We come this morning in our study of Colossians to verse 20 of chapter 1. This verse has been used to support the doctrine of universalism. So in our time this morning we are going to look at the doctrine of universalism and see what the Scriptures have to say about it. I have been hearing of more and more people who are turning to this erroneous doctrine, so I would like to address it.
What is Universalism?
Let's begin with a definition: Universalism is the teaching that God, through the atonement of Jesus, will ultimately bring reconciliation between God and all people throughout history. This reconciliation will occur regardless of whether they have trusted in or rejected Jesus as savoir during their lifetime. As with any doctrine, there are many varieties of universalism. For example, there is the belief in Conditional Immortality, which holds that an opportunity will be given after death for the acceptance of Christ, that acceptance will mean salvation, while rejection will be followed by extinction. There are, however, certain ideas common to every form of universalism: they all view the character of God as animated by sheer benevolence rather than by a holy love.
Belief in universal salvation is almost as old as Christianity itself and may be associated with early Gnostic teachers. The first clearly universalist writings, however, date from the Greek church fathers, most notably Clement of Alexandria, his student Origen, and Gregory of Nyssa. Universalism was taught in the School that Origen presided over at Alexandria in the extreme form that all fallen beings, not excluding the Devil and his angels, who do not repent in this world, shall pass through prolonged chastisement in the world to come. In the end, through these sufferings and the instruction of superior spirits, they will undergo a change and be brought to bliss. Origen's views were strongly opposed by Augustine of Hippo and were condemned by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 543). At the Reformation the sect known as Anabaptists adopted this view as regards both men and devils, and John Calvin wrote a tract condemning it.
This doctrine is congenial to human nature. Most unbelievers think that when someone dies they go to heaven. What do people usually say when they lose a loved one? "We know they're in a better place now." This doctrine goes back to what the serpent had to say to our first parents: "Ye shall not surely die." God says that sin leads to death, but we don't want to believe that, we'd rather believe the serpent.
Universalists all quote Scripture texts in support of their views, and by the manipulation of texts removed from their context, they make out a plausible case for the positions they hold. There are many verses that use "all" and "world" in relation to redemption. When looking at these verses, we must keep in mind the primary rule of hermeneutics, the "analogy of faith" - the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.
Let's begin our study by looking at our text in Colossians:
Colossians 1:20 (NKJV) and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
Is Paul teaching universalism, namely, that all creatures will eventually be saved and none will be punished forever? Does this mean that one day God will reconcile to himself all unbelievers who have ever lived and even the devil? I don't think so. What is this verse saying then? Let me try to explain:
Colossians 3:10-11 (NKJV) and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, 11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Paul is describing Christians as people who have "put on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." Then verse 11 begins with the word "where" to show that what he is about to say is limited in its scope to the sphere of this renewed humanity he was just asking about in verse 10.
He says, "Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man; but Christ is all, and in all." Now if you took the sentence"Christ is all and in all" by itself, you might say that it taught universalism: "Christ is all and in all human beings without exception." But we know that is not what he means, because the verse begins with "where" - that is here in the sphere of the church; "here" - in the new humanity that Christ is creating, He is all and in all.
This is the way I think we are to understand Colossians 1:20. Look how the paragraph is organized. The scope of verse 15-17 is all creation. The whole universe is in view. And the point is that Christ is preeminent over all creation, because He made it and he holds it all together.
But then in verses 18-21, the focus shifts and the scope is no longer the whole universe but the new creation, namely the church. Notice how verse 18 turns from creation to the church: "He is the head of the body, the church." in this context of the church, we read verse 20, that "he will reconcile all things to himself in heaven and on earth." So I think the "all things" in verse 20 should be limited the same way the "all" in 3:11 was limited - to the church.
Let me share with you excerpts from an e-mail that I recently received:
Let me say first and foremost, I thank God Almighty for you! Your teaching has greatly blessed me and my family and several of my friends who are open to receiving truth. I am praying for you and your family that God continues to give you wisdom AND the strength to boldly pursue the truth that God reveals to you.
