The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The idea of Death as the deadline for salvation

We are looking at a sermon series on Men Behaving Badly in the bible. One of the men we are covering is Judas. Most of the characters, we have been able to approach from a redemptive lens, however, the church abides by the traditional understanding of hell and the fate of unbelievers (although some members that I have spoken to sound like they struggle with this and may believe differently). One of the key elements of this service will be the urgency with which we must respond to Jesus and the gospel. There do appear to be verses that speak to a cutoff time (2 Corinthians 6:2, where referring to today as the day of salvation would indicate that there will be a time where people can no longer be saved). If I am honest, this does instill a sense of fear within me, both for my loved ones (many of whom are not Christians) and myself (as there are and have been many times I have not walked closely with God and do doubt my salvation). I mean this as no challenge but a genuine question: How does a universalist understand the passages where the bible does seem to speak of a deadline. It may not be physical death but there may be a time after which people can not be saved?

I think maybe the most important thing you’ve said here is that this idea instills a sense of fear. Perfect love casts out all fear. WE don’t have perfect love, so we can’t trust perfectly – but God’s love IS perfect. As His love is perfected in us, all fear must go. I still have fear; you still have fear – but it fades in proportion to the degree in which His love becomes perfected in us. It makes no sense to me that our fear needs to go, as we realize that these people, who have in some way rejected Jesus, are no longer worthy of our love once they pass on in that state. We’re supposed to stop loving them, supposed to be okay that they receive the righteous wrath of an angry God, justly due to those who reject His only Son. Is THAT how perfect love casts out all fear? Ummm . . . nah. I don’t think I can buy that one.

As for 2 Cor 6:2, even back in the day when I had never so much as questioned the concept of ECT as a sad and tragic reality :frowning: , I never saw that as a particularly convincing proof text for the death deadline. The other one was “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgment.” My thinking on these passages was that they were weak for that purpose and that I figured there was no accounting for tastes in proof texts but that there were plenty more, much stronger ones out there. The 2 Cor one said (and says) to me that today is a great day for salvation. Actually I think there’s something in the Greek that points toward “a” rather than “the” day – or maybe it’s just that it could be either one . . . that’s more than I can tell from Strongs and I’m not a Greek scholar . . . but either way it doesn’t work. If you want to take it THAT literally, it’s way, way too late for any of us, including the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote the letter. By the time they received it, the day on which Paul wrote it had long gone. The way I read it then (and still do) is that whatever day it is today (whenever today is at the moment) is the best day on which to be saved. It is ALWAYS today.

As for the other (which is in Hebrews I think), it isn’t even talking about salvation. It’s talking about Jesus not needing to be crucified again as another sacrifice – He doesn’t need to do it over and over like the priests with their bulls and goats. It’s done. Judgment has been given and it’s over. But I didn’t realize that back then. I just wondered, “don’t they wonder what might happen on the road between death and judgment?” And, there’s no indication as to WHAT the judgment will be. What if the person facing judgment, seeing Jesus, falls at His feet in genuine adoration? Do they still go to hell forever and ever? Would He DO that?

So one day (decades later :blush: ) I decided to find those verses because I couldn’t remember ever hearing a preacher using any of the many others they surely must have. Nope. The only other one I could find was one in Ecclesiastes about a tree lying where it falls. That one is probably among the strongest but it’s in Eccl, written by Solomon while presumably back-slidden, and could be interpreted in a number of different ways. What is this death deadline then? If it really exists, shouldn’t it be all over scripture, clearly spelled out? Instead I find three questionable verses and that IS ALL THERE IS? for this rock solid foundational doctrine of Christianity? I was not impressed. I think this is a doctrine invented by the church to scare people into being saved and coming under willing submission to clergy. It’s certainly been used that way. We “draw” people to Jesus by threatening them with never-ending torture. Nice.

Hi Sazag84,

I think that Cindy is basically right; most of the passages that are used to affirm this life as the deadline for salvation are weak. I believe Martin Luther wrote a pastoral letter on this pt, his letter to Hans von Rechenberg, which includes this quote “God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future.” (though some argue that Luther was not really asserting the possibility of universalism, but more the strict teaching of God’s Word).

