I am a subscriber to the Bible prophecy blog of Ayomikun Shosanya called Himitsu/End Times Studies. This article by Ayo is by far one of the best I have read at answering the question so many of us have and that is “What happens to those who have never heard about Jesus?” He was kind enough to allow me to repost this on my site and I wholeheartedly recommend you reading it and to subscribe on his site for his future articles. Here we go…
For many in the Christian community – myself included – this can be a difficult question to tackle. The Bible very clearly tells us that salvation is through Christ alone (John 14:6, Acts 4:12) so what happens to those who never knew Christ? Usually, those who pose this question (both skeptic and curious Christian alike) offer the all too common hypothetical situation which involves a remote village of people somewhere in the depths of an unknown forest or mountain never before explored by man and surely have never heard of Jesus Christ.
Likewise, those who precede Christ are also alluded to in regards to this question. How could they be saved if they were born before Christ even walked on the earth? Although Scripture doesn’t address this directly to the extent where we can navigate to a specific book, chapter, or verse, there are still some general truths revealed to us throughout the Bible that helps shed light into this issue and in turn, offers us a way we can answer this question. Below are 4 points that the Bible touches on that I believe helps us get to the bottom of this question:
• God has revealed himself in creation (Romans 1:18-21)
• God has created us all with a conscience (Romans 2:14-15)
• God appoints the times and places people are born so that each person can seek him because he’s not far (Acts 17:26-27)
• All peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will worship God (Daniel 7:14, Revelation 7:9, Revelation 15:4)
All of these points which the Bible talks about helps us learn what happens to those who’ve never “heard” of Jesus or don’t know of him. Throughout this article I will be building off of each point to make my case.
God Has Revealed Himself Through Creation
The bible tells us that God has revealed himself through creation so that everyone is without excuse as to there being a creator.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
This passage tells us that everyone knows that God exists but those that say God doesn’t exist “…suppress the truth in unrighteousness” because God has clearly revealed himself in creation to humanity. Based on this, if someone died today not believing in God they would not be able to stand before God and say “I didn’t know you existed”. They would be held accountable for the revelation of God’s existence clearly shown in creation.
God Has Revealed Himself Through our Conscience
To add to the revelation of God through creation, the Bible also tells us God has created all of us with a conscience – the ability to discern right from wrong, good from evil, “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them,” (Romans 2:14-15).
Through a conscience we can grasp moral truths and if morals are objective and universal, the argument can be made that they transcend mankind in origin, therefore pointing to something beyond humanity (i.e. God). The conscience is another way we can know there is a creator – that God exists. I elaborate more on this point in my article Does Evil Disprove God? In the article, I point out that skeptics who use the problem of evil must first be able to discern an “evil” from a “good” or a “right” from a “wrong”.
To pose the question, they initially must presuppose objective moral truths. However, I explain that many skeptics come with a naturalistic worldview – being that the natural, physical world is all there is – can not allow for objective more truths to exist, contradicting their world view and giving credence to the reality of objective moral truths, and therefore, the existence of God. It’s through this conscience (along with the revelation of God in creation) that mankind will also be held accountable and without an excuse concerning God’s existence.
I believe one place we see this concept put on display is in the book of Job. After the unfortunate circumstances that befall Job in Job 1-2, his 3 friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – visit Job and try to reason through his current circumstance and Eliphaz says something important, “Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker?” (Job 4:17). Although subtle, what Eliphaz is alluding to is the corrupt human nature in comparison to a perfect, just, and thrice Holy God.
However, the only way this could’ve been revealed to him was through his conscience to be able to discern his failings from the perfect standard God has set. Even before this, he must already have recognized that God existed and had a standard set for humanity (i.e. objective moral truths). Also, keep in mind the fact that many believe the book of Job was written even before the book of Genesis, meaning this was a time that preceded Christ and the nation of Israel and yet these truths were well evident during this time.
God Appoints the Times and Places People are Born
The Bible tells us that God not only reveals himself in creation and our conscience, but he also appoints where and when people will be born so that they may seek him, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27).
From this passage we see that God places people in specific places at specific times to foster the optimal opportunity for the individual to not only be able to seek God himself, but to be able to successfully find him, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart,” (Jeremiah 29:13). This is where the revelation of God through nature and our conscience should lead us – seeking after God.
He’s done all the work to make discovering and knowing him more than possible, humanity’s part is to accept the evidence that’s clearly presented before us and seek him so he will reveal himself to us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…” (James 4:8). Even David alludes to this truth of man seeking God in the Psalms. Notice how he also touches on those who say there is no God and the nature of man which I talked about earlier in reference to objective moral truths.
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” (Psalm 14:1-3)
Why does David call those who say “There is no God” in their heart a “fool”? Romans 1:20 makes it clear that the revelation of God in creation is “clearly seen” and those who say “There is no God” only “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. This then leads one to not seek God as he later expresses. God hasn’t only given each of us the optimal opportunity to seek and find him, based on Psalm 14:1-3, but God himself is actively searching for those who may be seeking him.
