[For the previous article in this series, see All in the Family.]
Would it surprise you to learn that the prevailing teaching in Christendom regarding the salvation of Mankind actually paints Yahweh[i] as cruel and unfair? That may seem like a brazen statement, but consider the facts. If you are in one of the mainstream churches, you have likely been taught that when you die, you will go either to Heaven or Hell. The general idea is that the faithful are rewarded with eternal life in Heaven with God, and those that reject the Christ with eternal damnation in Hell with Satan.
While many religious people in this modern scientific age no longer believe in Hell as a real place of fiery eternal torment, they continue to believe that the good go to heaven, and leave the dispensation of the bad to God. The essence of this belief is that the bad do not rate salvation upon death, but the good do.
Complicating this belief is the fact that until quite recently, being saved meant sticking to one’s own particular brand of Christianity. While it is no longer socially acceptable to say that everyone who isn’t of your faith will go to Hell, it cannot be denied that this has been the prevailing teaching of Christendom’s churches since the false doctrine of Hell was invented.[ii] Indeed, many churches still hold to this teaching, though they only speak of it among themselves, sotto voce, to preserve the illusion of political correctness.
Outside of mainstream Christianity, we have other religions that are not so subtle about proclaiming their exclusive hold on salvation as a privilege of membership. Among these we have Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims—to name but three.
Of course, the reason behind this teaching is simple brand loyalty. The leaders of any religion cannot have their followers running off, willy nilly, to the nearest competing faith just because they’re not happy with something in the church. While true Christians are governed by love, church leaders realize that something else is needed for humans to rule over the minds and hearts of others. Fear is the key. The way to ensure loyalty to one’s brand of Christianity is by making the rank and file believe that if they leave, they will die—or worse, be tortured by God for all eternity.
The idea of people having a second chance at life after death undermines their fear-based control. So every church has its own particular version of what we might call the “One-Chance Doctrine” of salvation. At its core, this doctrine teaches the believer that his or her only chance to be saved occurs as a result of choices made in this life. Blow it now and it’s ‘Goodbye Charlie’.
Some might disagree with this assessment. For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses might argue that they don’t teach any such thing, but rather teach that those who have already died will be resurrected on earth and get a second chance at salvation under the millennial reign of Jesus Christ. While it is true they teach a second chance for the dead, it is also true that the living who survive to Armageddon get no such second chance. Witnesses preach that of the billions of men, women, children, infants, and babes-in-arms that survive to Armageddon all will die eternally, unless they convert to the JW faith.[iv] So the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses is very much a “one-chance doctrine” of salvation, and the additional teaching that those already dead will be resurrected allows the JW leadership to effectively hold the dead hostage for the living. If Witnesses don’t remain loyal to the Governing Body, then they will die for all eternity at Armageddon and lose all hope of ever seeing their dead loved ones again. This control is fortified by the repeated teaching that Armageddon is imminent.[iii]
(Based on Witness doctrine, if you want a second chance at life, your best choice is to kill your family, and then commit suicide the day before Armageddon strikes. While this statement may seem disrespectful and facetious, it is a valid and practical scenario based on Witness eschatology.)
To try to get around the cruelty and injustice that the “One-Chance Doctrine” of salvation forces upon the believer, scholars have invented[v] various doctrinal solutions to the problem down through the years—Limbo and Purgatory being but two of the more prominent ones.
If you are a Catholic, Protestant, or an adherent to any of the minor Christian denominations, you will have to admit that upon examination, what you have been taught about the salvation of Mankind paints God as cruel and unfair. Let’s face it: the playing field is not even close to level. Does a young boy, stolen from his family in some African village and forced to become a child soldier, get the same chance at being saved as a Christian child raised in an affluent suburb of America and given a religious upbringing? Does a 13-year-old Indian girl sold into the virtual slavery of an arranged marriage have any reasonable chance of coming to know and put faith in the Christ? When the dark clouds of Armageddon appear, would some Tibetan sheepherder feel that he was given a fair chance “to make the right choice”? And what about the billions of children on earth today? What chance does any child, from newborn to adolescent, have of properly understanding what’s at stake—assuming they even live in a place where they have some exposure to Christianity?
