Will There be a Universal Resurrection? 


The Resurrection of the Responsible
 Whether or not someone will be raised depends on whether they are responsible to the judgment. The basis of our judgment will be how we have responded to our knowledge of God’s word. Christ explained: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him - the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48). Those who have not known or understood the word of Christ, and therefore had no opportunity to accept or reject him, will not be accountable to the judgment. “As many as have sinned without (knowing God’s) law, will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law (i.e. knowing it), will be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12). Thus those who have not known God’s requirements will perish like the animals; whilst those who knowingly break God’s law need to be judged, and therefore raised to face that judgment.
In God’s sight “sin is not imputed when there is no law”; “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 5:13; Rom. 3:20). Without being aware of God’s laws as revealed in His Word, “sin is not imputed” to a person, and therefore they will not be raised or judged. Those who do not know God’s Word will therefore remain dead, as will animals and plants, seeing they are in the same position. “Man who...does not understand, is like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:20). “Like sheep they are laid in the grave” (Ps. 49:14).
It is the knowledge of God’s ways that makes us responsible to Him for our actions and therefore necessitates our resurrection and appearance at the judgment seat. It should therefore be understood that it is not only the righteous or those baptised who will be raised, but also all who are responsible to God by reason of their knowledge of Him. This is an oft-repeated Scriptural theme.

    • Jn. 15:22 shows that knowledge of the Word brings responsibility: “If I (Jesus) had not come and spoken to them, they have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin”. Rom. 1:20,21 likewise says that knowing God leaves men “without excuse”.
    •  “Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father...I (Christ) will raise him up at the last day” (Jn. 6:44,45).
    • The Lord’s attitude at the judgment seat to those who rejected Him in the first century will be: “Bring here those enemies of mine (out of the grave), and slay them before me” (Lk. 19:27).
    •  “Whoever will not hear (i.e. obey) my words…I will require it of him” (Dt. 18:19).
    • God only “overlooked” the actions of those who are genuinely ignorant of His ways. Those who know His ways, He watches and expects a response (Acts 17:30).
    • In the final judgment of the world, it will be “the nations that did not obey” who are condemned (Mic. 5:15 NRSV). Their hearing but not obeying God’s word will be the basis of their punishment.
    • Because Belshazzar knew he ought to submit to God’s superiority, but refused, therefore he was punished (Dan. 5:22).
    • “That servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. (e.g. by remaining dead). For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Lk. 12:47,48) - so how much more God?
    •  “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).
    • Israel’s special responsibility to God was on account of His revelations to them concerning Himself (Am. 3:2). “Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities ...” “and you shall all bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil” (Is. 65:12).
    • Because of this doctrine of responsibility, “it would have been better for them (who later turn back from God) not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Pet. 2:21). Other relevant passages include: Jn. 9:41; 3:19; 1 Tim. 1:13; Hos. 4:14; Deut. 1:39.

Knowledge of God making us responsible to the judgment seat, it follows that those without this knowledge will not be raised, seeing that they do not need to be judged, and that their lack of knowledge makes them “like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:20). There are ample indications that not all who have ever lived will be raised.

    • The people of the ancient nation of Babylon “will ... sleep a perpetual sleep and not awake” after their death because they were ignorant of the true God (Jer. 51:39; Is. 43:17).
    • Isaiah encouraged himself: “O Lord our (Israel’s) God, other masters besides You have had dominion over us (e.g. the Philistines and Babylonians)...They are dead, they will not live (again); they are deceased, they will not rise...all their memory to perish” (Is. 26:13,14). Note the triple emphasis here on their not being raised: “will not live (again)...will not rise...all their memory to perish”. By contrast, Israel had the prospect of resurrection on account of their knowledge of the true God: “Your (Israel’s) dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise” (Is. 26:19).
    • Speaking about God’s people Israel, we are told that at Christ’s return, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2). Thus “many”, but not all, of the Jews will be raised, due to their responsibility to God as His chosen people. Those of them who are totally ignorant of their true God “shall fall, and never rise again”, seeing they are unable to find “the word of the Lord” (Am. 8:12,14).

