What happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus?

This is part one of a two-part series

  1. What happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus?
  2. God greets an unsaved person in Heaven

One of the questions I have been asked recently is: what happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus Christ? Let’s go to the bible and see what it says.

I am cautious in writing about this because I have noticed that Jesus didn’t threaten anyone and He only spoke about judgement or hell or anything like that to people who were followers or if they were teachers, scribes or pharisees. We can learn so much from what Jesus did and trying to understand His choices really illuminates the way we should live. Jesus didn’t threaten people who He was talking to and we in the church should learn from Him. He lived His life as an example. His actions and choices spoke louder than His words. His life literally SHOUTED about God – the power, the love, the authority, the supremeness – it could all be seen in His life.

It can’t be emphasized enough that then Jesus spoke to the average person, He spoke not in threats but in promises about a powerful Kingdom of loving people who love one another.

According to the bible there are three (or possibly four) kinds of people:

1. Christians who believe in Jesus Christ go to Heaven

Period. End of story. It’s worth noting that the NT does provide some clear indications about who is saved. For example if our lives don’t change and we don’t begin to love others, then the bible says we’ve not actually come to Him and been saved.

But in general, the rule of thumb is that Christians who ACTIVELY BELIEVE in Jesus Christ are saved and will not go through the judgement… but that is hotly contested by some. Some verses indicate we will be called to account for our actions too.

2. People who have rejected Jesus as their saviour go to hell

I imagine that sticks in the throat of some. But what can I tell you… that’s what the bible says. Evil doers go to hell too – but we’ll cover that in point 4.

3. Jews

The book of Romans indicates a possible special dispensation for the Jewish race… but that is hotly contested. Some say that they do not have to accept Christ Jesus and the God of the OT will reveal Himself to them asthe OT God, bypassing the whole Jesus thing. I am sorry, but I do not see any scripture to support this. The book of Romans makes it clear, Jesus is the Messiah and that all are now children of Abraham. It also says that God will re-connect Jewish people back into the vine from which they have been cut off from. They will be restored. But the restoration MUST include them recognizing their Messiah. Jesus Christ said so Himself.

4. People who have NEVER heard and been challenged

This is the focus of this post.

In explaining what happens at judgement, it’s not my intention to condemn anyone, but to explain the hope that is spelled out clearly in the bible. The hope of living a life forever in the presence of a loving God.

The only way to BE SURE that you’ll go to heaven is to turn away from your sinful life and turn to Christ Jesus. It is the only way TO BE SURE of salvation.

But in this post we’re dealing with those who have not heard and therefore have not rejected Jesus Christ.

NOTE: In these passages the people who symbolize not having heard about Jesus are called “gentiles”. The people who symbolize having heard and who have been challenged are called “Jews”. It’s symbolic… an illustration. (If you are Jewish, it is not my intention to offend you.)

In Romans 1 the bible establishes that everyone knows there is a God. Essentially they only have to look outside their window to know that there is a God.

For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. The result was that their minds became dark and confused. – Romans 1:18-21

So that establishes clearly that everyone has an idea that there is a God. Even if they are born deep inside the amazon jungle and have never heard of Jesus, they know there is a God.

Now we need to know if everyone (even if they have never heard of Jesus) will go through a judgement. Let’s skip past the passages that speak of people who KNOW that God is good and have CHOSEN to reject Him. Let’s skip to Romans 2:5-16

For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done.

So that’s pretty clear. Many many times in the bible it speaks of a judgement where people are judged according to their works and actions. Let me take a moment to clearly state that salvation doesn’t come by works, salvation comes from God exposing Himself to us and we naturally respond to Him.

He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds. There will be trouble and calamity for everyone who keeps on sinning–for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.

This passage and many others in Romans 1 and 2 point to some basic truths:

  • God will judge all people according to what they have done
  • bad news for those who live for themselves (selfishness)
  • good news for those who do what is good (loving others)

But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good–for the Jew first and also for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

So both groups (jews and gentiles) will be judged and those who do good in both groups will receive glory and honor. That is clear.

That leads us to ask… what is good and bad? Can we know what is bad (or good) if we have never heard about Jesus?

God will punish the Gentiles when they sin, even though they never had God’s written law … Those who obey the law will be declared right in God’s sight.

That seems rough… to be judged EVEN if they don’t have God’s written law. Written. Hmmm… is there something else? If you can know God by the world around you – without ever actually meeting Him, then can you know the law without ever reading it written down?

Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.

So Gentiles who have not heard are to be judged on how they live their lives, according to the law that God has written within all of us.

The day will surely come when God, by Jesus Christ, will judge everyone’s secret life. This is my message. – Romans 2:5-16

The “secret life” statement (above) refers to our thoughts and our conscience and generally to our inner life. To find out more about the law that is “written in our hearts”, you can read about what Jesus says about loving others. He said that when we love others we keep the full law. It is the central theme of Christianity.

So… there you have it. I encourage you to read Romans 1 & 2 for yourself. Put aside what you may have heard and simply in your own bible how Paul speaks about judgment and how people who have not heard about law, sin and Jesus will be judged.

If this post has stimulated you to consider joining yourself to Jesus and learning about Him in order to gain eternal life, then please consider reading these posts:

13 responses to “What happens to people who don’t hear about Jesus?

