All of our examples here are described as worshippers and God fearers. Yet, they didn’t know about Jesus, so what did God do? He changed the course of history to get the Gospel to them. Ever since God redirected Paul away from Asia to Macedonia, the Gospel has gone west. It moved from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire and Europe, down to Africa, across the ocean to the Americas, and now is moving across the Pacific Ocean to Asia. Many leading missions teachers believe that the Gospel will continue this course of spreading until it gets back to where it started…Jerusalem, and then the whole earth will have the good news of Christ, and it all started with Paul being led by the Spirit of God to Lydia. Rejoice, for our God is one who is merciful to the seeker…those who are humbly responding to revelation. So, how is this still happening today?
Listen to what is being reported about God’s miraculous outreaches to those who can’t hear of Him without it:
“More than one-third of the converts to Christianity in Turkey say they came to Christ because He appeared to them in a dream…a team from Fuller Seminary in California documented 600 cases in which Muslims found new life in Jesus because of dreams or visions.” Stories of not only Muslim men and women, but many other lost souls, finding Jesus through miraculous means are flooding in off the mission field.
Many have shared that a man in a white robe with a beard and scars in his hands has appeared to them and given them an address or directions of where they can find the TRUTH. When they arrive at the specified address, they meet a missionary who gives them a Bible and shares Christ with them. They immediately remember the scars in the strange visitor’s hands when they hear of His crucifixion.
God is going out of His way to get the truth that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world to those who may not ever hear otherwise. Our God is so merciful. Jesus is the only way. God will not make another way besides Christ, but God will make ways for the lost to meet this Shepherd King. Remember, God isn’t going to decide one day to just allow every nonbeliever into Heaven, but to those that are responding to the light that they have, He is giving more light. In order to be saved, they need the light of Christ to shine on them.
Let us pray that like the wise men of old, the lost of the world would follow the light of God to Jesus, and let us think of how we might get the good news to those who have not heard.
Let Isaiah, 9:2 be our prayer: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.”