The eternal destiny of the lost is horrible to consider. An eternity of torment in the Lake of Fire forever separated from the presence of God and without hope of salvation waits for those who do not receive Jesus as Savior. But is there really no hope of heaven for those who die without knowing Jesus?
Some Christian groups believe a second chance will be offered to those who die with Jesus. The most famous version of a second chance is the Catholic doctrine of purgatory which teaches that men will have a time of suffering to purge sin before entering into heaven. Various forms of universalism, which believe that everyone will go to heaven, teach that another opportunity for repentance will be given to men after death. Mormonism teaches of a spirit prison where the dead can hear the gospel and be saved. The belief that death does not shut off the opportunity for salvation is widespread.
The Bible gives no hint that salvation is possible after death. Hebrews 3 and 4 gives very strong warning to those who heard the gospel but had not believed. The book of Hebrews calls for faith today. “He limiteth a certain day, saying in David . . . To day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7) Everything the Bible says indicates that the decision to receive God’s salvation is made during this life. “Now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) The Bible gives no promise of another opportunity after death. It calls people to believe and be saved today.
At death the unsaved go straight into hell where they will wait for the final judgment. Luke 16 gives a powerful glimpse into the fate of men after death. A rich man died and went directly into hell. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9 the Bible says those who enter into hell will “be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” Total separation from God makes salvation impossible.
No man can be saved without coming to Jesus for forgiveness from sin. No one will come to Jesus for salvation unless God draws him to Jesus. (John 6:44) Salvation is impossible without the working of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin (John 16:7-11) and to make the person a new creature (John 3:5-7) There can be no salvation after death because those who die without salvation are immediately and eternally separated from God.
Sometimes people assume that once someone experiences the suffering of hell he will want to be saved. This sounds plausible but it does not match the picture revealed in the Bible. The rich man in Luke 16 was in torment in hell yet he made no plea for salvation. He gave no indication of repentance. He desired some water to relieve his suffering, but made no request for forgiveness and no confession of faith in Jesus. As a further example of this, the great tribulation will bring great suffering on humanity. Mankind will know the worldwide catastrophes are from God but will refuse to repent. Their pain will only cause them to blaspheme God more. (Revelation 16:20)
Hell is an emotionally difficult topic. We have a strong desire to lessen the discomfort we feel when considering the fate of the unsaved. Offering a chance of salvation after death moves the terror of hell a little bit farther away. Though we would like to offer the comfort of a second chance waiting for those who die without salvation, it is just not so. God calls men to repent today. Those who do not believe Jesus in this life will have no other opportunity for salvation.