  1. The issue really boils down to this: Is it necessary to know the name and person of Jesus and then trust in Him to be saved, or not? If even one person can go to heaven without knowing Jesus by name and by reputation, then the whole idea of Biblical salvation falls apart. If even one person lives and dies, end never hears a clear call to repentance, then again, the evangelical idea of salvation falls apart. So, either all people have to know and trust in Jesus to be saved, or nobody does. I see no other Biblical way than this.

    • Hi Matt

      There is definitely scripture that says that absolutely no one who practises sin will get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Since we all (without exception) sin that would mean NO ONE is going to Heaven.

      But those who admit they are sinners and accept the full atonement provided by Jesus Christ are made perfect and therefore are able to enter. Your viewpoint is validated by these kinds of scriptures and there are several of them.

      According to these scriptures many Christians who have NOT consciously made the blood of Jesus Christ their sacrifice (to atone for their sin) are going to hell.

      So then what about the post above?

      And how do scriptures where Jesus says get away from Me to people healing and prophesying in His Name… or scriptures where He says ENTER IN to people who didnt even know Him… how do they fit in?

      To resolve this I take into account that in Revelations the bible speaks of the first death and the second death. The first death is active NOW already. The second death comes after the final judgement at the end.

      The first death where souls go into hell is NOT for “forever”. This is a commonly held mistake. At the end we all rise up for judgement and death and hades are destroyed.

      The second death into which the beast etc. are thrown certainly is forever.

      This first death (now) is judged by law. It is completely unforgiving. Unless your sin is atoned for death will take your soul. Period. Nost Christians who warn that “you must be saved otherwise you are going to hell” are focussed on this first death.

      But that is not forever. At the end all will rise. And then a judgement. But this judgement is described differently in scripture. This time the judgement is not about sin. Jesus Christ dealt with that on the cross. It has been paid for… either by the person dying or Jesus Christ dying in their place.

      Now scripture says the judgement is about your heart and your choices to love. In this judgement Jesus Christ says ENTER IN to people who did not know Him. That scripture says those people (who previously may have been in hell because of unatoned for sin) say to Him “when did we love You Lord?”.

      The two judgements are different. The first is now (Jesus Christ said “they are already under judgement because they did not believe in Me”). It is a judgement of sin and it is performed by the law and the consequence is death.

      The second judgement has no memory of sin. It is based on the book of life, our heart and intentions are judged.

      God bless you, Mark.

  2. Even when Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, instinctively follow what the law says, they show that in their hearts they know right from wrong. They demonstrate that God’s law is written within them, for their own consciences either accuse them or tell them they are doing what is right.

    where in bible is this verse..?????

  3. I think you have formulated your answer to this very difficult question on the basis of a false understanding of the question. The Bible says in John 16 beginning in verse 7;

    7″But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: 9in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; 10in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

    It is clear in this passage that ALL HUMANITY has an equal opportunity to know of Jesus, therefore your response to this question is void. The Holy Spirit convicts or “convinces” the WORLD (all humanity) of sin, of righteousness and of judgment, so that there will be none on that day who can stand before God and say “I didn’t know”.

    Missionaries are only effective when they have been sent by God, and God will only send missionaries when the people’s hearts are ready for the gospel; i.e. after they have been shown the truth by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was very clear when He said that no man can come to the father, except by Him, and this idea of people who never hear of Him is ridiculous because it is God Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit who comes to each human being and “knocks on the heart’s door” so to speak, and it is up to that person to respond to the spirit’s call.

  4. My comment to ‘Mark’, After someone has heard of Salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and rejects His claim. And relies on his works, no salvation for him. Isa. 64:6-7 tell us ‘All our righteousness is as filthy Rag .. As for Dave .. well put, also more could be added to sweeten the savour of a loving God 🙂

  5. The Romans 1:18-21 passage leads me to believe that in fact there are many ways to salvation.

    The passage,

    “They can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God. ”

    to me means that every religion is valid because it’s the way in which humans of that culture “see” the “invisible qualities” of God.

    God then communicated with those various cultures and let them understand how to reach salvation in their way.

    So God appeared to the Muslims as Mohammad, to the Buddhists as Buddha, etc…

  6. Hey mark, how does this fit into ephesians 2.8? for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, so that no man may boast. If someone can get to heaven based on their works, where does this fit in?

  7. Hi, I became a Christian in August and I have questions that arrise time to time about God and this is the first answer I read to the question pressed on my mind and it gave me peace and reassurance to know this answer. It makes sense and it’s amazing how every answer the Bible gives us is so right and true. The thing I suppose I worry about is judgement but I think just the most important thing for all of us to do is simply live for God and do things that make him happy. Anyway, thanks for the answer.

  8. i appreciate reading this. i fully belief in god and the scriptures, but this is something i have always wondered and had been dealing with. i think god cares about people so much that he wouldn’t send them to hell unless they reject him or his teachings. i will continue to pray for these people.

    Thanks vwang, may God bless you as you reach out in prayer for people. – Mark.

  9. This is a very clear and wise answer to a question that is used many times as a reason to reject God. Thanks for sharing.

    Thanks (again) for the encouragement mate. – Mark.

  10. Thank You! In class I sit with a group of christians and we make up about four different denominations and were discussing this very issue earlier today. I felt that this was the correct answer, but at the time i couldnt find biblical proof to support it. So I got online and found a ton of sites that took verses out of context to arrive at their conclusion, but its nice to see a site that uses the Word of God in its purest form.

    Hi Jared. Thanks for commenting. I have rewritten the post a big to make the distinctions more obvious. Thanks again for your kind words. Bless you, Mark.

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