What Happens To People That Have Not Heard The Gospel Of Jesus?

by Jack Wellman on May 10, 2012 · Print Print · Email Email

What happens to those in the deep, dark jungles who have never heard about Jesus Christ?  Are they lost just because they haven’t heard the gospel?  Is it fair to send someone to hell if they never had the opportunity to be saved?

The Witness of Creation

It doesn’t seem fair to condemn those to hell who have never heard the gospel.  One person once asked me what happens to the innocent aborigine deep in the jungle who never had a chance to hear the gospel.   My reaction is that no human is innocent for we have all sinned and fallen short of God‘s glory and standard of holiness (Rom 3:23). We are born into sin (Psalm 51:5).  A person doesn’t go to hell because they haven’t heard the gospel – they are judged because they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God because there is not one human that is righteous (Rom 3:10) and the wages of sin are death (Rom 6:23).

What Happens To People That Have Not Heard The Gospel

There is actually evidence of a Creator in the creation itself.

There is actually evidence of a Creator in the creation itself.  The Psalmist declares, The heavens declare the glory of God; skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun (Psalm 19:1-4).

Paul declares that creation itself displays the Creator in Romans 1:18-23.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”

Paul writes some very clear testimony to the evidences of a Creator here.  In Romans chapter one he says that “God is being revealed from heaven”, that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness”, even though “God has made it plain to them.”  Paul pulls no punches by saying that “God’s invisible qualities…have been clearly seen” and “that people are without excuse.”  Rather than giving glory to God and His creation, they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.”   We see this in the many idols created throughout human history and in many different cultures where “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25).

What is the result of this pushing God out of the realm of possibilities?  “Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God [He] gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (Rom 1:28-29).  The result is that they became God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Rom 1:30-32).   The key verse comes at the end of this chapter and seals the reason that God condemns those who are disobedient: Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death.”   Paul says that they are without excuse, they denied God’s existence, became a God-hater, are filled with all kinds of wickedness, worship the creation rather than the Creator, and even though they know God’s righteous decrees, they do the very things that “deserve death” (eternal death specifically).

The Witness of the Conscience

The Bible speaks of a thing being established by the testimony of at least two witnesses (2 Cor 13:1, Duet 17:6).  There are two witnesses that proclaim that there is a God even without the gospel:  The creation and the conscience.  This is what Paul focuses on in Romans 2:14-16 by writing, Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.  This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”  Paul shows that by nature even the Gentiles who didn’t have the Law of God knew better because “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” while “their consciences also bearing witness” and even “their thoughts sometimes accusing them .”  What Paul is saying is that the Law of God – that is to do what is good and not what is evil – is written on their hearts and bears witness to the truth in “their consciences.”

The Roman Centurion, Cornelius was a great example of this because he didn’t know the gospel fully or about Jesus Christ but was still called a “devout and God-fearing” man (Acts 10:2).  Listen to how God heard him and understood that Cornelius knew God even before he knew about the gospel in Acts 10:1-7:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.  One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!” Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.  The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants.” 

Not only was Cornelius a God-fearing man but so was his entire household and one of the soldiers that attended to him was also said to be a “devout soldier.”  Cornelius probably didn’t know about Jesus Christ but he did know that God was real because when God spoke to him He seemed to know Him immediately saying, “What is it, Lord?”   The men that Cornelius sent to Peter told him that “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people (Act 10:22).  Eventually Cornelius was baptized (Act 10:47).

Why Is Anyone Saved?

The question is not why God would not save those who have never heard they gospel, for we see that they really have no excuse (Romans 1:20), but that God would save anyone!  There is not one of us that deserve to have eternal life because there is not even one person who has ever lived that was sinless (Rom 3:10, Rom 3:12, Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3).  The only sinless person that has ever lived was both Man and God – Jesus Christ.  He paid a debt that He did not owe for a debt that we could not pay in a million lifetimes.  Our sins will be paid for one way or another.  Either we will bear our own sin punishment in the utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12, 22:13) or we will believe in the atonement that Jesus Christ paid-in-full for us (John 3:16).  Imagine a man jumping out of a plane without a parachute.  It is not because he didn’t have the parachute that he will die, but the law of gravity and the landing.  If the parachute in the plane is Jesus Christ, we must by all means tell others about putting on the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14, Eph 4:24, Col 3:5-14) for there is no other way that men must be saved (Acts 4:12).