Yet, I think a question related to this that troubles me; what if, not the moment of Death, but the very beginning of one’s existence, is the deadline for salvation? For if God determined the Elect and the Reprobate from the beginning, before temporal time (assuming that is conceivable), then our lives and our destines are merely the playing out of God’s puppet show. I think that theology, if overly logical, hits a brick wall when it must embrace the paradoxical, such a determinism vs free will, but notice that your worry about the deadline comes from assuming the freedom of human creatures w/ respect to their eternal destiny.

Calvinism (election and reprobation independent of our freedom, from the beginning by God) is not the only deterministic game in town; thankfully, one could believe that God has determined the salvation of all and not some…

That death deadline is one of the difficult ones to argue against, since it is so entrenched in the traditions and thinking of most people. I’m in the midst of a discussion with a friend on Facebook on universalism and that is one of the big issues for him.

I do agree that there are deadlines. The pattern often seen in scripture is that God is patient and allows people to do whatever evil they want to do, often for a long time – even for generations. He may or may not send warnings, but eventually the time comes when God brings judgment and wrath on them, and they suffer the consequences.

The issue is whether or not the consequences ever consist of endless punishment.


There are other verses that indirectly suggest a sense of urgency in response to God:

“He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy [healing].” - Proverbs 29:1

“But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.” - 2 Chronicles 36:16

"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened…

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:…" - Romans 1:20-21, 24-26

The idea here is that while God has a certain measure of patience toward sinners, it is not unlimited. That there is a certain point in which God will cease to put up with continued sin.

That seems to be a recurring theme in the book of Judges, where God sends a redeemer who will deliver Israel, who have fallen away in sin and hence the surrounding enemies overtake them. Yet even after being delievered, Israel soon lapses back into sin, and is in need of salvation again.

It is evident very early on of God’s disapproval of Israel’s behavior:

"And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.

And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?

Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you." - Judges 2:1-3

But giving someone over to their sins is I think meant to let people see the folly of their ways until they come to their senses, hopefully before destroying themselves with it. The offer of forgiveness and restoration, however, is always available to the repentent heart.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, in dealing with an adulterous member, admonished the church there “to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh”, not that the individual should be permanently lost, but “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” - 1 Corinthians 5:5

Evidently, the inidvidual was admonished to be restored to faith by the time Paul wrote his second letter:

"Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many.

So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.

Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.

For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.

To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ;

Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices." - 2 Corinthians 2-6-11

I would ask, that if this punishment was enough, whatever that entailed, then would that not mean that the punishment was indeed limited? Would God also limit punishment as accordingly dealt, until that one repents?

There is no scriptural evidence that death is the deadline for salvation.

Indeed, as someone pointed out, if you’re a Calvinist, BIRTH is the deadline, since at birth you are either predestined for heaven of for hell.

It depends on how you view each passage. At one time I would agree with the ’ deadline’ theory. However, there are many verses that contradict that theory. For instance these :

–" For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God." NASB 1 Peter 4:6

–'who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." Romans 8:34

–“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

–" Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Cor 13:4-7

–“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. …” Gal 5:22-23

Several others could cause one to conclude , God never gives up and is always willing to rescue and restore those who seek him, in life and in death. The two most revealing texts I believe are 1 Peter 4:6 and Romans 8:38-39. In my opinion God never abandons any part of His creation. From the OT to the NT He is always quick to forgive and grant everlasting Mercy.

I like what Cindy wrote! Amen. :slight_smile:

On the idea of Judas, I think there’s a couple of interesting things. First the idea that Jesus CLEARLY loved Judas. When he put the morsel in the dip and gave it to Judas, that was an amazing act - in those days the host of a meal used to do that for the guest of honour. That’s what Jesus treated Judas as. Then, when Jesus gets arrested, he calls Judas friend. The Greek for it isn’t the word used elsewhere for an intimate friend admittedly but it’s still something along the lines of comrade I believe.

I think the problem people have is his suicide. But he’s clearly sorry for the betrayal before he dies. Not sure where the idea of repentance comes into people’s thoughts about Judas.

