Universalism vs. Restorationism
Jesus said in Matt. 7:1, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” But Paul said in 1 Cor. 6:2, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?” Paul chides the Church for not having anyone capable of judging disputes within the Church. Did Paul contradict Jesus? Not at all.
We make thousands of judgments every day. Every decision is a judgment, for we decide which path to take is the right one and which is the wrong one. To judge and to discern come from the same Greek word. We need the gift of spiritual discernment to judge what is true and what is false. Furthermore, God created authority (Rom. 13:1; John 5:27) to judge disputes between men. Jesus' statement was a warning not to judge by one's own personal view but to discern by the Spirit. In that way our judgment will not be our own, but the Father's.
There are those who teach that all judgment is wrong, making no distinction between discernment and condemnation. Likewise, they make no distinction between issuing imperfect judgment from the mind of man and perfect judgment which comes from God.
Those who are afraid of being God's judges are really afraid of the authority that God has given those called to rule (as overcomers). Perhaps many such people are not called to rule at all and thus have no unction to learn how to judge righteously. I can only say that in my experience with God, I see that He is training me—often by trial and error—how to judge righteously by the mind of Christ.
Half of this training is in studying the word. The other half is in developing the spiritual gifts, particularly that of wisdom, knowledge, and discernment (1 Cor. 12:8-10). It is important to study the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15) in our search for truth. But this not enough. There is a spiritual side of us that must be developed, because it is the Holy Spirit that leads us into all truth (John 16:13).
We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth—BOTH. Many groups specialize in Bible study to learn truth, but they neglect the spiritual gifts. Others focus so much upon experiencing spiritual gifts that they neglect the study of Scripture. The winning combination is a balance of both spirit and truth.
Many have been hampered in the past by the teaching that the law has been discarded or “put away.” They do not realize that Jesus affirmed the law (Matt. 5:17-19) and that Paul “established” it (Rom. 3:31). Paul makes it clear that the law's purpose has NEVER been to justify anyone, but rather to give us the knowledge of what sin is (Rom. 3:20). John says point blank that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).
The putting away of the law essentially had the effect of legalizing sin so that men could then commit whatever sin they chose with immunity from divine prosecution. If our government were to follow the example of the Church (and it has), it would legalize such things as sexual sins, abortion, and the “right” of government officials to lie to the public for the sake of “national security.” Others are pressing to legalize certain drugs, which, if successful, would eliminate a great deal of “sin” (crime) in America and greatly reduce the prison population.
Paul says, “where there is no law, neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). In order for something to be a sin there must be a law that makes that act a sin. Putting away the law is man's way of legalizing or decriminalizing sin. God's way is to recognize the law and then pay its full penalty, as Jesus did on the cross.
With this in mind, let us go back to Paul's statement in 2 Cor. 5 and the ministry of reconciliation. Paul says in verse 19 that our message is that God is not imputing the world's trespasses unto them. The Universalist view, as developed some centuries ago, is that the law was put away at the cross; therefore, there is no more sin to impute to the world. This is how God saves everyone, they say. Without law, there is no accountability for sin, for Paul says in Rom. 3:19,
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.
It is one thing to say that the world has no sin at all; it is quite another to say that God is not imputing their sin to them. The first statement says that sin no longer exists; the second recognizes the existence of sin, but says that Jesus has paid the penalty for sin on the cross. The first destroys the law; the second honors the law enough to pay its full demand.
Universalism seeks to save all mankind by destroying the law, which would then make its violation impossible, regardless of what a man might do to his neighbor. The events of 9-11-01? That was not murder, they would say. There is no such thing as murder, because the law against murder was repealed at the cross.
Obviously, I do not teach Universalism. I teach “Restorationism,” and since I coined the word in this context, I have the privilege of defining it. It is the belief that all of creation will be restored and reconciled to Him, not by putting away the law, but by paying its full penalty. Secondly, while Jesus obtained the FACT of salvation for all men, the TIMING of salvation differs and depends upon which “squadron” (Greek: tagma) one is in. 1 Cor. 15:22 and 23 say,
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order [tagma, “squadron”].