The feast series, WOW! Wonderful eye opening stuff for me! And many of the other sermons too.... That being said, I hope that your paradigm shift is not over.
I learned many months ago, and finally came to the glorious understanding of the love that God has for his creation, when the truth was revealed to me that Jesus IS the savoir of the world. Not maybe, or can be, but is!
We can add nothing to Jesus' act on the cross to save us, NOT EVEN BELIEF. Belief/faith is of God and God is the dispenser of it.
The problem with all the belief passages is that when someone finally REALIZES or "Believes" what Jesus ALREADY did for them, they have great Joy in knowing the Lord God loves them to the point of not failing, because the bible declares that "God is love", and that "love never fails". Belief is not a "requirement" to be returned back to God in spirit when you die. Belief is that thing that gives us joy RIGHT NOW, KNOWING that it has been accomplished, that the works of the Devil have been undone, and that Jesus is the savoir of the world.
When the bible says believe on the Lord Jesus, it can be understood to mean, "Trust me, I am telling the truth, God loves you and HAS redeemed you, this you can have confidence in and believe!"
It's not a very good Gospel to say, "Jesus saved you, BUT...only if you believe. If you don't believe how much He loves you, then he really doesn't care about you, so its off to the lake of fire with you to suffer forever and ever!"
Not even Satan could be that evil. That would make God out to be the most horrible being imaginable. "I love you, and this was how much, but if you don't believe it then, good-bye."
1 Tim 4:10 ...savoir of ALL men, especially to those who believe! Not ONLY to those who believe.
You can't be the savoir of the world and not save the world. You can't be the father of 10 children, but you only have 5.
Anyway, I have attached a file with many scriptures to which one would have to make the word ALL or WORLD mean some or few in every case. That just can't be done.
Our God is infinitely greater and more loving than we ever could be. A literal eternal lake of fire for non-believers is not the truth. God's fire is a refining fire! A purifying fire! (If a lake a fire isn't apocalyptic language, then I don't know what is).
Let me begin by saying that my paradigm shift to preterism was due to the overwhelming evidence in Scripture that the Lord had, in fact, returned in the first century generation. When it comes to the subject of universalism, I find the Scriptural evidence overwhelmingly against it, as I hope to show.
This man does a good job giving the universalist's position, so I want to examine what he says against the Bible. He says, "I learned many months ago, and finally came to the glorious understanding of the love that god has for his creation, when the truth was revealed to me that Jesus IS the savoir of the world. Not maybe, or can be, but is!....It's not a very good Gospel to say, 'Jesus saved you, BUT...only if you believe. If you don't believe how much he loves you, then he really doesn't care about you, so its off to the lake of fire with you to suffer forever and ever!'...Not even Satan could be that evil. That would make God out to be the most horrible being imaginable. 'I love you, and this was how much, but if you don't believe it then, good-bye.'"
What is his basic presupposition? It is that God loves everybody, is it not? To show that this is a universalist position, let me give you a couple of quotes from the web site, "Plan Guide to Universalism" ( http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/univ3.html ).
We believe there is one God, whose nature is love; revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.
God is love, and love worketh no ill. 'God is love'. (1 John 4:8) 'Love Worketh no ill'. (Rom. 13:10) This is a very forcible argument. God's nature is the very essence of benevolence, and benevolence cannot be the origin of endless evil. If love worketh no ill, God can work no ill, and, therefore, God cannot be the author of endless evil.
God loves all mankind. 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son' (John 3:16), and, as Jesus died for all men, so God loves all men. This argument adds great force to the last.
So the main presupposition of universalism is that God loves everybody. Does the Bible teach that God loves everybody? NO, it does not!
Romans 9:13 (NKJV) As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."
Paul is quoting from Malachi:
Malachi 1:2-3 (NKJV) "I have loved you," says the LORD. "Yet you say, 'In what way have You loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" Says the LORD. "Yet Jacob I have loved; 3 But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness."