I’ve got a take on this that sort of circumvents a lot of the post-mortem debate. My dad died of a heart attack when i was three. He went into a coma and slipped away 2 weeks later. My mother was in despair, as he had not become a Christian before that time…she asked that God give her some assurance of dad’s destiny…and she was rewarded with profound peace that dad was well. I know her well enough to trust that as a spiritual thing. Now, post-mortem salvation is fine here, but she always felt that during that 2 weeks of coma, God came to him and rescued him.
Now, if God can do that…why couldn’t God do that with the last moment of anyone’s life? Maybe pre-mortem salvation would be an easier alternative for people to grasp. God can do what He likes in a moment of time.

As for the urgency…that is troubling, but it seems to always urge US to do what’s right in the given time…but then, as the disciples asked Christ, who then can be saved?
“With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.
I think the urgency is because NOW is the time…why put off such a wonderful thing, why put off being cured? Just because the Great Physician has promised resurrection doesn’t mean it’s not better to be healed before the worst is done?

Regarding Judas, I recommend: Judas Iscariot: Revisited and Restored by Ivan Rogers

it sheds a different light on things - for example, the Greek word that is translated “betrayer” does not mean that.



IMO Judas did only slightly worse than Peter, who denied Christ three times.
Judas repented, and threw the silver back at the Pharisees. Peter didn’t even say sorry, but Jesus gave him closure with 3 questions about whether Peter loved him, and instructions on how to make it right.
The main difference is that he fell into despair and killed himself…and suicide, despite what the Catholics and a few others (heretically) say, is NOT the unforgiveable sin. I pity Judas…truly his pain was so great that it would have been easier for him not to live…but i think his restoration and future joy will one day make up for that.

I also wanted to post this verse;

"For Your faithful love for me is great, and You deliver my life from the depths of Sheol. " Psalm 86:13

Why wouldn’t this apply to Judas . He was a man in despair. He was conflicted, confused, as were all the disciples. In the end, it is the faithfulness of God that brings all men to restoration.

God is always faithful. He is for us, not against us ( Romans 8:31), and is unwilling that any perish ( 2 Peter 3:9).

I think the sense of urgency in those verses is aimed at being prescriptive. What I mean by that is that it is better to deal with your crap sooner rather than later, because it will come back to bite you. If I eat poorly and never exercise, I am setting myself up not only to be overweight, but for major health problems somewhere down the line. The wise thing to do is to start taking care of business now, because even though I can “get away” with the destructive pattern for awhile, it will eventually catch up to me, and I’ll be in a much worse position; more so the longer I let it go on. This is why I believe the scripture states that we should not be deceived, because God is not mocked; we will reap what we sow, even if we don’t reap it “eternally”.

In translating Hebrews 9:27, most translators break their own cardinal rule “Do not add to or take away from the Word”. In the first part of the verse, there is a definite article ‘tois’ in front of the word anthropois which is *taken away *in the translations. Then in the second part of the verse they add a definite article, ‘the’ in front of the word ‘judgement’. Why is this done? It isn’t hard to imagine that it is done to scare people into submission by convincing them it must be done before they die and it is too late.

Taking out the definite article in the first part of the verse makes the rest sound as if it is speaking of all men instead of “those men”. Who would “those men” be? In the context of the chapter, and of most of the whole book, it would appear to be comparing the office of the High Priest with that of Jesus. “Those men” would be the High Priests who die once (ritually/symbolically) every year on the Day of Atonement when they enter the Holy of Holies. They then appear again to those who have waited outside to show that the atonement has been accepted and they are saved (v.28).

Inserting a definite article article in front of the word “judgement”, along with the first part of the verse being twisted in order to apply to all men, serves to make this occasion of “THE judgement” seem to be speaking of "the one and only ‘final’ judgement. This as opposed to translating it as "… but after this comes judging. (After the high priest dying upon entering the Holy of Holies there is a judging on whether the ministry that the High Priest has offered is to be accepted). This kind of translating helps to keep people seeing scripture from the “eternal torment” point of view.

