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A popular misconception about ‘universal reconciliation’

11-01-2020 - Posted by Andre Piet

Today I saw the accompanying cartoon about ‘universal reconciliation’. It nicely illustrates how the vast majority of people take the word ‘universal reconciliation’. ‘Universal reconciliation’ would mean that all people go to heaven, whether they like it or not. This illustration is a major and also a demonstrable misunderstanding.

The word ‘reconciliation’ is taken directly from Colossians 1 where Paul writes:

19 For in Him the entire complement delights to dwell, 20 and through Him to reconcile all to Him making peace through the blood of His cross, through Him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens. 21 And you, being once estranged and enemies in comprehension, by wicked acts, yet now He reconciles

With these words, ‘universal reconciliation’ is an unmistakably Biblical given. For Paul is teaching here that GOD reconciles “all” (whether those on the earth or those in the heavens). And He does that “through him”, that is through “the Son of GOD’S love” (: 13) and “the blood of his cross.”

Question: Who is the one who reconciles?

Answer: GOD.

Question: how does GOD reconcile?

Answer: through his Son and “through the blood of his cross.”

Question: how far does the reconciliation extend?

Answer: to “the all”, that is “every creature”. As stated in verses 15 and 16:

…Firstborn of EVERY creature, for in Him is ALL created…

Every creature which…

Reconciliation applies to every creature that is alienated and hostile. That is the only ‘condition’ which Scripture mentions to be reconciled. Paul writes in verse 20 that GOD reconciles “all” but that believers who were once alienated and hostile are now being reconciled. They already share in what one day all of creation will experience.

Reconciliation therefore concerns every creature that is alienated and hostile. Stones, mountains, seas, rivers, animals, plants, sun and moon are not eligible for this, for the simple reason that they are not enemies. To be healed, one must first be sick and to be made alive one must first be dead. Similarly, in order to be reconciled, one must first be alienated and an enemy.

Paul uses an exceptional word for reconciliation in Colossians 1:20: apo-katalaxai. The addition of the preposition “apo” (= from) is a reinforcement that is only partly expressed in the ‘re’ of the translation word “reconcile”. The idea is that the reconciliation with GOD works from there (apo). So not only a vertical reconciliation (with GOD) but also horizontal: a mutual reconciliation between alienated and hostile parties (compare Eph.2: 14-16).

universal reconciliation = everyone goes to heaven?

Reconciliation is therefore not a ‘general amnesty’. And it does not mean giving others access to or bring them to a certain place. In the above cartoon it is suggested that ‘universal reconciliation’ means that God lets people go to heaven against their will. Then I ignore the misunderstanding that ‘heaven’ would be the only place where people end up, for those who belong to God. As if the Bible would not speak of a new earth that will also be inhabited. I will let that rest here. The fundamental mistake is that “universal reconciliation” would mean that creatures end up to be with God against their will.

reconciliation is existential

Reconciliation is not a move from X to Y or ‘going to heaven’. Reconciliation is not a change of place but a change of who you are. It is not a transportation but a transformation. It does not change the outside but the inside. You were unwilling, alienated and an enemy, but reconciliation turns you into a friend. No longer unwilling but a cordial enthusiast. Someone who bows his knees to GOD and confesses with his tongue that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of GOD the Father (Fil. 2: 9-11). That is what reconciliation is!

Being reconciled is passive

Also note: creatures are being changed. According to Colossians 1:20, it is an activity of GOD. Creatures are the direct object. You do not reconcile yourself but you are reconciled. It is “through the blood of the cross” that GOD makes all enemies lovers of Him! He convinces them all of his love that is greater than any enmity.

the instrument of reconciliation

Also note that “the blood of the cross” is GOD’s instrument of reconciliation. Isn’t that amazing? Because “through the blood of the cross” the world, for its part, proved ultimate alienation and enmity. It is therefore GOD’s response to this that brings about reconciliation. For while the world murdered GOD’S Son, GOD then raised him up to give Life to him to that same world. That is like giving food and drink to your enemy who is hungry and thirsty. By reacting like this, “embers of fire are being heaped on one’s head”: it means that someone can no longer remain an enemy (Rom. 12:20). It is GOD’s response to “the blood of the cross” that will eliminate any enmity. It will melt away like snow in the sun. No enmity can stand up to such love.

GOD’s love in the judgment

The depiction of things in the cartoon betrays serious ignorance about what reconciliation is. GOD does not bring creatures into his glory who do not want to be there. He takes a thorough approach and goes to the core and turns unwillingness into willingness. As we read from Israel that GOD will “heal their backsliding” (Hos.14: 4). Judgment (as with the “great white throne”) also contributes to that process. By judging, GOD does not write off his creatures, but confronts them with what they did. It is precisely through confrontation that He sets everything straight. That is what is judgement is. Judgement is not opposed to GOD’s love, but results from it. GOD does not abandon the works of his hands and that is why He corrects everything and brings all of them to the right place. Just as a potter reforms a lump of clay, so does the Creator with his creatures.

All glory is to GOD who redirects every heart wherever He desires (compare Proverbs 21: 1). In its own time and in its own way. No one is overlooked and no one is unreachable to Him. It is GOD who reconciles all. Colossians 1:20 does not preach ‘Universal-reconciliation’ but the ‘reconciler of All’!