Why are all these facts important? Because for those who by chance have never heard the name of Christ, based on these 3 aforementioned biblical truths, even in this case, they are still left without an excuse as to the existence of God revealed through nature and the inner witness of our conscience, and therefore should be able to seek God out. From scripture, we see clear examples of this play out, that those who understand that there is a creator and seek after God, God in turn makes a way to reveal himself to them.
Important figures of the Old Testament were born before Jesus walked on the earth. So the question applies to them as well. How did they know? How could they be saved if they didn’t know Christ? Those 3 truths I mentioned earlier is how. In fact, the “gospel” was preached as early as Genesis.
In Genesis 12:3, we see a very important truth revealed to Abraham by God, “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (Genesis 12:3). In the New Testament we’re told that this is where God gives Abraham the gospel and that he believed it, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham,” (Galatians 3:6-9).
Galatians 3:6-9 makes it clear that in Genesis 12:3, God – by telling Abraham all the nations would be blessed through him – was giving him the gospel. This shouldn’t surprise us as Jesus himself makes it clear that everything written in the Old Testament was concerning him, “Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself,” (Luke 24:25-27).
Scripture’s clear on the fact that even before Jesus came, the Old Testament pointed to him through hundreds of years of revelation. Even before Christ walked on the earth, God was clearly in the business of revealing to men how they could be saved. And Paul makes the outcome of this clear to us. Once Abraham believed in this gospel, it was “…accounted to him for righteousness”.
Abraham was in essence looking forward to the cross for when his sin debt would be paid off, while we – in this modern time after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection – look back to the cross to what has been paid off for us. The system of how God saves man is the same at its core, the essence of it being a dependence on the one and only God of the bible for one’s salvation.
All Peoples, Tribes, Tongues, and Nations Will Worship God
We’ve seen that through the revelation of God’s existence in creation and our conscience we can come to the understanding that God exists, God makes it so that we can reach out to him, and we see that once we reach out to him, he reveals himself to us. The final point that I believe brings this together is that the bible speaks about a coming future in which all nations, tongues, tribes, and people will worship God. We can see this truth clearly revealed to us even in the Old Testament.
“Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed.”
In Daniel 7:9-14, Daniel sees a vision regarding the “ancient of days” – God – and the “Son of Man” – the messiah, Jesus. He sees a timeline of sorts concerning the destruction of the 4th beast and the little horn (Daniel 7:7-8, 11) and then the Millennial kingdom of Christ – and also into the eternal age (Daniel 7:14).
This vision is then further elaborated on in Daniel 7:15-27 which with Revelation 13 gives us the understanding of the Antichrist’s rise to power during the tribulation, persecution of the saints, and Jesus’ return to judge the Antichrist, his armies, and set up his Millennial kingdom which will not be destroyed. I elaborate on this in my article on the Coming One World Government. The timeline given to Daniel I made note of here is that the dominion given to Christ wherein “…all peoples, nations, and languages” will serve him is concerning the Millennium and ultimately the eternal age to come.
Essentially, the Bible is showing us that not only does God reveal himself through creation, our conscience, and sets things up so we’re able to seek him and find him, he his successful in doing this to the extant that out of those saved by God through these means, they will be from every people group, every nationality, and every language that has ever existed in human history!
In the New testament we also see this in Revelation 7:9, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” (Revelation 7:9). We also see this in Revelation 15:4, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.”
Why is this important to note? Because it shows us that God does what he says he’s going to do. The Bible makes it clear that God will give everyone the opportunity to know he exists, seek him, discover him, and learn how to be saved and further evidence for this is in passages like this where we see and are told that all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues will worship him. This, however, does not mean everyone who has ever existed will be saved (everyone has the ability to reject or accept God’s free gift of salvation), but that out of those who do accept God’s free gift of salvation, they will be from every single nation, tribe, language, and ethnicity that has ever existed.
It is through this diversity that God will be glorified. This means that those in remote villages in yet undiscovered regions of the world will seek God, be saved, and be counted as those from all languages, tribes, nations, and people that will worship him. In our modern time, God is able to work through people through a variety of means (newspapers, entertainment, technology, missionaries, churches, street evangelism, etc.) to get the gospel to others. These truths also shows us how people were saved before Christ.
I believe that through the revelation of God’s existence in creation, our conscience which also points us to the existence of God, God’s sovereign hand that enables each and every one of us to be able to seek and find him, as well as bible prophecy which shows us the outcome of these 3 truths working together throughout the whole of human history gives a firm answer as to “What happens to those who have never heard the name of Jesus?”
Please don’t misread what Ayo has said or what I believe is so true today. If you have heard of Jesus and willingly ignore His message of Hope and Salvation, you are condemned to hell forever. Rather, his message above is about those who have lived and perhaps died never hearing about our path to Heaven. Again, my thanks to Ayo was letting me repost this on my website. I don’t know about you but I came away with a strong amount of comfort knowing the Bible has told us how people throughout history, perhaps in a place or location where they may not have heard about the Salvation available from Jesus’s death and resurrection in payment for our sins may still be judged worthy to enter Heaven. If you agree with Ayo and me, please do as I am doing and that is to pass along his message of what the Bible tells us. I hope you will do this and that is to “…therefore comfort one another with these words.”
May God Bless you!