Is it especially unmerciful for God to condemn his own people, the Jews?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I’m a new Christian who’s been recently baptized, and I’m in the process of learning many new things about the faith. But there’s one thing that really bothers me… and I feel like it’s keeping me from growing.  

If I’m understanding salvation correctly, the Jewish people of today who do not accept Christ will not enter the kingdom of heaven. My problem is that I see these people worshipping the same God as we do — the God of Abraham and Isaac. Furthermore, many of these Jews defend their faith zealously! They are well informed, and they present effective cases against Christianity on social media. So, here’s my concern.

I have trouble wrapping my head around how a merciful and loving God could send millions of his followers to the same hell as he does murderers and rapists… but for just getting this one aspect wrong. I know it is a crucial aspect, but it troubles me. I don’t see this as being consistent with the image of a merciful God that I have. Thanks in advance.

Answer: Greetings, brother. How wonderful that you’ve decided to follow Jesus Christ! And let me commend you for your decision to follow him in baptism. I remember the early days of my faith fondly… when I too was learning new things every day. That was an exciting (and fulfilling) period in my life. I pray that I will be able to help you with the problem that is keeping you from growing in faith.

This question tells me that you understand salvation very well… so, to begin, I’ll merely reinforce the bad news … although,  it’s actually the good news: even God cannot have his salvific cake and eat it too. Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be born again (John 3:7)… because that’s the only way we see the kingdom of God. Since that is the salvific requirement for every human today, it is fair to all people today... even to the Jews!

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12–13, NIV)

Now, if salvation is fair, then damnation is fair. Every person who has ever lived has sinned and has have fallen short of God’s holiness.

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NIV)

In like manner, God’s condemnation has fallen upon us all with perfect parity. Since all have sinned, then all shall die. It’s not pleasant... but it’s fair.

“For the wages of sin is death….” (Romans 6:23a, NIV)

Any sin we do has the power to condemn us. So, as far as getting into heaven goes, stealing a pack of gum has the same impact as murder. The trick is to appropriate the shed blood of Jesus Christ to atone for those sins — because if we don’t, they would justify our place in hell. Now, none of those incidental sins can send us to hell… but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit can — and it does! In fact, this is the only sin that can send people to hell… and it’s 100% effective in doing so.

“And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31–32, NIV)

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the lifelong rejection of Jesus Christ… and when you think about the rules of salvation logically, that is the only sin that can’t be forgiven… but it is the specific crime of the Jews you mentioned. This is the one aspect they get wrong… and you are right: it’s the big one — the send-you-to-hell one.

Things could be worse for them, though, because if (as many suppose) hell has different levels of punishment and relief, then the very light of knowledge and zeal that you find attractive in these Jews could set them up for greater distress… and here’s why.

Who would know more about Christianity’s claims concerning Jesus Christ than people who share our Judeo-Christian history… but who engaged in apologetics against the New Testament revelation? If we’re talking about fairness, these should receive a harsher condemnation than a less-informed atheist because they are rejecting a clearer revelation.

As such, one could argue that they would be worse tenants in hell than rapists and murderers because theirs would be a rebellion against the most light! … which is reminiscent of Satan’s story. Satan (arguably) saw God more clearly than any other being… yet look what he decided to do with that light — he rebelled against it! (Isaiah 14:12).

Don’t fall into the trap of coddling the Jews because of their history and their place in Scripture. The Jews do not worship the same God we do. True, our God is a unity... which lines up nicely with the Jewish view of God. But our God is also tripersonal — a characteristic they repudiate… but one which is definitive of Christianity… one of those persons being Jesus Christ… by whose name we earn the moniker, Christian.

The fact that God took on flesh and dwelt among us in the person Jesus Christ is one of our most basic statements of faith (John 1:14) … and the salvation of all humankind depends upon it. But the Jews are not on board with that. So, what we share with the Jews is a history, not a soteriology… not unless they accept the New Testament revelation that God is now revealed in the person of Jesus Christ — and that redemption is only through him (1 Peter 1:18-19).

But of the ones who did convert, we can say of them that we did share the same God because they honored the progressive nature of God’s revelation… and having the right answer at the end means that they had the appropriate answer in the middle… not the final answer in the middle.

For this reason, the Jews who do not come to Christ are no different than unconverted Muslims, pagans, atheists… or any other unconverted being. They are all equally lost by virtue of their non-conversions… and even dying for a false religion provides no salvific points. Recent history has proven that Muslims are ready to die for their faith — and this is the maximum proof of earnest belief in a monotheistic God that looks a lot like ours. But if martyrdom gets no one to heaven, neither does the zeal and earnest study of the Jews you have in view.

