Is it possible for people who die in unbelief to repent?
We may ask “What about those who have never heard the gospel?” Even J.I. Packer has indicated that they may have a chance to hear and believe, after dying.
And then we may consider verses such as we read here:
MT 11:21 “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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.”
Would God see that repentance would have happened, and not arrange in the future for it to really happen?
MK 4:11-12 “Those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return and be forgiven.”
These people would apparently have repented if the parables had been explained to them, and similarly here:
Ezekiel 3:6 Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you.
So again, will God see that they would have repented, and then simply leave them, and not seek to save what was lost?
Rev. 21:6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
“It is done” (past tense, after all the judgments have been pronounced), “I will give” (future tense). And people in hell indeed are thirsty.
Rev. 22:11 Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile…
Yet this doesn’t say “let him be unjust and vile forever.” And if people may be spoken of as entering the gates of the new Jerusalem, and this city is the glorified church, then I think that speaks of people repenting then, and not before.
Rev. 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
The bride is the glorified church, a woman is only a bride on her wedding day. And still the invitation is given: “Come!”
The appearance of this invitation in the middle of the description of the consummation of history speaks for it being given at this time, even if it applies to today as well. And the bride is speaking, must we conclude that she will not ever actually say this on her wedding day? That this is only a theoretical speech? If so, then we have the Bride only inviting herself, which is a very unexpected conclusion.
And it would seem that the juxtaposition of these two verses indicates an order:
Revelation 21:8-9 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars– their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
The last plague is done, thus all the wicked would appear to be gone from the earth, and yet an invitation is given, “Come!”
Now it might be said that the invitation to those who are thirsty is only to those who thirst for righteousness, yet this invitation seems to extend beyond those who thirst for righteousness:
Isaiah 55:1-3 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”
These are people would not seem to be thirsting for righteousness, they are spending money on what does not satisfy. Yet they are invited similarly, to come.
There are a number of groups that totally disappear, without evident repentance:
Exodus 15:15 … all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away.
Isaiah 14:31 Wail, O gate! Howl, O city! Melt away, all you Philistines!
Zephaniah 2:5 O Canaan, land of the Philistines. “I will destroy you, and none will be left.”
JER 47:4 For the day has come to destroy all the Philistines and to cut off all survivors who could help Tyre and Sidon. The Lord is about to destroy the Philistines, the remnant from the coasts of Caphtor.
Ezekiel 26:20-21 … then I will bring you [Tyre] down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of long ago. I will make you dwell in the earth below, as in ancient ruins, with those who go down to the pit, and you will not return or take your place in the land of the living. I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more. You will be sought, but you will never again be found, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Yet we read:
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.'”
Destruction, and yet salvation…
Romans 11:10 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.”
Yet in the next verse we read:
Romans 11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!
Now this would indicate that those Paul had just referred to, whose backs were to be bent forever, did not fall beyond recovery, so then there would be hope for them, it seems very unlikely that two distinct groups are meant, and the first group fell, and the second group did not fall(?) and then got up.