Even with our collective conscience clouded by imperfection and warped by a world dominated by Satan, we can easily see that the “One-Chance Doctrine” of salvation is unfair, unjust, and unrighteous. Yet Yahweh is none of these things. Indeed, he is the basis for all that is fair, just, and righteous. So we don’t even have to consult the Bible to seriously doubt the divine origin of the various manifestations of the “One-Chance Doctrine” taught by Christendom’s churches. It makes far more sense to see all these as what they truly are: the teachings of men determined to rule over and control others.
Cleaning Up the Mind
Therefore, if we are going to understand salvation as taught in the Bible, we have to clear away the clutter of indoctrination that fills our mind. To this end, let us address the teaching of the immortal human soul.
The doctrine to which most of Christendom holds is that all humans are born with an immortal soul which goes on living after the body dies.[vi] This teaching is harmful as it undermines the Bible teaching about salvation. You see, while the Bible says nothing about humans having an immortal soul, it does say much about the reward of everlasting life for which we should strive. (Mt 19:16; John 3:14, 15, 16; 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:40; Ro 2:6; Gal 6:8; 1Ti 1:16; Titus 1:2; Jude 21) Consider this: If you have an immortal soul, you already have everlasting life. Thus, your salvation then becomes a question of location. You already live forever, so the question is only about where you will live—in Heaven, in Hell, or in some other place.
The teaching of an immortal human soul makes a mockery of Jesus’ teaching about the faithful inheriting everlasting life, doesn’t it? One cannot inherit what one already possesses. The teaching of an immortal soul is just another version of the original lie Satan told Eve: “You certainly will not die.” (Ge 3:4)
The Solution to the Unsolvable
“Who really can be saved?…With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)
Let’s look at the original situation as simply as possible.
All men were given the prospect of living forever as humans because they would all be God’s children through Adam and inherit life from the Father, Yahweh. We lost that prospect because Adam sinned and was cast out of the family, disinherited. Humans were no longer God’s children, but merely part of his creation, no better than the beasts of the field. (Ec 3:19)
This situation was further complicated by the fact that humans were accorded free will. Adam chose self-rule. If we want to become children of God, we must be willing to accept that option freely without coercion nor manipulation. Yahweh will not seduce us, induce us, nor coerce us back into His family. He wants his children to love him of their own free will. So for God to save us, He will have to provide an environment that gives us a just, fair, unencumbered chance to make up our own minds as to whether we want to return to Him or not. That is the course of love and “God is love”. (1 John 4:8)
Yahweh did not impose his will upon Mankind. We were given free rein. In the first epoch of human history, that eventually led to a world full of violence. The Flood was a great reset, and set limits to Man’s excess. From time to time, Yahweh reinforced those limits as was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah, but this was done to protect the Woman’s Seed and to avoid chaos. (Ge 3:15) Nevertheless, within such reasonable limits, Mankind still had full self-determination. (There are additional factors why this was allowed that are not strictly relevant to the issue of salvation and thus beyond the scope of this series.[vii]) Nevertheless, the result was an environment wherein the bulk of humanity could not be given a fair chance at salvation. Even in an environment that was established by God—ancient Israel under Moses for instance—the majority could not break free from the negative effects of tradition, oppression, fear of man, and other factors that block the free flow of thought and purpose.
Evidence of this can be seen in Jesus’ ministry.
“. . .Then he started to reproach the cities in which most of his powerful works had taken place, because they did not repent: 21 “Woe to you, Cho·raʹzin! Woe to you, Beth·saʹi·da! because if the powerful works had taken place in Tyre and Siʹdon that took place in YOU, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Consequently I say to YOU, It will be more endurable for Tyre and Siʹdon on Judgment Day than for YOU. 23 And you, Ca·perʹna·um, will you perhaps be exalted to heaven? Down to Haʹdes you will come; because if the powerful works that took place in you had taken place in Sodʹom, it would have remained until this very day. 24 Consequently I say to YOU people, It will be more endurable for the land of Sodʹom on Judgment Day than for you.”” (Mt 11:20-24)
The people of Sodom were wicked and so were destroyed by God. Yet, they will be resurrected on Judgment Day. The people of Chorazin and Bethsaida were not considered wicked in the manner of the Sodomites, yet they were more condemned by Jesus because of their hard hearts. Nevertheless, they too will come back.
The people of Sodom were not born wicked, but became that way due to their environment. Likewise, those of Chorazin and Bethsaida were influenced by their traditions, their leaders, peer pressure, and all the other elements that exert undue influence on a person’s free will and self-determination. These influences are so strong that it kept those people from recognizing Jesus as coming from God, even though they saw him heal all manner of illness and even raise the dead. Yet, these ones will get a second chance.