The ray of hope here is that as long as we are living, we are in a process... and the Holy Spirit could still win the day! But getting to heaven is not a points game. It is a receive-Jesus-Christ-yes-or-no game. It is an avoid-committing-blasphemy-against-the-Holy-Spirit game… and people with close calls need not apply.

In my opinion, it is more difficult to overcome a near-miss with Christ than it is to come to him from paganism or atheism… because being around dead Christianity can inoculate a person against true Christianity… and the difference is family. When we receive Christ, we become children of God as a type of thing (John 1:12) … but listen to what Jesus said about the Jews who would not receive his fresh revelation. They are children, too… children of the devil!

“Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. …. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:42–47, NIV, emphasis mine)

Salvation is uncomfortably black-and-white. As Jesus said, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” That is a plain and unqualified statement from the lips of the person whom we claim to be God incarnate. Until a person becomes born again by yielding to the Holy Spirit — by responding to the Father’s drawing (John 6:44) — there is no guarantee that he will “hear” anything God is saying… in spite of studying his words fervently. Salvation will be arguable until Jesus comes back to remove all debate. In the meantime, rejection is the proof and price of free will.

Remember, it was those very Jews you are arguing for that killed the Lord. The Romans had a hand in it, surely… but Rome was just their tool. The true cause of Jesus’ death was heart disease! It was the hard hearts of the Jews that killed him (Matthew 13:15; Mark 3:5; 1 Corinthians 2:8) … and that’s the same cause for every spiritual death today.

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV)

Let’s move on to the second part of our question now and talk about God’s mercy as it relates to hell, and the first thing you must know is that mercy never stands alone; it makes no sense in the absence of justice, judgment and guilt. But whether we are talking about God’s judgment or earthly criminal proceedings, mercy is reserved for the guilty, so we should never understand it as being applied to an innocent party.

For example, if a defendant in a courtroom said, “Your Honor… I’m innocent! … and I throw myself upon the mercy of the court!” That would be nonsensical. An innocent person has no need of mercy, and the proceedings would yield a “not guilty” verdict. But if the defendant were guilty and the trial had passed to the sentencing phase, then mercy may be applied (or withheld) at the discretion of the judge.

The point here is that mercy has rules. It is not arbitrary goodness — like fairy dust that God sprinkles around willy-nilly. Mercy is bound up in the character of God (Exodus 33:19; 2 Peter 3:9) ... but so is justice (Isaiah 61:8). The difference between them is that a holy God does not have to apply mercy… but he has to apply justice. God owes mercy to no one, but he owes justice first to himself… and, therefore, to everyone.

As such, God may choose to apply mercy because he is merciful, but he must apply justice because he is just. This is why, although everybody is condemned to hell, not everybody goes. Going to heaven is a function of God’s mercy. It is irrespective of an individual’s accomplishments.

What this means is, since we all have sinned (Romans 3:23), we are all condemned by God’s justice to die. His mercy comes in the form of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for our sins… which is the singular fix for a universal problem. We can never lift the death sentence by any means. We can only be redeemed from it… and Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer (Luke 1:68; Hebrews 9:11-12; 1 Peter 1:18-21). This impacts the first part of the question, too, because when it comes to salvation, it’s redemption or nothing. And when it comes to redemption, it is Jesus or nothing (Acts 4:12).

I am glad that you are not entirely comfortable with this because everyone who understands salvation is uncomfortable with it on some level. But if God were to reach in and make special salvific considerations as some Christians (unfortunately) think that he does do for the Jews even today, then salvation is either class-based or arbitrary. And if he interferes beyond his wooing and his providing revelations to affect a human’s salvation — even with positive motives —  then he’d be violating human free-will… which is anathema to a non-Calvinist like me.

God wants salvation for all (2 Peter 3:9)… that’s his attitude. But the price of true free-will is that many will choose to ignore all of God’s proactive measures… like the Father’s drawing (John 6:44), like the ubiquity of morality (Romans 2:14-15), like creation itself (Romans 1:18-25), like Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16), like the Holy Spirit convicting the world of sin (John 16:8) … and like the special gift of our age — the ability to investigate anything quickly via the internet.

When people fail to be converted in this flood of revelation, that’s not on God; that’s on them — a judgment Paul predicted when he said “…. they are without excuse” in Romans 1:20. You see, the thing we cannot do is excuse the inexcusable just because we’re squeamish about judgment. God is not squeamish about it at all.

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