Some say that what Paul is talking about here is the election of a nation as over against nations, and not election of individuals. That's really a foolish argument. If it is unjust for God to select one man over another, why is it okay if he selects one nation over another? Aren't nations made up of individuals?
The quotation from Malachi 1:2 is in reference to the nations that descended from Jacob and Esau, respectfully, Israel and Edom. The prophet is here reproving the Jews for their ingratitude. As a proof of his peculiar favor, God refers to his preference for them from the first
Some try to twist it by saying that hate doesn't mean hate, but it means to "love less," or "to regard and treat with less favor." Hate is used in this way in several passages:
Luke 14:26 (NKJV) "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
Here hate would have the idea of "to regard with less favor." But in the original context of Malachi 1:1-5, loving less hardly fits with the visitation of judgement:
Malachi 1:3-4 (NKJV) But Esau I have hated, And laid waste his mountains and his heritage For the jackals of the wilderness." 4 Even though Edom has said, "We have been impoverished, But we will return and build the desolate places," Thus says the LORD of hosts: "They may build, but I will throw down; They shall be called the Territory of Wickedness, And the people against whom the LORD will have indignation forever.
"Jacob have I loved." God is sovereign in the exercise of His love. What I mean is that He loves whom he chooses to, God does not love everybody. Now I know that when I say that, people get upset, but it is clearly what the Word of God teaches. He didn't love Esau, that is very clear. Now how will you argue, will you say that He loves everyone but Esau?
One of the most popular beliefs of our day is that God loves everybody. But the idea that God loves everybody is a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers or the Puritans will be searched in vain for any such concept. The fact is that the love of God is a truth for the saints only. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus Christ telling sinners that God loved them. In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God's love is never referred to at all. Does that seem odd to you? But when we come to the Epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of the truth:
Hebrews 12:6 (NKJV) For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."
God's love is restricted to the members of His own family. If He loves all men, then the distinction and limitation here mentioned is quite meaningless. God only chastens who He loves, which is a reference to believers, the elect.
What about John 3:16? Does it teach that God loves everybody? It seems to.
John 3:16 (NKJV) "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Doesn't this prove that God loves everybody? No, remember, He hated Esau. You must admit the Bible says that. Let's put it in the form of a syllogism:
Major premise: God hated Esau
Minor premise: Esau is part of the world
Conclusion: God doesn't love everyone in the world.
The word "world" here is not used to mean the entire human race. Do you remember:
Amos 3:2 (NKJV) "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."
Why did God only have a special relationship with Israel and leave all the other nations to walk in darkness? Because He didn't love them, and He loved Israel.
The word "world" often has a relative, rather than an absolute, meaning. For example:
John 12:19 (NKJV) The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, "You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!"
Was everyone in the world going after Jesus? No!
Acts 19:27 (NKJV) "So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship."
Did everyone in the world worship Diana? No!
Romans 1:8 (NKJV) First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
Was everyone in the world speaking of the faith of the Roman believers? I don't think so.
In John 3 Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, a Jew. The Jews believed that God loved only them. What John 3:16 is saying is that God's love is international in its scope, He loves Gentiles as well as Jews.
John 6:33 (NKJV) "For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
He didn't say offers life, but giveth. Gives necessarily implies its acceptance. Does Christ give life to everyone? No, world is here limited to the world of the elect.
John 13:1 (NKJV) Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
Jesus loved those who belonged to Him. God loved Jacob and He hated Esau. Why? God is sovereign in the exercise of His love.
So, God does not love everyone, and Christ did not die for everyone, the atonement was limited. Christ died with the intention of saving His elect. He gave His life "for his sheep" (Jn.10:11). To be sure, the value of Christ's person and work is infinite. His death, therefore, was entirely sufficient to atone for all the sins of all the men who ever lived. But of course, it was not designed to do that. We know this, very simply, because His mission, as He defined it, was to save "those whom the Father had given Him" (Jn.6:37-39). Christ died for "His" sheep.
