The Bible says we die once and are then judged according to our earthly response to God’s divine revelations; there are no second chances to qualify for heaven after death. However, many people live and die in ignorance of the salvation plan unveiled in the Bible due to the physical, historical or geographical context of their lives.
Does God hold us eternally accountable for divine revelations we never received?
No. God will impartially determine each person’s eternal destiny based on their response to the divine revelations available to them while they were alive on earth. He will not condemn anyone to hell for their unwitting ignorance of revelations about himself or his salvation plan that were unavailable to them.
However, the Bible says God has always revealed enough about himself for everyone to worship him correctly regardless of their time and place in history.
God reveals himself to everyone through nature. The majestic grandeur of the universe and the exquisite complexity of life evidence his existence and attributes.
He further reveals himself through our God-consciousness; we are innately aware of his existence and our immortality because he designed us to commune with him forever.
Our conscience affirms our moral accountability to him.
God manifestly revealed himself specifically to Adam and Eve while they lived in Eden. Their knowledge of God was not limited to inferences about his existence and attributes gleaned from their surroundings; the three of them audibly conversed.
These ongoing dialogues enabled Adam and Eve to know God and bond with him – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually – in ways and at levels that were unique among all other earthly and heavenly beings.
Adam and Eve conveyed these insights to their succeeding generations until the time of Noah. After the big flood Noah and his children conveyed these revelations to their descendants along with others they personally received.
Centuries later God revealed to Job unique insights about himself, Satan and creation. He also revealed additional details about himself to Abraham and his lineage through Isaac who became known as Israelites and later as Jews.
Moses recorded God’s historical interactions with the Israelites from Adam forward while the Israelites wandered in the desert after crossing the Red Sea. The remaining Old Testament books were authored over succeeding centuries by various writers.
Several hundred years after the last Old Testament book was written Jesus revealed what God is like in human form, beginning with his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit enlightened early Christian leaders about the true meaning of key Old Testament verses.
Firsthand accounts of his life and the early church written by Luke and the apostles as well as detailed prophecies about the end times written by John were eventually compiled into the New Testament, which completed God’s revelation about himself and his salvation plan.
Every person – past, present and future – falls somewhere along this revelation continuum.
We all have access to God’s general revelations through nature and our God-consciousness. Many people have had primary or secondary knowledge of some or all of God’s specific revelations recorded in the Bible. Others, for reasons of time, geography or intellectual capacity, never hear about or comprehend his specific revelations.
Regardless of our individual circumstances the principle is the same – God will hold each person eternally accountable for their response to the divine revelations available to them while they were alive on earth. Nobody will be condemned for inadvertent ignorance of revelations they could never receive or comprehend.
Willful ignorance of the God’s revelation is another matter.
Those with unfettered access to God’s complete revelation will qualify for heaven if they make Jesus their personal Savior. Those without access to any of God’s specific revelations will qualify for heaven if they worship him in response to his general revelations and obey his moral laws as best they understand them though their conscience.
The eternal destiny of everyone else will be determined by their earthly response to what they knew or could readily know about God and his salvation plan as it had been revealed to date. Those who respond affirmatively and worship God will enjoy eternal bliss; those who respond indifferently or negatively and fail to pursue God will suffer eternally.
God is far more concerned about the fairness of salvation than we are because he wants as many people as possible to qualify for heaven. We can therefore trust his benevolence regarding everyone’s eternal destiny.
Nobody will end up in heaven or hell accidentally, inadvertently or unfairly, including ancient peoples and remote tribal members who never see a Bible or hear about Jesus, children who die young and those with limited mental comprehension.
Heaven will be filled with people from all walks of life, every geographic locality and every era of history. Its residents will enjoy eternal glory because they responded affirmatively to the divine revelations available to them on earth.
Hell will also be filled with people from all walks of life, every geographic locality and every era of history. They will be tormented forever because they consciously refused to seek and worship God in response to the same revelations.