I watched a debate between a Christian and a member of the body of Christ the other night, over whether Universal Reconciliation was scriptural or not. There’s a lot that I could discuss about it, but one thing stood out in particular. The “against” debater pointed out that Jesus stated some people would not be saved. And you know what? He’s absolutely right. And yet, at the same time, the “affirmative” debater’s point that everyone will be saved was also true. But how could that be so?
Well, it’s similar to if I pointed out that, among a group of 4 people, they each had a quarter, but that at the same time only 1 of them had a quarter, and that both statements were equally true. It’s actually really simple how this could be the case: all 4 people had a piece of a pie, each an equal sized slice of the pie that made up the whole pie when put together, but only one of these people had a 25-cent coin in their pocket. You see, words can refer to different things, and the same goes for both the word “quarter” and the word “saved” (or “salvation“).
What few Christians are aware of today is that Jesus was talking about something very different from the salvation you’re likely thinking of when you hear or read the word. When Jesus walked the earth, He came only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Gospel He was proclaiming was the Good News of the Kingdom, which was the Good News that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, meaning it was ready to begin on earth (specifically in Israel), and was indeed already in their midst in the person of its Messiah and future king (Himself). In order to get to live in the kingdom when it begins in Israel (there is admittedly a little more to it than this, but this is basically what the salvation they were looking forward to was at its simplest; it had nothing to do with getting to live in an ethereal afterlife dimension called heaven as ghosts, and everything to do with getting to live in Israel when the kingdom begins in earnest there), His audience of Israelites had to believe that He is the Messiah and the Son of God (note that there’s nothing in that passage about them having to trust in His death for our sins) in order to be saved, but they also had to perform good works and endure to the end in order to maintain their salvation. In addition, those to whom Jesus spoke directly also had to follow Him, which is impossible to do today since He isn’t currently walking around Israel to follow, and the part of the heavens He’s currently in is much too far away to get to, so you can’t follow Him around whichever heavenly throne room He’s in either.
Those who didn’t believe and perform the required beliefs and required works weren’t saved, meaning they won’t get to live in Israel during the Millennium, and possibly not during the final age after that either (the references to “hell” in the KJV being primarily about missing out on the kingdom in Israel at that time because one is dead, and the figurative statements about fire generally referred to those who actually will be alive during that time, but who will be weeping and gnashing their teeth because they aren’t allowed to live with the resurrected patriarchs in the kingdom in Israel either, instead having to live in the “outer darkness” of the parts of the world that are far from the light of the kingdom).
After His death and resurrection, and ascension into the heavens, however, He gave a new Gospel known by various names, but perhaps best known as Paul’s Gospel, to the apostle of the nations (Paul), which is the Good News that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day (Jesus and His disciples couldn’t have been teaching this Good News while He walked the earth when they were proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, because His disciples didn’t understand that He was going to die). As Paul explained in various places throughout his epistles, the result of this Good News is that everyone who is dying (and hence sinful) because of what Adam did will be quickened (made immortal, and hence sinless) because of what Christ did, but each in their own order: Christ the first fruits (meaning the body of Christ — excluding its Head, unless you believe Jesus was also directly suffering the effects of Adam’s sin — specifically the relatively small number of people to whom God has elected to give the faith to believe what Paul’s Gospel actually means), then those who are His at His coming (meaning the Israel of God, specifically those who believe what I wrote about the Gospel of the Kingdom in my first paragraph), and finally the rest of them (or “the end” of them, meaning everyone else who is still dying — as well as those who have died — because of what Adam did). God really is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe (not exclusively of those that believe). And yes, believers do get a special, earlier salvation from everyone else (and so when Paul wrote about people missing out on salvation, this is what he was referring to), known figuratively as ”eternal life,” but Paul was clear in 1 Corinthians 15 that all three groups of people will eventually experience salvation because of what Christ did, even though each in their own order.
It’s vitally important to realize that the Circumcision writings (basically anything that isn’t among the 13 epistles signed by Paul) were meant for the Israel of God (although they are still true and useful to those of us in the body of Christ), while the Uncircumcision writings (Paul’s 13 epistles) are the marching orders for the body of Christ.
If you’d like to learn more about what it means to rightly divide the word of truth (which is a term that refers to the Good News, not to the Bible), and what it was the opposing side of the debate didn’t understand, I wrote about it in detail in this article here.