John 17:2 (NKJV) "as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him.
John 17:9 (NKJV) "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.
Notice that Christ doesn't pray for the world, but only for His sheep-- the elect.
Matthew 20:28 (NKJV) "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
His life was a ransom, not for all, but for many.
Hebrews 9:28 (NKJV) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.
Again, Christ bore the sins of many, not all. The essential issue here concerns the nature of the atonement. Christ's atonement was only for the elect, it was limited. So God does not love everybody and Christ did not die for everybody, but for the elect.
The author of the e-mail also writes, "We can add nothing to Jesus' act on the cross to save us, NOT EVEN BELIEF. Belief/faith is of God, and God is the dispenser of it." I agree! Faith is a gift of God, but it is only given to the elect. Faith is an evidence of God's election:
Acts 13:48 (NKJV) Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
Notice who it was who believed. The ones who were appointed to eternal life believed. Who appointed them? God! Clearly, the reason that they believed is because they were appointed.
John 10:24-26 (NKJV) Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." 25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. 26 "But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.
Many today would say, "You're not of my sheep, because you don't believe." But that's not what our Lord said; He said, "You don't believe, because you are not mine, you're not one of my elect." They didn't believe, because they were not appointed to eternal life.
The author of the e-mail also writes, "The problem with all the belief passages is that when someone finally REALIZES or 'Believes' what Jesus ALREADY did for them, they have great Joy in knowing the Lord God loves them to the point of not failing, because the bible declares that 'God is love' and that 'love never fails'. Belief is not a 'requirement' to be returned back to God in spirit when you die. Belief is that thing that gives us joy RIGHT NOW, KNOWING that it has been accomplished, that the works of the Devil have been undone, and that Jesus is the savoir of the world."
The Bible doesn't say that those who believe will have joy, but eternal life. To not believe is to not have eternal life.
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
Those who believe in Christ have everlasting life, those who don't are under the abiding wrath of God:
Matthew 25:46 (NKJV) "And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The original word here translated, "punishment" means: "torment, or suffering inflicted for crime." The noun is only used one other place in the New Testament-- I John 4:18, "Fear hath torment." The verb from which the noun is derived is used twice:
Acts 4:21 (NKJV) So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.
2 Peter 2:9 (NKJV) then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,
If this word does not teach that the wicked will suffer, no word could express the idea. The word translated "everlasting" is the Greek aionios. The New Testament uses this word sixty-six times. Of these, in fifty-one instances it is used of the happiness of the righteous; in two, of God's existence; in six, of the church, the Messiah's kingdom; and in the remaining seven, of the future punishment of the wicked. If in these seven instances, we attach to the word the idea of limited duration, consistency requires that the same idea of limited duration should be given it in the fifty-one cases of its application to the future glory of the righteous, and the two instances of its application to God's existence, and the six cases of its appropriation to the reign of Messiah and the glory and perpetuity of the church.
Both the punishment and the life are designated by the same adjective, "aionios," clearly indicating their equal duration. It is regrettable that the translators used two different adjectives to translate the word, aionios. If one can be proved to be limited in duration, the other can by the same arguments:
John 5:24 (NKJV) "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will not see life, they are under the wrath of God. Believers have already passed from death to life and will not come into judgement.
Does God have a right to display his wrath? Does He have a right to display His Justice? Yes! Wrath and Justice are as much a part of His character as are mercy, grace and love. Many people have difficulty imagining God finding any glory in His wrath, but He does. He is pleased with His wrath. It is just as much an attribute of God as is His love.
In his book, Almighty Over All, R.C. Sproul Jr. writes this excellent statement: "We cannot imagine God looking at His wrath like unwanted pounds He wants to lose, if only He had the power. No, God is as delighted with His wrath as He is with all of his attributes. Suppose He says, 'What I'll do is create something worthy of my wrath, something on which I can exhibit the glory of my wrath. And on top of that I'll manifest my mercy by showering grace on some of these creatures deserving my wrath.'"