There is more than one resurrection coming. The first “squadron” will be those who are called to rule and reign with Him (Rev. 20:4-6). The second group will be those believers who are raised along with all the unbelievers (John 5:28, 29; Luke 12:46) at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-13). This second group of believers will miss the first resurrection and will not reign with Christ during the thousand years in the Tabernacles Age to come. Nonetheless, they will certainly be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Jesus made it clear in Luke 12:46-49 that those servants of God who mistreated others would receive a “flogging” before being given their reward.
The third group will be the unbelievers themselves, after their time of judgment has been completed, for there will be a Jubilee at the end of time according to the law, wherein all of creation will be set free in the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).
The primary distinction between Universalism and Restorationism is in this matter of divine judgment. The one makes no provision for any judgment, no accountability for past actions, and makes spiritual growth unnecessary and irrelevant in the end. The other view recognizes the reality and seriousness of sin, pays its full penalty as the law demands for the ultimate reconciliation of creation, and yet saves believers by faith and unbelievers through judgments, discipline, and spiritual growth.
The judgments of God are established in the law itself. In the law, there is no sin worthy of torture in a literal fire. The fire is the “fiery law” itself (Deut. 33:2). His Word is like a fire (Jer. 23:29), for its purpose is to cleanse, purify, and burn out the dross in order to bring forth a perfect, finished product. This is seen especially in the fact that the “flogging” that the second group of believers receive is spoken of in terms of “fire,” even though they are not burned in any literal sense. Luke 12:49 concludes that passage with Jesus’ statement:
49 I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!
Jesus was not yearning for the day when people would be tortured in a literal fire forever and ever. The “fire” he was casting into the earth was already defined in the previous verses as few or many lashes, taken directly from the law in Deut. 25:2 and 3,
2 Then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. 3 He may beat him forty times but no more, lest he beat him with many more stripes than these, and your brother be degraded in your eyes.
There was a limit on the number of lashes that a sinner could receive for misdemeanors, even as there was a limit on the number of years that felons would have to be enslaved. The Jubilee law limited the time of enslavement and disinheritance to a maximum of 49 years (Lev. 25:10). Such is the grace in the law of Jubilee and in the law of beatings. The justice of God does not include endless punishment. Neither does the grace of God come without justice.
Thus, in the end of the “lake of fire,” when the “fire” has done its work, sin will have been fully purged and creation restored. The law sentences no one to be tortured, for torture is only justified in the traditions of men. Instead, unbelievers (felons) are to be “sold” and placed under the authority of a righteous man who will teach him righteousness by discipline (if necessary) and labor. Yet even for felons there is a Jubilee, for on that day all debt (liability for sin) is cancelled, and every man is restored to his own inheritance (Lev. 25:40, 41).
God's purpose for creation will then be fulfilled, and God will be a success, not a failure.
The Jubilee is the law of grace, where every man's debt is cancelled whether or not they have paid their full debt. And yet the time preceding this Jubilee is the time of judgment and discipline for the sinner, during which time he learns righteousness. Isaiah 26:9 says,
9 For when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.
The prophet understood the purpose of the divine law and knew that it was designed to bring people to repentance and restoration, not to destroy them for all time or to endlessly torture them. The law makes provision for a sinner to be “sold” into the hands of another (Ex. 22:3). The judge determines the length of sentence according to the amount of debt that the sinner owes his victims. In this case, of course, the debt will be too much for any sinner to repay, regardless of how many years he serves. This is why he must await the great Creation Jubilee before he will be restored to the inheritance that God has prepared for him.
The main point to understand, though, is that the law mandates mercy along with justice. Built into the law is a limitation on judgment for sin. For this reason the New Testament often speaks of eonian judgment—that is, age-abiding judgment, or judgment during the eon (age). Though eonian is usually mistranslated to mean “eternal” or “everlasting,” this is not the true meaning of the word. Young’s Literal Translation translates Matt. 25:46,
46 And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.
Dr. Young recognized that the Greek word eonian pertained to an eon, or an age—not to eternity. While Scripture speaks everywhere of a coming judgment, there is no place in Scripture that teaches unending judgment. Such an idea comes from the mind of man and men’s incorrect interpretations of the law. Men like Scofield spoke of the “pitiless severity” of the law, not understanding that man’s laws are often pitiless, including their views on unending torture in a literal fire called “hell.” Men fancy God’s justice as severe and their own justice as more merciful than God’s. This is an illusion that springs from man’s pride.