The fact that there are those who still have not yet heard the gospel ought to compel us to support missionaries, to be a missionary, to pray for the missionaries or the lost, or to “Go!” ourselves and proclaim the liberty that is in Jesus Christ alone.  Even if the lost are next door. We can pay or He can pay.  In fact, He already has if only you would believe (John 12:44).

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Katy May 10, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Amen! Bravo! Praise Jesus!

We need to go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Many people make excuses… I am a stay at home mother who has dedicated my time to my children to “train them up so when they are old they will not depart from it”. Proverbs 19:18 says to discipline your children before it is too late and not desire their death. Parents you are making disciples who will go out and proclaim the gospel! By not sharing our faith we our desiring out friends and families death!

Jack… Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.
Katy

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Jack May 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hello Katy. Wow, you truly are part of the Three E-migos……you like to edify, encourage, and exhort. I thank God for your comment for truly, I hear this a lot when I am out witnessing and I can’t rely on my own inept human reasoning so I must go to the Word of God. Say, I wish we had more Godly mothers with such biblical wisdom as you have my friend. I want to also wish you and all the mother’s out there a Happy Mother’s Day. Surely, the “hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.” Thank you.

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Michael Williams May 16, 2012 at 8:19 am

Excellent article Jack. The story of Cornelius that you mentioned is so powerful showing that God not only knew Cornelius would trust Christ if he heard the gospel, but he also raised up Peter and spoke to him of the need to go and share the Gospel to Cornelius and his friends and family. That is what is so comforting, God foreknew who would trust him (Roman 8:28) if presented the truth, then raises up people to share the gospel. This is why we all need to learn how to share the gospel clearly, then to do our part in sharing it. If people only knew the joy that God gives us when we are faithful to share the gospel and someone trusts Christ, there would be alot more Christians doing the work. Blessings.

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Jack May 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Thank you so much Mr. Williams. Truly, the Great Commission is my greatest passion for even though its not our responsibility to save anyone….it is their response to HIS ability, it is our responsibility to tell others. Amen to your comment, that if only people know of the joy that God gives….and there is such a joy and feeling of peace after sharing the gospel that most Christians never get to experience. I wrote two articles called “How to Share the Gospel with Family” and “How to Do Door-to-Door Witnessing” (or something like that) on this website because it is just so important. Thank you sir so much!

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james June 11, 2012 at 11:27 pm

this is slightly unrelated to the topic but where did most of the people from the old testement go when they died?

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Jack Wellman June 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm

At death the soul departs the body (Genesis 35:18, 1 Kings 17:22) while the body goes to the grave and the spirit returns to God (Ecclesiastes 2:17). The righteous soul continues to exist in Heaven (Paradise for those believers who died before the crucifixion which we will look at later) or Hell for the unbelieving.

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james June 17, 2012 at 10:58 am

Is baptism necessary to be saved?

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Jack Wellman June 17, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Baptism comes after salvation. A person is born again first and then they should be baptized but a person is saved by Jesus Christ’s atonement, not be being baptized. I would say a person should be baptized once they are saved but if they died before having a chance to get baptized, they are still going to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus saves…it is fully a work of God and not our own works that save us (Acts 4:12, Act `16:30-31, Romans 10:9-13). Thank you James. Are you saved is my question. I pray you are. If not, please contact us to let us tell you how you can place your trust in Jesus and have faith in Him to save you.

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harry dunbar July 17, 2012 at 5:25 pm

so pretty much they go to hell you are saying? he is a loving god but evidently not a very understanding one.

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Jack Wellman July 17, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Thank you Mr. Dunbar. A loving God died so that you would not have to go to hell because He was kind enough to expose you to it. Did you read Romans one and two. God says in His Word that they are without excuse. You have a chance to not go there and if you reject Jesus Christ then you will have no excuse either. That is something I don’t wish on anyone. This is why the church sends missionaries to every continent. One remote jungle tribe leader found a section of the book of John and the entire tribe came to faith in Christ so God is able to get the gospel to anyone, anywhere but no one goes to hell because they haven’t heard the gospel but because they are sinners, like I am but I received the gospel and believed. You have heard it and I hope you will believe too sir.