Anyone who knows anything about the Greek of the New Testament (and elsewhere) knows that extraneous articles are used all the time, and that very frequently it’s not at all meaningful. (The converse holds true, too; and it’s the reason why you don’t see John 1:1c translated as “The Word was a god.”)

You say “most translators” do this… but who is this “most”? Looking at the most popular English translations, only KJV has “the judgment,” whereas NRSV, NIV, ESV, NASB, NET et al. don’t.

The presence of an article does nothing to suggest that a particular group is being referred to. This is especially clear in the fact that, if the author had wanted to make it clear that a particular group (“those” men) was being referred to, there was an unambiguous way (in Greek) to do this: by using a demonstrative pronoun like ἐκεῖνος or οὗτος… and yet the author did not utilize this.

Beyond this, though, your scenario about the priests on Yom Kippur experiencing a symbolic death and “judgment” strains all credulity. By far the most parsimonious and critically well-supported interpretation here is that Heb 9:27 refers to the death of (all) humans and the judgment that was thought to take place after death.

Also, FWIW: we have parallels to the saying here that humans are appointed to die only once: e.g. Odyssey 12.22, ἄλλοι] ἅπαξ θνῄσκουσ᾽ ἄνθρωποι, and perhaps also the parenthetical note ὥσπερ ἀνάγκη ἁπλῶς θνῃσκέτω in Plato, Laws 946e. Further, the idea of (immediate) postmortem judgment was commonplace in contemporary Greek and Jewish thought; though for a diversity of opinion about what exactly judgment refers to here (or rather when it’s enacted), cf. this comment of David deSilva:

(Though for the idea of immediate postmortem judgment, cf. Plato, Gorgia 523b, with judges ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ δικάζοντες ᾗ μέλλοιεν τελευτᾶν.)

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I stand corrected as to the definite article being inserted in front of the word judgement by most translators. That is what I get for trying to post something first thing in the morning after working til 2:00 am. The King James is the only translation that has “the judgement” at the end of the verse. I was aware of the common use of, and/or dropping off of extraneous articles in Greek. Which gives a lot of leeway to tranlsators as to how the reading can be structured. What I don’t understand is how the context of the chapter can be switched suddenly from a constant comparison between the Levitical priesthood and that of Jesus, to one that is focused on the individual person’s judgement after death. It is true that there are references to the effect that the ministries of the Levitical priests and that of Jesus has on the individual, but the comparisons that are put forth in 9:7 & 9:12 along with 9:25 & 9:26 seem to put the main focus on the two different priesthoods and their respective ministries, with the effect on the individual being derived from that. Perhaps the reason the author of Hebrews did not use the definitive ἐκεῖνος or οὗτος is because he would assume that his readers were already aware of the comparisons he had been making between the priests and Jesus.

There also several exceptions to the rule “Die once, then judgement”. The Shunamite widow’s son in 2 Kings 4:32-35, Lazarus, and Jairus’ daughter in the new testament are a few examples of people who died twice.

The reference to Jesus appearing the second time to those who wait for Him could easily be a comparison between Jesus’ second coming and the successful re-appearance of the high priest after entering the Holy of Holies to atone for the people on Yom Kippur. If he died in there, what would that mean to the people?

Rom.1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Worthy of death, not endless tortures or endless annihilation.

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For some additional remarks re 2 Cor.6:2, there is the following discussion:2 Corinthians 6:2 and Universalism

And concerning Hebrews 9:27:Does Hebrews 9:27 refute universalism?
JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Hebrews 9:27
Heb 9:27

Some commentators consider that to be a “proof text” for death as the deadline for salvation or against universalism.

Prov. 29:1 He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. (KJV)

It could be “without remedy” because he’ll be “destroyed” as in dead:

Correction is grievous to him that forsakes the way: and he that hates reproof shall die. (Prov.15:10)

Pop as many tylenol pills into his mouth as you can, it won’t “remedy” his problem. Sticking him with needles (acupuncture) in every pore of his body won’t “remedy” his situation, either. Neither will any herbal tea “remedies”. A dead man’s condition is “without remedy”.