How Many Will be Saved?
In our present “politically correct” societal climate, the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” sentiment that surfaced in the 1960s has since blanketed American culture. Consequently, even Christian peoples have been infected with the ideology that the only moral evil is the sin of “intolerance,” and that everyone ought to subscribe to complete “acceptance” of everyone else—regardless of belief or behavior. Of course, those who are so influenced have ceased studying the Bible and acquainting themselves with Deity. For those who still are convinced that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, they would do well to subject themselves to the corrective provided by that Word. Doing so would alter their present tendency to embrace society’s pluralistic propensities.
The Bible provides the only inerrant history of the human race from its inception. What does the Bible teach with regard to the number of people who ultimately please God, are acceptable to Him, and thus will one day be with Him forever in Heaven? A perusal of the history of the world from its very beginning, will undoubtedly shock most people—even those who claim to be Christian. Why? Because the Bible portrays a consistent pattern of human behavior in which most people have rejected God’s will for their lives and thus were rejected by God. While the Bible does not claim to report everything that has happened to all peoples in human history, it nevertheless presents a proportional sampling of the ebb and flow of world history. And in doing so, it unmistakably conveys the fact that not only will most people in the world be lost eternally, but even most people who profess to be Christians will be lost as well. In his famous “Blue Back Speller,” a public school textbook used to teach millions of American school children during the 19th and 20th centuries, Noah Webster made the following insightful observation: “History is an account of past events. A great part of history is an account of men’s crimes and wickedness” (1857, p. 42, emp. added). Consider the following abbreviated sketch of human history.
FROM THE BEGINNING
The very first human beings on the planet, Adam and Eve, violated God’s will and were ejected from the beautiful garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23-24). Of course, they could be forgiven of their sin, but their behavior demonstrated a pattern that set the tone for the rest of human history. Of their children who are referred to specifically, one refused to worship God as He instructed and, out of a jealous rage, rose up and committed human history’s first murder by killing his brother (Genesis 4:8). Some 1,700 years later, “the wickedness of man” was so “great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5), that God had no other choice but to cleanse the Earth of its human population by means of a global Flood (Genesis 7-8). How many people were on the Earth at that point in time? No one knows, and any speculation would be mere conjecture. However, in his book The Flood, Alfred Rehwinkel attempted calculations of the antediluvian world’s population, taking into account factors relevant to population statistics (e.g., the amount of time from the Creation to the Flood, the extended lifespan of the antediluvian people) and came up with estimates ranging from 900 million to nearly 12 billion (1951, pp. 28-31). In any case, the Bible explicitly states that only eight people survived the Flood (1 Peter 3:20)—not even one-tenth of one percent.
After the Flood, the world’s population again multiplied, but the people clustered in one geographical location in direct defiance of God’s directive to multiply and fill the Earth (Genesis 9:1). This defiance apparently involved most or all of the human population (Genesis 11:1ff.). By 2100 B.C., attention is directed to a man who became the genetic predecessor to the nation of Israel. Little information is given regarding the spiritual and moral condition of the Earth’s population during this period. However, Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain are pinpointed for their wickedness (Genesis 13:13; 18:20; 19:1ff.). The cities were literally burned off the surface of the planet.
For the next few hundred years, again, the Bible reports world events largely insofar as they relate to the descendants of Abraham in order to set the stage for the commencement of the Israelites’ national existence. During this period, occasional references are made to the moral condition of the world. For example, referring to the Canaanite population of Palestine in Abraham’s day, God explained that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). The polygamy of Egypt’s Pharaoh (Genesis 12:14ff.), the king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2ff.), and even Esau (Genesis 28:9) are mentioned, as well as the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:2). Egypt in Joseph’s day had “magicians” (Genesis 41:8). Extra-biblical sources provided by archaeological investigation coincide with the Bible’s depiction of the various peoples of the Near East as being dominated by pagan practice—everything from sexual perversion to child sacrifice.
By 1500 B.C., the Israelite population that came out of Egypt numbered approximately 2 to 3 million men, women, and children, based on the census figures of the men fit for military service, i.e., at least twenty years old, but not too old to go to war (Numbers 1:46). Yet, out of the entire adult population of those who came out of Egypt, only two men (Joshua and Caleb) are specifically mentioned as being permitted eventually to enter the land of Canaan (Numbers 14:30). Even Moses, Aaron, and Miriam did not enter in.
During Joshua’s leadership, the people as a whole stayed fairly faithful (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:7). But with the onset of the period of the Judges, the “Dark Ages of Jewish history” commenced. During this roughly 350-year period, apparently most people were unfaithful (Judges 17:6; 21:25). At the close of that period, the majority of the people in Samuel’s day disobeyed God by clamoring for a king (1 Samuel 8). God went ahead and gave them one—Saul—but promised negative repercussions. Indeed, Saul’s entire reign was miserable (1 Samuel 10-31). The nation did better under the second king of Israel, David (2 Samuel 1-10), until he committed adultery (2 Samuel 11). The rest of his reign was unpleasant (2 Samuel 12-24). Under Solomon, social conditions improved (1 Kings 1-10), but in his old age, he, too, became unfaithful (1 Kings 11).
Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, took over the reins of the nation, but shortly thereafter, Jeroboam ruptured the monarchy by leading ten of the twelve tribes into apostasy (1 Kings 12). He immediately built an alternate worship site away from Jerusalem and introduced idol worship. The history of this northern kingdom (known as Samaria or Israel) is recorded in the rest of 1st and 2nd Kings through a string of 19 kings, every single one of whom is said to have been wicked, i.e., “he did evil in the sight of the Lord.” It appeared that as the king went, so went the nation. Though great prophets, like Elijah, Amos, and Hosea, were sent to turn them around, the nation persisted in its estrangement from the spiritual and moral precepts given to them by God. When God finally had His fill, He allowed them to be taken into captivity by Assyria (2 Kings 17). So much for five-sixths of the Israelites.
One sample of the spiritual anemia of the people during the years leading up to captivity is seen in 1 Kings 18. Having assembled the entire nation on Mt. Carmel, Elijah called upon the people to stand up for the Lord and truth, but they would not commit. Only after a dazzling demonstration of divine intervention did they come around and agree to execute the false prophets of Baal and Asherah. Despite such valiant attempts to recall people to their spiritual senses, every single one of the 19 northern kings were evil and fomented the general depravity of the nation. The northern kingdom only lasted just over 200 years.
Meanwhile, the southern kingdom, consisting of the remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin (known simply as Judah), lasted nearly 400 years as recorded in 1st and 2nd Kings and in 1st and 2nd Chronicles. They, too, had 19 kings. Perhaps six may be said to be somewhat good—with qualified commendation. Only two receive unqualified commendation from God. The prophetic books of the Old Testament are largely interspersed during the period of the divided kingdom, with most of the prophets addressing the southern kingdom (e.g., Jeremiah, Ezekiel). In those books one can see clearly that the majority of the people were unfaithful to God and refused to receive moral and spiritual admonitions. God eventually allowed the two southern tribes to go into Babylonian Captivity.
One is forced to conclude that most of the people, through whom God was working out His redemptive scheme to bring Jesus to the planet, were apostate. In fact, the prophets used a term to describe the few faithful: “remnant.” Numerically, those among God’s people in the Old Testament that were faithful were few. If most of God’s own people under Judaism were lost, what was the condition of most of the contemporaneous Gentiles who lived under Patriarchy? They, too, were alienated from God’s way, living in pagan wickedness.
Shifting to the New Testament, John arrived on the scene, followed by Jesus Himself, in an attempt to reform the Jews in and around Jerusalem and to get them to accept the Messiah. Most Jews were scattered throughout the world due to the previous captivities. Those who had returned to Judea after the Babylonian Captivity were a small minority (see Nehemiah and Ezra). John and Jesus attempted to get those in Judea to repent and to accept Christ and His new religion that He would launch beginning in Acts 2. Unfortunately, the Jews rejected Jesus in mass and participated in His death. Before His death, Jesus denounced Israel and declared that the Jews as a nation had rejected Him and consequently would be lost (Matthew 23-24). This widespread Jewish rejection of Christ and Christianity is confirmed in Acts and Romans. Paul forthrightly bemoaned this astonishing turn of events (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16).
With the advent of Christianity in A.D. 30, about 3,000 Jews were converted on Pentecost (Acts 2). This occurrence was followed by a few thousand thereafter (Acts 3-5). But the estimates of how many Jews would have been in Jerusalem for the dual Old Testament feasts of Passover and Pentecost number in the millions. In fact, assembled in Jerusalem at the time Christianity commenced were Jews “out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Those who embraced Christianity were the minority—again, not even one-tenth of one percent. The Jewish rejection of Christ, as predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24, culminated in A.D. 70 when the Romans marched to Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and killed over one million Jews. This destruction of Jerusalem effectively dismantled the Jewish Commonwealth. The very people who should have embraced God’s religion in large numbers largely rejected it, evoking this stinging declaration: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).
The Gospel was eventually introduced to the Gentile population in Acts 10. Paul was selected to be the “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). The remainder of Acts records the spread of the Gospel throughout the rest of the world. After its presentation to the Jews (Acts 2-7) and the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the initial Gentiles (Acts 10), the missionary journeys of Paul and others took the Gospel to the uttermost part of the world (Acts 1:8; 28:28-31). Yet, again, the vast majority of the Roman world rejected the Gospel.
Observe what is readily apparent from this brief perusal of human history. Most of the Jews rejected Christianity—even to this day. And even though the Gospel then went to the whole Gentile world, the vast majority of the first century world rejected Christianity. So it continues to this very day. Over six billion people live on Earth, yet how many are New Testament Christians? Not even one-tenth of one percent! Throughout the history of mankind, only a small number of individuals will be saved. The unmistakable conclusion is that most people throughout human history will be in hell. Jesus confirmed this observation when He stated: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, emp. added).
Who is to be blamed for the vast majority of all human beings who ever live being lost eternally? Not God! He has done everything He can legitimately do to reconcile lost humanity to Himself (Romans 5:8-10; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 2:14-15). But He coerces no one. All are free to choose their eternal destiny. Most choose momentary pleasure in exchange for their soul. We would do well to think carefully and soberly: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
Rehwinkel, Alfred (1951), The Flood (St. Louis, MO: Concordia).
Webster, Noah (1857), The Elementary Spelling Book (New York, NY: American Book Company).