‘Rising again’ in the Prophets
The argument has been made that ‘not rising again’ refers to not getting up, not arising from the ground in the sense of arising in power. But the passages quoted generally are in the context of death; and therefore the not rising again surely means that they will not recover from death, they will not arise from the dead, rather than from some political fall. Is. 26:14 is a clear example of how the Hebrew poetry rhymes in terms of the ideas:

Their dead

Shall not live

Their deceased

Shall not rise

You visited and destroyed them

Caused all memory of them to perish

Not rising is paralleled with not living; it is a rhyming idea with death and being deceased. It is another take on being destroyed and not remembered over future generations. Indeed, it would be fair to argue here that the Hebrew translated “shall not live”, used as it is here in a causative sense, could be better rendered ‘shall not be made alive’. Hence GNB: “Now they are dead and will not live again”. The argument that ‘not rising’ means ‘they shall not arise in power again’ seems to me rather desperate; and my question would be, if that is indeed the intention of the Hebrew, then why did God not use a word which more unambiguously meant that? The Hebrew translated ‘rise up’ is rather like the Greek egeiro, it is used of resurrection from the dead, but it can also simply mean to stand up. But the argument about an ancient Hebrew word is rather sidelined by the parallel in Is. 26:14 between ‘not rising’ and not being made to live, and being utterly destroyed, deceased and quite simply “dead”.
Other Points

  • If the hope of universal resurrection is indeed part of the Gospel, then it’s fair to ask why it’s not specifically taught up front as being part of the Gospel of the Kingdom? A review of the Gospels and the preaching speeches of Acts fails to yield a single example of any such statement concerning the ‘good news’ of universal resurrection.
  • The punishment for sin is death (Rom. 6:23), as was made clear in the Garden of Eden. This must be given its due weight. There is no need, therefore, for every single human being to be raised in order to be punished for their sins, or for justice to be done. Full weight likewise must be given to the Biblical statements about the nature of man. If we do not have the understanding which leads to responsibility to God, then we are as the animals which perish: “Man who...does not understand, is like the beasts that perish” (Ps. 49:20). “Like sheep they are laid in the grave” (Ps. 49:14). “As many as have sinned without (knowing God’s) law, will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law (i.e. knowing it), will be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12).
  • If those who have not heard are to be raised, then there would be three groups at the resurrection: those who never heard; those who heard but disbelieved; and those who heard and believed. But the Bible is silent about these three groups; the resurrection is to judgment, not to a period of education or instruction. This first group, those who have never heard, are the majority of human population. If indeed the vast majority of human beings are to be raised and taught the Gospel, then the obvious question is why didn’t God teach them in the first place? And how do we cope with the Biblical language of Divine calling, choosing and predestination of some? If in fact all are called, then what point is there in Paul’s whole argument in Romans 9-11 that some were called and others were not? God chooses some clay from the same lump to become something which lasts forever, and other clay He rejects. And Paul says we as the clay cannot adequately engage with Him over this. In fairness, the question is then thrown up as to why God brings humans into existence if He will not call them. We are the clay which cannot engage with the Divine potter over this. But I would say that the answer may be that they exist just as the multitude of plant and animals species, and the size of the cosmos, in order to provide dimension and scale; that out of all that, God loves particularly those whom He has chosen.
  • Those who believe in a universal resurrection and later opportunity for all need to bear in mind the huge scale of what they are proposing- that for some reason, God created people but didn’t call them; and then when Christ returns, He will resurrect the majority of humanity who ever lived [i.e. all of humanity minus those who did hear the Gospel]. They will then have to be given the chance to believe. This would be a massive operation; and it would amount to the majority of God’s work with humanity. This begs the question as to why this is not spoken about up front in the Bible. It appears to me to be the implication required by those who cannot cope with the Biblical statements about humanity being no better than animals by nature; and they have to force through this colossal, cosmic conclusion on very scanty implications from a few Bible verses. That is my honest conclusion on this matter; God can and shall do as He wishes. We cannot draw a circle around God and forbid Him to act outside it. He may do anything, including universal resurrection or universal salvation; my point is simply that the Biblical record doesn’t support those positions.