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Mike September 13, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I’m always grateful when people try to answer this hard question.

It’s never really been answered, though.

It seems to always end with “What we SHOULD be asking is…”

I’m not looking for answers about innocent children, or people who have heard of and reject Jesus. My issue is that we aren’t just talking about the one in a million undiscovered tribe in the Amazon.

There are, literally, billions of Muslims that aren’t extremists, that practice Islam as a religion of peace, that give to the poor, etc.

Many Christians do not realize that Muslims are taught (literally in the Quran) that the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary, told her she would give birth to Jesus and that he would spread the word of God throughout the world.

What happens to these people who are clearly NOT rejecting Jesus and are doing the good works He commanded?

I mean this as an honest question, and not a challenge. And I won’t argue. I just appreciate the consideration.

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Jack Wellman September 13, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Thank you Mike. One thing that troubled me is that you said that they are doing good works He commanded (John 6:29) Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God, that He was raised from the dead and those two are essentials to the faith. They must believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died for their sins on Calvary and was raised on the 3rd day. They believe in a different god, Allah. God is a Triune God. So they are do reject Jesus as God (John 14:11, Jesus said “My Father & I are one), Savior, raised from the dead, died at Calvary, and died for their sins…they refuse to believe in these crucial elements. If they do not believe in these salvation issues, they can not be saved. This is like saying, I believe in Jesus but just that He is not God, that He died and rose again, that His death paid for my sins. If anyone, Muslims or not, do not believe this, then they are rejecting Who and what Jesus is….God of very God. This is not my opinion but what the Bible teaches.

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Mike September 13, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Thank you for the prompt answer, and for answering directly.

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Jack Wellman September 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Thank you as well Mike. I am so glad you visited us and brought up this very important subject. The Evidence Bible (KJV) is an awesome Bible on how to share the gospel with Muslims. We are not better than they are and God’s desire, like ours, is that they too may be saved. You will never meet a person who God doesn’t love and you will never see a person that God doesn’t want to save….and that is my desire too. Thank you sir.

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Andrea Joy Graham May 25, 2013 at 10:23 pm

My best reading of scripture is those who die having truly never, ever had an opportunity to hear the gospel are judged on the basis of whether they would have accepted it if they had heard. Incidentally, reports are leaking out of countries closed to our missionaries of Jesus appearing in a vision to Muslims seeking the Lord and preaching the gospel to them himself. These folks then convert to Christianity and risk their lives for the gospel’s sake on the basis of a vivid dream. God will find a way to get the gospel to the hearts that are hungry for it, one way or another.

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Sid September 5, 2013 at 5:35 am

My reaction is that no human is innocent for we have all sinned and fallen short of God‘s glory and standard of holiness (Rom 3:23). I really cant understand it, does this mean the hindu concept of reincarnation? (i.e) after death another birth in another human form. suppose a man is born retarded and he doesnt seem to be aware of what he is doing, he is compared to a baby, he truly is innocent, what sin has he done? if a baby dies immediately after it is born does it go to hell because its a sinner?

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Jack Wellman September 5, 2013 at 9:04 am

Thank you Sid for your questions and comments. Babies and those who are not mentally able to understand the gospel are not condemned to hell. For more about how this is so, please read this article below that addresses these issues.

http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/where-do-babies-go-if-they-die-do-they-go-to-heaven-or-hell/

As for the Hindu, any Hindu after death…and in fact ALL men and women after death, regardless of their beliefs, go to hell if they fail to repent and trust in Christ as Savior.

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Jim Badgett June 9, 2014 at 7:03 am

Dear Sir, I am worried about all the people who were on Earth and dies long before Jesus arrived, and who therefore couldn’t have known about him.

Since only belief in Jesus can save a person from hell, will all these people have gone to hell for eternity?

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Jack Wellman June 9, 2014 at 7:40 am

Hello Mr. Badgett and thank you sir. I am so glad that you care about those who die or have died without Christ. You asked “will all these people have gone to hell for eternity?” God alone knows and God alone is responsible so we must trust Him for God is always good and always does what is best. No one is innocent and we all deserve the wrath of God. All you can do is to warn those who have not yet repented and trusted in Christ. Read Hebrews chapter 11 to see that there were very many who were saved by faith in God before Christ died on the cross. I hope this helps sir.

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