The author of the e-mail also writes, "Anyway, I have attached a file with many scriptures to which one would have to make the word ALL or WORLD mean some or few in every case. That just can't be done."
John 12:32 (NKJV) "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."
Are we to take this to mean that God is drawing everyone to Himself? No, we have already seen that God does not love or choose everybody. And because of that, He does not draw everybody. We need to look at the context of this verse:
John 12:20-22 (NKJV) Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast. 21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
Here we have Greeks who want to see Jesus. What do Gentiles have to do with Christ? He is the Jewish Messiah! "All peoples" here is used of "people of all races." God is going to draw Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, bond and free. This passage doesn't teach universalism.
1 Timothy 2:4 (NKJV) who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Doesn't this teach that God wants all men to be saved? No! Again, we must look at the context:
1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NKJV) Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savoir,
Paul is exhorting them to pray for all men, for kings and for all those in authority. Christianity, in its beginning stages, was made up primarily of slaves and common men. Paul says, "Pray for all men, even kings and rulers, because God will save some of them also." "All men" means men of every station in life and racial origin. It is a removal of racial and social distinctions.
2 Peter 3:9 (KJV) The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Is it God's will that no one perish? Does God want to save all men? I hope that you can already answer this question based upon what we have already seen. Again, we must look at the context of this verse:
2 Peter 3:3-4 (KJV) Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
The Second Coming of Christ is in view here, and scoffers are saying, "Where is He? I thought he promised to come soon." The non-Christian Jews, Judaizers, and other critics of Christianity were heckling the saints with the delay in fulfillment of Christ's predictions to destroy the old and bring in the new heaven and earth. Verse 8 and 9 answer the question that these scoffers ask:
2 Peter 3:8-9 (KJV) But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Who are the "beloved" of verse 8? They are Christian Jews. God has not forgotten His promise; speaking of his promise to return in judgement, destroying the old heaven and earth and establishing the new heaven and earth. Notice who Peter is saying would see the "promise" fulfilled? Some generation way off in the future? No, look at the context (vss. 11, 12, 13,14, 16). Peter is telling his contemporaries, "We are looking for these things" (vs. 13). "He is longsuffering to us-ward" -- is referring to the elect Jews as a whole, waiting for the deliverer to come from ZION. "Not willing that any should perish"-- the antecedent of "any" is the beloved of verse 1. Clearly, Peter is not saying that God wants to save everybody. Jay Green's Interlinear Bible puts it this way, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to US-ward, not willing that ANY OF US should perish, but that ALL OF US should come to repentance." The "us" referring to the elect.
1 John 2:2 (NKJV) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.
This is not teaching that Jesus propitiates for everyone's sins, but that He is the ONLY propitiation that there is. It is not speaking of universal propitiation, but of exclusiveness. In other words, there is no other propitiation other than Jesus Christ. If they don't look to Christ, there is no one else to propitiate for their sins. Jesus is the only propitiation for all the world. Peter tells us this in:
Acts 4:10-12 (NKJV) "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12 "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
So, 1 John 2:2 doesn't support universalism either:
Romans 9:15 (NKJV) For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."
God says, "the principle upon which I work is this, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." That is a formal declaration of divine prerogative. Election is based upon the mercy of God. For God to choose some for salvation is for God to show mercy to those individuals. God is free to show mercy to whom He will.
God is sovereign in the exercise of His mercy. Mercy is not a right to which man is entitled. Mercy is that attribute of God by which He pities and relieves the wretched. The objects of mercy, then, are those who are miserable, and all misery is the result of sin, hence the miserable are deserving of punishment, not mercy. To speak of deserving mercy is a contradiction of terms. God gives mercy to whom He pleases and withholds mercy as it seems good to himself.
Only those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will receive God's mercy, and only those who God has chosen will believe. God's attributes of wrath and justice will be displayed on the non-elect. God does not love, nor will He save "all" men.
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