Imagine a world free of all such negative influence. Imagine a world where there is no Satanic presence; a world where the traditions and prejudices of men are a thing of the past? Imagine being free to think and reason freely without fear of reprisal; a world where no human authority can impose its will on you to ‘adjust your thinking’ to its view. Only in such a world would the playing field be truly level. Only in such a world would all the rules apply equally to all the people. Then, and only then, would everyone have the opportunity to exercise his or her free will and choose whether to return to the Father or not.
How can such a blessed environment be achieved? Clearly, it is impossible with Satan around. Even with him gone, human governments would make it unattainable. So they would have to go as well. Indeed, for this to work, every form of human rule would have to be eradicated. Yet, if there is no rule, there would be chaos. The strong would soon dominate the weak. On the other hand, how would any form of rule avoid the age-old adage: “Power corrupts”.
For men, this is impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. (Mt 19:26) The solution to the problem was held in secret for some 4,000 years, until Christ. (Ro 16:25; Mr 4:11, 12) Yet, God had purposed for this solution to come about from the very start. (Mt 25:34; Eph 1:4) Yahweh’s solution was to establish an incorruptible form of government which would provide the environment for the salvation of all humankind. It began with the head of that government, Jesus Christ. Though he was God’s only-begotten Son, more was needed than a good pedigree. (Col 1:15; John 1:14, 18)
“…though being a Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered, and having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all those obeying Him…” (He 5:8, 9 BLB)
Now, if all that were needed was the ability to make laws, then one king would be sufficient, especially if that king were the glorified Lord Jesus Christ. However, more is needed to ensure equality of choice. Besides removing external pressures, there are the internal ones. While God’s power can undo the damage done by such horrors as child abuse, he draws the line at manipulating one’s free will. He will remove negative manipulation, but he doesn’t compound the problem by engaging in manipulation of his own, even if we might see that as positive. Therefore, he will provide help, but people must accept the help willingly. How can he do that?
The Bible speaks of two resurrections, one of the righteous and another of the unrighteous; one to life and the other to judgment. (Acts 24:15; John 5:28, 29) The first resurrection is of the righteous to life, but with a very specific end in view.
“Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Re 20:4-6)
Those in the first resurrection will rule as kings, will judge, and will serve as priests. Over whom? Since there are only two, then it must be that they will rule over those making up the unrighteous, who will return to a resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28, 29)
It would be unfair if the unrighteous were brought back merely to be judged on the basis of what they did in this life. This would simply be yet another version of the “one-chance doctrine” of salvation, which we’ve already seen misrepresents God as unfair, unjust, and cruel. Additionally, those being summarily judged have no need of priestly ministrations. Yet these ones making up the first resurrection are priests. Their work involves the “healing of the nations”—as we’ll see in a subsequent article. (Re 22:2)
In short, the purpose of having kings, judges, and priests work alongside and under Jesus Christ as the Messianic King is to level the playing field. These ones are tasked with giving all humans that fair and equal opportunity at salvation which they are now denied due to the inequities of the current system of things.
Who are these righteous ones?
The Children of God
Romans 8:19-23 speaks of the Children of God. The revealing of these ones is something which the creation (Mankind alienated from God) has been awaiting. Through these Sons of God, the rest of humanity (the creation) will also be set free and have the same glorious freedom that is already the inheritance of God’s Sons through Christ.
“…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Ro 8:21 ESV)
Jesus came to gather the Children of God. The preaching of the Good News of the Kingdom is not about the immediate salvation of Mankind. It is not a one-chance-only doctrine of salvation. By the preaching of the Good News, Jesus gathers the “chosen ones.” These are the Children of God by means of whom the rest of Mankind can be saved.
Great power and authority will be given to such ones, so they must be incorruptible. If the sinless Son of God had to be perfected (He 5:8, 9), it follows that those born in sin must also be tested and perfected before they can be given such awesome responsibility. How remarkable that Yahweh can invest such confidence in imperfect humans!
“knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith produces endurance. 4 But let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” (Jas 1:3, 4)
“Because of this you are greatly rejoicing, though for a short time, if it must be, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being tested by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Pe 1:6, 7)
Throughout history, there have been rare individuals who have been able to put faith in God despite all manner of obstacles that Satan and his world put in their way. Often with very little to go on, such ones have displayed great faith. They did not need the hope clearly spelled out. Their faith was based on the belief in God’s goodness and love. That was more than enough for them to endure all manner of tribulation and persecution. The world was not worthy of such ones, and continues to be unworthy of them. (He 11:1-37; He 11:38)
Is God unfair that only individuals with such extraordinary faith are considered worthy?
