Can people who never hear the gospel go to heaven?
Mark asks, "Can people who never hear the gospel or the name of Jesus go to heaven?"
This is a difficult truth, but the short answer to your question is no. The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It's the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves and transforms lives. This reality should quicken the church to be active in both world missions and Bible translation.
But I'll say a bit more.
One thing to remember is that while all unbelievers will suffer in hell, not all will suffer to the same degree. The Bible teaches that there will be varying degrees of punishment in hell.
Jesus Himself taught this truth. There are several examples, but one is in Mark 12. Jesus warned that the hypocritical scribes “who like to walk around in long robes; who like respectful greetings in the market places and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets . . . who for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater punishment” (Mark 12:38-40).
Jesus' point is that they would be judged more severely because of how much they knew of God, and yet they rejected Him and actually led others astray as well.
I remember reading a commentary one day, and the author said “All unbelievers will be miserable in Hell, but not equally miserable.”
Another truth to keep in mind is that every unbeliever the world over has denied some measure of truth, even if they didn’t have enough truth to save them. Salvation is through Christ alone, so unbelievers must learn about Jesus and the salvation He offers in order to be saved. But all unbelievers have rejected some of God's truth.
God will reveal at the great, white-throne judgment that every unbeliever condemned to hell actually had truth which he denied. He denied the truth of conscience and the truth of creation.
Mark, there is a longer answer to this. If you would like to explore this topic in more detail, I preached a three-sermon series called Is Hell For Real in which I discuss these issues. I encourage you to listen to that series. Just CLICK HERE.
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