I’ve begun a new series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament. I’m paralleling the reading of the New Testament that my church is doing (though I began this three months after the church did), and taking a look at verses that relate to universalism — the belief that God will, eventually, save everyone.
I’ll be honest — today’s passage, Mark 8:34-38, is a little tougher to read from a universalist perspective. Part of my point in doing this series is to show that there are tough passages from both perspectives, passages that both sides need to read a little bit into. Once I saw that you can interpret the Bible either way, I chose the view that I thought fit better with God’s character, as shown throughout the Bible. But we aren’t at the point of drawing conclusions yet in this series.
Mark 8:34-38 says, “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.'”
I’m going to start with that last verse, “The Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Let me make it clear that even though I believe that all will — eventually — be saved, I still believe there will be a great judgment after death. I believe in hell — but not that it will be “eternal.” We’ll see this in other passages, but the Greek word that is translated “eternal” doesn’t have a good equivalent in English. It’s “eonian,” “of the eons,” or “of the ages.” It means an indefinite time period, or may even mean an eternal quality.
How I think it will go is this: There will be a judgment. Some will spend time — maybe eons — in hell, until the day when they will turn back to God the Father. At the “end of the ages,” God will be all in all and every knee will bow before Jesus.
So when the Son of Man comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels will be the day of judgment and is not inconsistent with this view.
That’s also the approach I take to “will lose” their life. You might say, well, losing your life sounds permanent. However, the same word is used in the second part of the sentence, “whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” That second lose is talking about life on earth. The first lose may be talking about the time (maybe even eons) of judgment.
I’ll be honest — this isn’t the greatest explanation in the world. If there weren’t multiple verses in many different places saying that God loves the whole world and in Christ all will be made alive — then I don’t think I could accept universalism. But given all those other verses, I do think it fits. One thing it does point out — no matter how much I believe in universalism, I still hope that people will come to Jesus before they die. That can actually save their lives.
But please bear with me as we continue through the New Testament….