“All men” being raised in John 5
Whatever these verses mean, they must be interpreted in the light of all the Bible teaching and reasoning presented above.
“For the hour comes, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn. 5:28,29). The point has been well made that mnemeion, “graves”, literally means the memorial tombs- those who are remembered, by God. Even if we insist on reading the “all” here as literally “all”, believers in universal resurrection are stuck with their insistence that this mass resurrection of all humanity will be in order to give the majority the opportunity to hear the Gospel, and then come to some kind of [dimly specified] further judgment. But let’s continue reading: they “shall come forth; they that have done good, to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation”. The participants in this resurrection come forth to judgment, and to either eternal life or death. The preceding verses make it clear that judgment is in view: “The hour comes and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given the Son life in himself.  And He has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is a Son of Man” (Jn. 5:25-27).
There is no hint whatsoever that the majority of them will come forth to some in between state, in order to pass through some period of probation. These people come forth to judgment, and so the “all” must surely be read as referring to the “all” who are responsible to judgment, and who will receive eternal life or condemnation at the point of their resurrection and judgment. If we insist on reading “all” literally, then we would have to read mnemeion literally- all those in graves shall be resurrected; and many have died without graves. The context surely requires that the “all” who are in view here are those who will be liable to judgment, and their destiny will be decided by the nature of the resurrection they receive- hence the language of the resurrection of condemnation and the resurrection to [eternal] life. Anyone with any even outline familiarity with Semitic languages will know that “all” is not to be read literally. It is the “all” within a pool of persons or situation which the context defines. And the “all” here clearly refers to those who are responsible to judgment. Even reading the Bible in English translations makes it clear that “all” rarely means ‘every single one’. Just a few examples of many:
“All Jerusalem” was troubled at the news of Christ’s birth (Mt. 2:3); not every single man, woman and child, for they likely never heard the message of the wise men which troubled Herod and “all” those within the Jerusalem leadership.
“All” Judea and transJordan went out to John the Baptist and were baptized (Mt. 3:5); again, not literally every single man, woman and child. We can hardly imagine John baptizing newborn infants in Jordan.
“All” the sick people of Syria were healed of their diseases (Mt. 4:24)- surely all who came to Jesus were healed. Again, we have to define the scope of the “all” from the context, rather than simplistically insisting that “all” means literally all in a global sense.
“You shall be hated of all men” (Mt. 10:22)- not literally, but “all” of those within the category of the unbelieving.
The mustard seed is not the smallest of “all seeds” (Mt. 13:32) on a global level; at best, it might be the smallest of all seeds known within Israel.
“All things” [Gk. pas, not as in AV “any thing”] that believers ask will be done for them (Mt. 18:19; 21:22)- but that has to be qualified by other Scripture which teaches that this “all things” depends upon those all things being within the circle of God’s will. Again, the “all” is not literally “all”.
The “all men” who are gathered to the Kingdom are not literally all men, for not all hear the Gospel of the Kingdom; they are all whom the preachers “found” (Mt. 22:10).
Mt. 22:28 in Greek reads literally “all men had her [to wife]”. The “all” clearly refers to the seven husbands spoken of in the context.
“All men seek for You” (Mk. 1:37) refers to the “all men” in the context, which is of a town in Israel; not the whole planet.
John the Baptist came so that “all men through him might believe” (Jn. 1:7). The reference is not to the entire planet, but to the “all men” who heard John’s message in Israel.
The woman at the well marvelled that Jesus had told her “all things that I ever did” (Jn. 4:39). But she was referring not to literally all things in her life, but to all things of her marital life; and that is defined in the context.
The Old Testament prophecy that “They shall all be taught of God” is defined as “Every man who has heard and learned of the Father” (Jn. 6:45). Note that the Greek pas occurs twice here- “all” [taught of God] and “every” man. The same double usage of pas is to be found in Jn. 17:2: “You gave him authority over all flesh, so that he should give eternal life to all whom You have given him”. The “all men” is defined as those who shall be ultimately saved, not literally everyone.
The cross drew “all men” unto Christ (Jn. 12:32)- the “all” of the group within God’s purpose for salvation, but not literally all men as in every single man, woman and child.
And so we could continue. “All” simply does not mean “all” in a literal, global sense. This is particularly the case in John’s Gospel, where “all men” appears to refer to a specific group, the believers, the saved. The reference in John 5 to “all men” being raised simply has to be read in this context.
“The grace of God has appeared… to all men”
