As we continue moving along in Matthew, we see a number of passages where we would be justified in finding a suggestion of ultimate redemption.
Again, it is only through certain lenses that we interpret hell from other passages, and we need to put on different lenses to find a suggestion for which we’ve never looked, but we’re at least as justified in doing so as we are justified in finding a suggestion of eternal conscious torment.
For example, the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18 seems to ring of ultimate redemption. Ninety-nine sheep have NOT wandered off; ninety-nine sheet out of a hundred are safe, and yet the man goes to search for the one that is lost. Matthew tells us, “if he finds it” he is happier about that one than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off, but Luke’s retelling of the story in Luke chapter fifteen says the man searches for it “until he finds it,” and “when he finds it” he calls his friends to rejoice with him that he has found his lost sheep.
Seen through a certain lens, doesn’t that parable at least suggest God will continue to pursue people, and continue to pursue people, and continue to pursue people until He rescues even the last one?
Then, in Matthew 19 we have the story of the rich young ruler, who goes away sad when Jesus tells him “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The passage continues with this:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Salvation, that is. Salvation is possible, even for the rich man, for whom it is hard to enter the kingdom of heaven. Related to salvation, “all” things are possible.
Doesn’t that at least give us pause? Could we not read into these stories hope for the salvation of all?
In case those stories weren’t enough, in chapter 20 Jesus follows up with the parable of the workers in the vineyard. You can read the whole thing here, but this is the story of the vineyard owner who hires workers at the beginning, middle, and right near the end of the day, and then pays them all the same wage he had agreed to pay the workers he hired first. When those who were hired last received the same pay as everyone else, those who were hired first complained to the vineyard owner, and received from him this important question, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
Are we working for a wage in the kingdom of God, unhappy that those who we don’t think should get in are receiving the same as us? Are we offended at the grace of God, which extends even to those who didn’t do anything to earn it? Are we unhappy that the shepherd has left us on the hillside to go find that sheep that ran off himself, that one we think deserves what he gets in the wilderness?
Or are we grateful in the knowledge that we are the ones who have received grace? We are the ones who have run off; we are the sheep in the wilderness the shepherd is pursuing. We are the rich young man going away. But just like the sheep, God will pursue Him. God will look for him “until he finds him.” It has nothing to do with the sheep; it has nothing to do with the rich young man. It has everything to do with the shepherd. It has everything to do with Jesus.
Doesn’t God have the right to save everyone? Or are we envious of His generosity?
I think the more we realize and acknowledge that we are those who have received grace and mercy, the more we will want grace and mercy for everyone, the more we will believe the gospel is really good news, really.
Check out this video. 3 1/2 minutes. It’s not me.