I believe that the end will be unexpected! We will all be right, and we will all be wrong. There will be destruction that ends, eternal punishment, and God all in all.
And I would not make the usual qualifications of “eternal” that the universalists tend to do, or the qualifications of “all” that those on the other side of the issue do, or the qualifications of “destruction” that all but the annihilationists do.
It may instead be good to keep all three sets of verses as they stand, and let the details be worked out by the one who gave them. But I do believe we are given reason to hope that all will be saved, and I also believe that the actual events will be beyond all we can imagine: That we will be fully satisfied with God’s justice, and with his mercy, as in the cross, which no one expected, yet this was God’s answer to sin, and more than we expected, both in full justice, and in full mercy. This was just what God had been telling us all along, yet a fulfillment no one would have guessed.
MT 19:25-26 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.”
JN 1:7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
Here is the crux of the matter, as Thomas Talbott has pointed out: Does God have a purpose to save all people? And will God accomplish all his purposes? If so, then we have reason to hope for all to be saved, and since all do not repent in this life, we must ask if this is possible in the next, and after death, and even after judgment:
Jude 1:7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
2PE 2:6 … if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly…
EZE 16:53 However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them.
So this would seem to indicate hope even for those who are the prime examples of people punished with eternal fire, for in Sodom, there were no survivors (Isa. 1:9). God says they will be restored, and not just the city being rebuilt and reinhabited, but the people restored, because it is people, and not places, that are being referred to here:
EZE 16:50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
City squares aren’t prideful, nor would the Crusaders reinhabiting Jerusalem fulfill the promised restoration of Jerusalem here. So we may hope even for these people, who are said to be “examples of what will happen to the ungodly”:
EZE 16:55 And your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before.
Again, this refers to people and their descendants, and Sodom cannot mean just symbolically “all wicked people,” for then Sodom would not be an example of them, the total group would not be a proper example of the total group.
There are other similar indications that God intends to restore some other wicked nations that have vanished from the earth, such as Moab, Ammon, and Elam (Jer.48:47; 49:6,39), and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre!
Psalm 87:4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me– Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush–and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.'”
Matthew 11:21 If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
And will God not seek to restore them, even after they perished, if they would have repented, if only circumstances had been different?
JN 17:21 … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus prays for the world to believe that the Father sent him, and does this not indicate real faith? See 1 Jn. 4:2-3, which appears to apply to people too, 2 Jn. 1:7, and also here:
1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
Then will Jesus’ prayer here not be answered? Would Jesus be praying outside of God’s will? And he does not pray “If it is possible,” as in the garden, he prays here without a similar qualification.
Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.
Is Paul not praying for those not chosen? For apparently “Only a remnant will be saved” at this time (Rom. 9:27).
RO 11:28-29 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
They are loved, these very people, and loved “with regard to election.”
MT 18:14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
Does this not refer to all children? And will God fail in his purpose, and not find them?
Luke 15:5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders.
“Until he finds it” we read, in the previous verse, “and when [not if] he finds it,” in this one.
JN 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Not “Who comes to try and take it away,” and the world does not seem at all to have the meaning of “the world of the elect” in such passages in John or 1 John:
JN 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
If this is “world of the elect,” then we have “whoever of the elect who believes in him,” but all the elect will believe, and this did not need stating.
1JN 2:2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Similarly, some would qualify this to “the world of elect gentiles,” see the discussion under “Calvinism/Limited atonement” for more on this verse.
Isaiah 45:23 “… to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (UNASB)
This would imply willingness, for to swear allegiance implies a commitment. And in Paul’s quote of this verse, the word “confess” that he uses is used of praise, or of willing confession:
Philippians 2:10-11 … that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
Romans 5:20 – 6:1 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
And will grace not reign more than trespass? This implies more than just available grace, or sufficient grace to save many people. Will God’s purpose fail? No, it seems it will not:
1CO 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
Now can this be “for as all in Adam die, so all in Christ will be made alive”? But then the ESV, the UNASB, the NET and the NIV all translated this wrong. And Robertson (“Greek Grammar”, p. 587) says this is a usage “where a single case is selected as a specimen or striking illustration” for the first clause, and then how could this usage change for the second? So this would then be “in Christ all,” and Robertson’s interpretation is borne out by the previous verse:
1 Corinthians 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
Clearly an example is meant here, in both cases, and not a way to describe various people as being in Adam or in Christ.
ISA 45:22-25 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth…”
Is not God’s purpose here the stated one? And will God’s word here not accomplish its purpose?
Isaiah 55:11 So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Not only God’s purpose, but also his desire! So if God even has a desire for the wicked to repent, and sends his word to accomplish that desire, the conclusion would be that his word would accomplish that desire.
EPH 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…
Ezekiel 18:32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
Now if this is addressed only to elect people, then it seems we must read that God take no pleasure in the death of wicked, unrepentant, elect people:
Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!” Why will you die, O house of Israel?
For some of these people did actually die without repenting. And if God’s purpose is not the stated one, if his purpose here is to harden the sinners, then “Repent and live!” means “Rebell and die,” and how can we trust any of God’s commands, if they can have the exact opposite purpose of the command itself? That makes God’s commands meaningless, they are mainly a means of producing a result. Why should we even say that the result need be related to the command? Why not say the command could have any purpose whatever? And now the commands are completely unintelligible, there is no reason to consider what is meant, for it could mean anything.
1TI 2:1-4 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Now if this means only that God desires “all kinds of men to be saved,” then we have Paul saying to pray for all kinds of kings and rulers, but not for all rulers without exception. There was only one Caesar, though, and thus only one kind of Caesar, must we say that the Caesar in Paul’s day was elect, and destined for salvation? Indeed, none of them seem to have been, up until Constantine, and yet surely Paul must be saying to pray for them.
Acts 26:29 Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
And in addition, Paul must have been telling them to pray for all their rulers, surely they were not wondering if they should only pray for Gentile or only Jewish rulers!
1TI 4:9-10 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
Now if this is referring to salvation only in terms of general providence, as in food and clothing, surely Paul and his companions were not laboring and striving for people to hope to be fed and clothed, good as that may be. And if “all men” is taken to mean believers, then this is saying God is the Savior of all believers, and especially of those who believe, which is simply a repetition without any apparent meaning. And if this is taken to mean “will be the Savior of all believers, and especially now of those who do believe,” then we have made this a future tense, yet it is instead present tense, not future. Don’t we also have to make the second phrase future tense, too, in this interpretation? “and especially will be the Savior of those who now believe,” for there is only one verb in this sentence. But what could that mean? And if both are future tense, why is there this distinction?