Summary: What did early church leaders think about the doctrine of Universalism?


Did the first Christians suggest to their audiences that salvation is inclusive?

11. The restoration of all things.

Acts 2:39-40. The apostle Peter preached a message of repentance and offered the promise of God to his generation. He said that that promise was for Jews and Gentiles, "all who are afar off." But immediately he qualified his statement with the words, "as many as the Lord our God will call."

The Gospel is for all men of all ages. But there are the called who will receive this message. I speak not here of Calvinism, but of a definite narrowing of the response, that speaks against the Universalist dogma.

Peter makes it even more plain in the next verse when he admonishes his hearers to save themselves from this perverse generation. In this dividing of humanity into saved and perverse, he follows in His Master's steps. It is crucial to comprehend here that there is a separation forever taking place, that has its roots in time and its fruit in eternity.

Acts 3:21. The restoration of all things is coming, says Peter. One can only imagine how delighted a Universalist is when he reads this passage. I hate to be the bearer of such bad news, but this verse is not talking about personal salvation for every man, woman, and child on the planet. It's talking about something that was, is not (in Peter's day) but will be.

Restoration, or restitution, speaks of bringing back a former state of existence. Something existed before that does not exist in its previous form, at this time. Whatever that is, will be fully brought back, says Peter, when heaven releases Jesus once more to this planet.

Peter says that all the prophets spoke of this restoration. Isaiah saw it: (2:2) "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains..." The old Jerusalem-based kingdom returns, is restored, is renewed.

Jeremiah saw it: (33:15) "In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness; ... Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell safely." Not exactly happening in our day. It did in David's day and Solomon's day. And it will in Jesus' day. A true restoration, plus!

And Ezekiel saw it: (20:40) "For on My holy mountain... there all the house of Israel... shall serve Me; and I will accept them." A few have trickled into the Kingdom in our day. On that day, a mighty Israel ruled by the Mighty One of Israel, King Jesus.

That's only the first three of the Old Testament prophecy books. I think you get the point. It is the Kingdom that is to be restored, in its physical, visible, glorified form. What an absolutely wonderful day that will be!

I Peter. The apostle's first letter is filled with clues about the nature of the saved and unsaved.

• God's people have been born again. That is, they are of a different order all together than the people of the world. God would not send His children to eternal flames. But only the born again are His children.

• The saved are holy unto God, separated from the people of this world, and therefore they will not share in their judgment.

• The disobedient will stumble, and to this they were appointed.

• He quotes the Psalmist who says that the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

Peter seems to have picked up from his Teacher, the fact that Hell is real and God is holy and life is very serious.

12. The spirits in prison, and preaching to the dead

I Peter 3:13-4:6. If you have marveled at difficult passages in Paul's writings, you will also be puzzling over this passage from Peter for quite some time.

I am a literalist. Unless the text screams "parable" I try simply to hear what is being said, and believe it. But there are cases, as this one, where literalism can take a person different directions. A doctrinal choice must be made based on the status of that doctrine throughout the rest of the Scriptures.

Important to understand first here is that this passage was not meant to deal with the afterlife. It is about suffering for and with Jesus Christ. It is about the cross.

A quick paraphrase of verses 13-17:

No one can cause you ultimate harm. But if you must suffer, that's a blessing. Just be ready to answer the persecutors' questions with a good conscience. Be sure you are not being punished for something bad you did.

Verse 18 brings Jesus into the discussion. Jesus also suffered. he did not deserve it. He was put to death in the flesh (His body) but made alive (His Spirit) by the Holy Spirit.

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