Titus 2:11-14 further defines this “all men”: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men.  It trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and Godly lives in this present age, as we look for the blessed hope : The manifesting of the glory of the great God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us…”. The “all men” is those to whom God’s grace has appeared; the “we” and “us” in view are clearly believers, and they are described as “all things” in Paul’s writings (Eph. 1:10; 3:9; 4:10; Col. 1:16-18,20 ). Tit. 2:11 says that God’s grace “appeared” to all men; the word means literally to appear as a light, and the same word is to be found soon afterwards, in Tit. 3:4, where we learn that God’s grace “appeared” towards us ; and it is the same word as in Lk. 1:79, where we read that the work of the Lord Jesus was to “give light” (s.w. ‘appear’) to those that sit in darkness, “to guide our feet into the way of peace”. The ‘appearance’ was therefore not to every person, but to those who see the light. These are the “all men” who are in view in Titus 2. Even in the first century, the Gospel had been made known to “all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). But we have to read in an ellipsis here- the Gospel went to people from all nations, not to literally every person in every nation; and the “all nations” would appear to refer to the nations around Israel, for surely the apostles didn’t take the Gospel to every nation of South America or Australia in the first century. Likewise in Col. 1:6: “That Gospel is come to you, even as it has also come to all the world, bearing fruit and increasing, as it does in you also”. The “all the world” who heard was not literally every person.
FOOTNOTE: Children Who Die
God can and shall do as He wishes. We cannot draw a circle around God and forbid Him to act outside it. He may do anything, including universal resurrection or universal salvation; my point is simply that the Biblical record doesn’t support those positions. It could be argued from 1 Cor. 7 that the children of believers are somehow ‘covered’ in some way by their parents. But that is a different proposition to universal resurrection. The faith of the friends led to the paralyzed man being ‘raised up’ and forgiven (Mk. 2:5). But this again does not give any hint towards universal resurrection.
Duncan Heaster
Commentary on other passages:
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3, 4 NKJB)
Again, “all men” doesn’t mean every human being who has ever lived; I have demonstrated that above. If God desires all to know His Truth then why have the majority of humanity never heard it… And the text says He desires all to be saved. But only very few will be saved… so the Bible states many times. So God’s desire didn’t come to fulfilment. If God wants all to know the Truth, we either have to invent the idea of all being raised and given a chance, or, have another look at whether “all men” means every single human being. And I have explained above why I go for that option, because “all men” is clearly not used elsewhere with reference to all human beings of all times. The passage continues: “who gave himself as a ransom for all”. The “all” are those who benefit from the Lord’s death, the ransom payment. For even if there were universal resurrection, there is not going to be universal salvation. So the “all” who are ransomed is not literally everyone, for not all will be ransomed- some will not be saved / ransomed. They prefer to stay in bondage to sin.
“…John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). I suggest “the world” in John’s writings refers often to the Jewish world (note Jn. 8:26; 9:5; 12:19,31; 14:19; 16:20; 18:20); looking through how that phrase is used in John , it simply cannot mean every human being on the whole planet, nor does it refer to ‘planet earth’. John 1:9 begins by saying that “the world” is comprised of those who are enlightened… Logic is rather lacking in using these verses in John to prove universal resurrection; what they speak of is universal salvation of “the world”. But seeing not literally all men will be saved, we must therefore redefine the scope of “the world”, just as we have to when considering the phrase “all men”, as demonstrated above.
“Clearly God no longer overlooks ignorance of the Gospel because of one’s never hearing it - all will be judged, including those who were earlier ignorant of the Gospel”. This makes no sense to me, if knowledge is the basis for judgment [see above], then how can people be judged for what they didn’t know about. Why raise ignorant people to judgment? There is a time of judgment coming on the world, yes, and those who hear of it need to repent.
Acts 24:15: “…there is going to be a resurrection both of [1] the righteous and [2] the unrighteous.” (HCSB). If this means universal resurrection, then surely a 3rd group is required- the ignorant who will then be taught the Gospel. But such a group doesn’t feature here. Those resurrected are righteous or unrighteous and will be judged accordingly.
“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” (Rev. 20:13). If this refers to the end of the 1000 years, then it could equally refer to those who die during the 1000 years. However, I am not very persuaded of the idea of a 1000 year reign; it is based on one figurative passage at the end of Revelation. If the Gospel of the kingdom involves belief that the everyone will be raised, I’d expect it to be taught far earlier than the end of Revelation, and to feature in the apostolic preaching. But it doesn’t. 
“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope” (1Thess. 4:13). This seems to me to mean what it says- they have no hope. The obvious meaning of the words and context of the reasoning seems to be being overlooked by those who insist on universal resurrection.
“Many (Heb. rabbim) of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, [1] these to everlasting life, but [2] the others to disgrace and everlasting (Heb. olam) contempt” (Dan. 12:2 NASB). Again, the resurrection is the time of judgment. One would expect a 3rd group, numerically by far the largest, to be mentioned- those who need to be raised and taught the Gospel. But we don’t encounter that at all. Whether “many” means ‘multitudes’ or ‘just some’ becomes irrelevant- because the required ‘third group’ aren’t mentioned anyway.