What happens to people who have never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ?
Today I want to separate all of humanity into three basic groups. The largest group is a group of people who have heard about Jesus Christ. Jesus says in John 12:48 “There is a judge for the person who rejects me and does not accept my words; my very words will condemn them on the last day.” He also says elsewhere that” if you deny me before others, then I will deny you before my father.” (Matt 10:33) And so from these verses and many others, it is very clear that the Bible teaches that anyone who makes the conscious choice to reject Jesus Christ as their personal Savior will also spend eternity apart from Christ.
The next group of people is a smaller group of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ, thus never having the opportunity to reject him. What happens to this group? There are three criteria upon which this smaller group of people will be judged. First of all, God says “I’ve left enough evidence in creation so that anyone can look around and see that there has to be a God, so that on the day of judgment, everyone is without an excuse.” Secondly, God has left a remnant of himself inside every single human being that has ever lived in the form of a conscience. Romans chapter 2 says that Gentiles (or those that do not know God) will instinctively do things that are consistent with the Word of God because God has left a piece or a remnant of himself inside of them. (Rom 2:14-15) And so on the day of judgment one of the criteria that God will use is how obedient or how disobedient a person was to their conscience. The third and final criteria that I believe God will use to judge people who have not heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ is their sins. The Bible says that on the day of judgment the books will be opened and men will be judged according to what they have done, which supports the idea that I personally believe, that the Bible says that in hell there’s going to be different levels of punishment. Luke chapter 12 says that the servant who knew his master’s will but did not do it will be beaten with many lashes but the servant that did not know his master’s will and didn’t do it will be beaten with few. And so I personally believe that God will judge people who have not heard of the Gospel according to the light in which they were given.
The third group of people includes those who are unable to have ever heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This could include babies who died prematurely or those who are mentally retarded. These are people who were mentally or physically unable to observe the creation, they couldn’t violate their own conscience and they never had the opportunity to reject or accept Jesus Christ. The Bible doesn’t say a lot about this smaller group of people. Some theologians will point to the example of King David who lost his son and David seemed very confident that he would see his son again in heaven. Other theologians will point to the character of God and say because God is compassionate, he is slow to anger, he is abounding in love, that it would be logical to assume that God would not send a group of people who were unable to, mentally or physically, to make a decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ to hell. But we must always remember that God is not logical or illogical, he is theological, which means there are some decisions that he may make that we may not understand.
Finally, I want to remind all of us that none of us deserves to go to heaven and so if God so chooses to allow some people to go and others not to, that’s his decision. For example, if I choose to give this dollar bill away to somebody, I’m not wrong for not giving it away to somebody else because at the end of the day this dollar bill belongs to me. And in the same way, because heaven belongs to God, he has the right to give it away to ever he wants.