The caricature of heaven is an elite retirement home or country club high in the sky. For salvation’s ticket, people need only arrive at the right doctrine about Jesus before they die. Christians have made the story of salvation about passing such a theology test instead of about God’s rescue and security of the universe. Because passing this test is too rigid and hard for many people to pass, they reject religion. They conclude that it must be difficult to get saved and that very few will make it to heaven; after all, during Noah’s day, only eight people were saved from drowning in the terrible flood (1 Peter 3:20). In the end, according to Revelation, the New Jerusalem that comes from the sky will be surrounded by the vast resurrected hordes of the lost (Revelation 20:7–8).
We may conclude that most of humanity will be lost. After all, Jesus announced that hardly anyone finds the narrow way to life while many find the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:13–14). We may have the impression that the broad way is made wide to accommodate most people and that the road is made as slick as grease so that they slide down to destruction. While most choose the easy route, I don’t think God will let men, women, boys, and girls slip away without help or go without hope to perish forever.
Life under God’s direction is narrow not because God is trying to keep people out of heaven but because love is the only way to bring about the kingdom of God. The beauty of Jesus’ way is not achieved by passing a ultimate theology test; it is the love of God that constrains us. Being held captive to the radical, self-renouncing love of Jesus is not only a better choice to live but the principle of His kingdom and the only way for life to work. One might conclude that few will be saved and many lost or that it is super difficult to be saved and very easy to be lost. However, it is evident that the “way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). The path to destruction in this life is so littered with pains and hardships that hinder and wear us out that we might limp toward God because we can no longer bear them. God will keep wooing us with the hope that we will give in to His love, open our minds, and receive Him.
God actually makes it difficult for people to be lost. He goes and seeks to save that which is lost, just as He left 99 sheep to search for a lost one (Matthew 18:12). God’s love is boundless and amazing, but we don’t believe in it nearly enough. God loves the world and desires that no one perish (1 John 3:16). Following Jesus is not hard, for He announced, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:20).
Many Bible verses tell us that not a few but many will be redeemed. Jesus came “to give His life a ransom for many,” not for a few (Matthew 20:28). We also read that Jesus is preparing many dwelling places in His father’s house (John 14:1). God must be planning to fill these many dwelling places. The last book of the Bible describes a vast number of saved that is too enormous to count—thousands and thousands, millions and millions and perhaps billions upon billions, more than we could ever imagine being redeemed, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).
What about Noah and his family, who were alone saved? Perhaps the flood was God’s attempt to keep from losing the whole earth and not about people’s eternal destinies. People drowned in Noah’s generation because they failed to get on the boat to avoid the catastrophe. I figure there are people who will be in heaven who perished in the flood. Plenty of Bible verses tell us that people will be surprised when they get to heaven and that some there do not even know that Jesus died for them (Zechariah 13:6). This implies that many who make it to heaven would fail a theology test and that the only prerequisites for salvation are trust in God’s grace and a willingness to learn. Even after we die and are resurrected at the second coming of Jesus, I believe that God will work with people, helping them learn how to keep the universe secure and avoid placing His renewed world in jeopardy.
According to my reading the second coming occurs before the millennium, which is described in the last book of the Bible as the thousand years following the second coming of Jesus. The second coming is about God stopping chaos and rescuing His people, while the millennium is about learning and understanding the ethics of His kingdom. I am sure the millennium will include much investigation, discovery, and learning. What kind of world does God want? Why are some saved and others lost? Once everyone gets on the same page and is ready, God will return to this earth with all those who are redeemed.
I believe it is possible for some to fight God’s love off and refuse His rescue. If someone is determined to live apart from God, they will be allowed to reach the place of final destruction (not a place of torment without ever being destroyed). God is dedicated to freedom and will allow us to make choices despite severe consequences, but in the end, I believe everyone receives what they want (Revelation 22:11). When God’s love for the impenitent has at last been exhausted, He will sadly turn away from those who reject Him, allowing them to reap the consequences of choosing to remain outside His cosmos.
Is God’s love effective for the many or will He just get a few? God’s love is portrayed by the Lamb who suffered for the entire world, and heaven and the new creation are built on this portrayal of love. While God will lose some of His children, I don’t think He will be a loser. I don’t think God’s rescue plan will fail. His arms are outstretched to embrace a broken world. They are wide open on a cross, powerfully extended for every son and daughter. God saves with an almighty and all-powerful arm while carrying the weight of a broken world. God will do everything He can to pursue and bring home those who have been led astray or caught in life’s brambles and rocky cliffs. The message of this delivering God is real, and in Him, we place our hope.
Craig Ashton Jr.