How can the death of Jesus two thousand years ago forgive someone living today? Does this make sense?
I have just finished to read all the NEW TESTAMENT and I have some questions about some points.
1 Can you explain how a death ( Jesus’ death on the Cross) can forgive the sins of any human being even many years after? I think it is tough to understand and its a matter of faith. One day a Muslim wanting to show me that Christianity is untrue asked me that question and I did not know what to say. Sincerely, I want to understand how a death which occured in Jerusalem 2000 years ago forgives sins of a man living, for instance, in Abidjan. I believe in it but want to understand this law as I understand some scientific laws like the first, second ,third laws of thermodynamics.
2 What about the salvation of children since they sin as well.?
3 What about the salvation of those who have never heard about the Gospel?
Your first question is a very difficult one to answer. Interestingly, at our Bible group last night, this is the exact question we discussed. Our parent organization, ARS, sponsored a debate between a famous Muslim apologist, Shabir Alli, an influential rabbi, Shmuley Boteach and my friend Dr. Douglas Jacoby a few years ago. The premise was Judaism, Christianity, Islam: Which is the True Legacy of Abraham? Both Boteach and Alli brought up the issue of one person paying the price for another’s sin, claiming that this was not justice. It is hard to respond to this criticism because Jesus dying for our sins, at first glance, seems not to be just, at least by human standards. WE should pay the penalty for OUR sins, one would think.
Yet, this is what the Bible teaches. Jesus came to take the penalty for our sins. I cannot defend that as logical. I can defend it on the grounds that it shows the amazing love of God for us, but I cannot defend it as logical, at least not according to human logic. Paul notes this fact that the message of the cross is not “logical” when he says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-22:
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those of us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? [and I would add: Where is the Muslim critic?] Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles….”
Paul admits that the love of God and the message of the gospel cannot be defended in the court of human reason, yet it is the power of God for salvation of all those who believe. I am sorry to say that you may not win a debate with a Muslim on this point, but what you need to do is to show him or her Jesus and his love for us. It is not about winning a debate but about the love of God for you and for your Muslim friends.
The Old Testament pointed to the need for a Savior, as the Hebrew writer points out to us. In Hebrews 9:11-14:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by the means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
The Hebrew writer continues in Hebrews 9:24-28:
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with the blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of thew3orld. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face Judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to t hose who are waiting for him.
Here we see that Jesus died once for the sins of all mankind. He died once. His death covers all people at all times in all circumstances if they will put their faith in him. Is this “logical”? Perhaps not, from the world’s point of view, but it is true. The problem with Islam is that it does not offer real forgiveness of sins. It is a works-salvation religion (which, according to Galatians 3:3-14). In the Qu’ran in Sura 40:9, 39:61 and 7:43 we learn that salvation is achieved through our own effort to do good. In Sura 2:271, 277 we learn that charity atones for sins. This is heresy. We cannot earn our way into heaven. We cannot atone for our own sins. According to the Bible it is God who reached down to us, not us who reach up to him in order to be saved. If a Muslim does not appreciate this truth, then you should show him Jesus more accurately. The Muslim teaching of salvation by our own good deeds is false.
A crucial passage on this is Romans 3:21-27. Please forgive the rather long quote. After declaring that all are sinners and all are lost (The wages of sin are death Romans 6:23), Paul tells us:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made knowns, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No but on that of faith.
Here, in a nutshell, is the gospel. God’s justice demands punishment. The wages of sin are death. But God, in his love, had a way to be just (death for sin) and at the same time to justify us if we will put our faith in Jesus. Again, is this logical? Is it (human) justice? I suppose not. It is not logic. It is love. It is love overcoming justice. This is the message of the gospel, and I certainly am not embarrassed about that.
On your second question, children are born innocent. When a little baby cries or when a small child she says “No!” to his or her mother, this is not sin. Children are not lost and if they die, they will be with God. In Mattthew 18:10 Jesus says of children that “their angels in heaven see my Father who is in heaven.” Unfortunately, some Christian groups have taught the false doctrine of Original Sin—implying that little babies are born under penalty for the inherited sin of Adam. This idea is not found in the Bible. Babies are innocent. At some point in time, which we humans cannot judge for sure, we become accountable for our sins. Adults, unlike children, are liable to punishment for their sins.
About salvation for those who have never heard of Jesus, this was a real issue fifty or five hundred years ago as in former times, many had not heard of Jesus, but today, I suppose that more than 99.5% of all humans have heard of Jesus of Nazareth and have at least some sort of access to the Bible and to the truth about him. Nevertheless, this is a legitimate question. One can also ask about those born before Jesus came and died. In Revelation 13:8 we find that, from God’s perspective, Jesus is a “lamb, slain from the foundation of the world.” Jesus can vicariously save anyone who puts their faith in God. Peter told us that Jesus is the only name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). This is true. Only those who put their faith in Jesus, repent of their sins, and are baptized into Christ are saved, which means that they are forgiven of their sins and have the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:36-38) which is a deposit, guaranteeing our salvation until the redemption of those who are Gods possession (Ephesians 1:14).
Will others be forgiven in the end and accepted into heaven, even though they were not baptized into Christ? Yes. I believe that Moses and David and Rachel and Sarah and Abraham will be there. Ultimate salvation always has and always will be based on faith in God. Like it says in Genesis 15, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Was Abraham “saved” in the sense that a Christian is saved? No. He did not have the Holy Spirit living in him. Might someone who believes in the one God somewhere in Outer Mongolia, who has never heard of Jesus somehow make it into heaven? This is God’s business and not mine, but I suppose it is possible. That person would not have been saved in the New Testament sense of that word, as mentioned by Peter, the means by which it occurs having been taught by him in Acts 2:36-38, but perhaps God will forgive such a person in the end.
I suppose this is possible, as even hinted at in Romans 2:12-16. In this passage wer are told that those who have never heard of Jesus might ultimately make it to heaven based on having obeyed their conscience. However, I would not hold out a lot of hope for such people. It was not Paul’s purpose in Romans 2:12-16 to hold out hope for these people. In fact, the purpose of Romans chapters 1-3 is to show that all are lost based on their works. And besides, this has nothing to do with us, as we have heard of Jesus and all we meet in our daily lives have also heard of Jesus. It is our job, not to worry about special cases, but to share the gospel with everyone, as clearly their best “shot” to make it to heaven is to be saved by Jesus through faith, repentance and baptism.