Well, is it unfair that humans don’t have the same abilities as angels? Is it unfair that angels cannot procreate as humans do? Is it unfair that women and men are different and have somewhat different roles in life? Or are we applying the idea of fairness to something where it is not relevant?
Does not fairness come into play in situations where all have been offered the same thing? All humans were offered, through our original parents, the opportunity to be called children of God with the attendant inheritance that includes everlasting life. All humans were also granted free will. So to be truly fair, God must offer all humans an equal opportunity to exercise their free will to choose whether or not to become his children and inherit everlasting life. The means by which Yahweh achieves that purpose is outside the question of fairness. He chose Moses to free the nation of Israel. Was that unfair to the rest of his compatriots? Or to his siblings like Aaron or Miriam, or Korah? They thought so at one point, but were set right, because God has the right to choose the right man (or woman) for the job.
In the case of his Chosen Ones, the Children of God, he chooses on the basis of faith. That tested quality refines the heart to the point where he can declare as righteous even sinners and invest in them the authority to rule with Christ. It is a remarkable thing.
Faith is not the same as belief. Some claim that all God needs to do in order that people believe is to manifest himself and remove all doubt. Not so! For instance, He manifested himself through ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and the awe-inspiring manifestations of His presence on Mount Sinai, yet at the base of that very mountain, his people still proved faithless and worshipped the Golden Calf. Belief doesn’t cause a meaningful change in a person’s attitude and life course. Faith does! Indeed, even angels who existed in the very presence of God rebelled against him. (Jas 2:19; Re 12:4; Job 1:6) Genuine faith is a rare commodity. (2Th 3:2) Nevertheless, God is merciful. He knows our limitations. He knows that simply revealing himself at the appropriate time will not result in enduring mass conversions. For the majority of humankind, more is needed, and the Children of God will provide it.
However, before we can get into that, we have to address the question of Armageddon. This Bible teaching has been so misrepresented by the world’s religions as to present a major impediment to our understanding of God’s mercy and love. Therefore, this will be the topic of the next article.
[i] There are different renderings for the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or JHVH) in English. Many favor Jehovah over Yahweh, while still others prefer a different rendering. In the minds of some, the use of Jehovah implies affiliation with Jehovah’s Witnesses because of their century-long association with and promotion of this rendering of the Divine Name. However, the use of the Jehovah can be traced back many hundreds of years and is one of several valid and common renderings. Originally, the pronunciation of the “J” in English was closer to the Hebrew “Y”, but it has changed in modern times from a voiceless to a fricative sound. Thus it is no longer the closest pronunciation to the original in the minds of most Hebrew scholars. That being said, the feeling of the author is that the exact pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton is impossible to achieve at present and shouldn’t be taken as of great importance. What is important is that we use God’s name when teaching others, as his name represents his person and character. Still, since Yahweh appears to be closer to the original, I’m opting for that in the remainder of these articles. However, when writing specifically for Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ll continue to use Jehovah bearing in mind Paul’s example. (2 Co 9:19-23)
[ii] While it is not our belief that Hell is a real place where God tortures the wicked eternally, it is beyond the scope of this article to get into a detailed analysis. There is much on the internet to demonstrate that the teaching originates from a time when the Church fathers married Jesus’ illustrative use of the valley of Hinnom with ancient pagan beliefs in a torturous underworld dominated by Satan. However, to be fair to those who believe in the doctrine, our next article will explain the reasons upon which we base our belief that the doctrine is false.
[iii] “Armageddon is imminent.” – GB member Anthony Morris III during the final talk at the 2017 Regional Convention.
[iv] “To receive everlasting life in the earthly Paradise we must identify that organization and serve God as part of it.” (w83 02/15 p.12)
[v] To say “invented” is accurate since none of these doctrines can be found in Holy Scripture, but come from mythology or the speculation of men.
[vi] This teaching is unscriptural. If anyone should disagree, then please provide the Scriptures that prove it using the commenting section following this article.
[vii] The situation that developed between Yahweh and Satan over the integrity of Job indicates that more was involved than simply the salvation of humankind.