Will Everyone be Saved? Part II (1:20)
We considered in the previous meditation the suggestion that when Paul says "all things, whether on earth or in heaven" have been reconciled to God through the blood of the cross that he had in mind the redeemed citizens of the new creation, those who are now and will be members of the Church of which Christ is the living Head and Beginning (thereby maintaining a close connection between v. 20 and vv. 18-19).
But there is another possibility that we need to consider. According to this view, the "all things" in v. 20 refer back to the "all things" in v. 16. They are indeed coextensive. How, then, does one avoid universalism?
We first need to understand the need for reconciliation. As we noted in v. 16, all things were created in, by, and for Christ. What Paul does not mention here is what happened to this creation after it came into existence. Because of the fall of Adam, the unity, harmony, and consonance of the original creation have suffered a devastating rupture. That pristine beauty of Eden has been horribly marred. Disharmony was brought to bear on God's handiwork. Alienation (between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature) now characterizes the cosmos. In a word, the totality of creation is mired in disruption and suffers from what one can only describe as moral, spiritual, and physical discombobulation.
This is clearly Paul's point in Romans 8:18-23, where he speaks of the creation being subjected to futility, yet one day to be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the children of God (v. 21; see also 2 Peter 3:13). In other words, Adam's sin had cosmic repercussions that require reconciliation. This much we can all understand. But how can it be that "all things" are embraced by this reconciliation?
How can Paul say that wicked and unbelieving humans as well as wicked and rebellious demons (including Satan, no doubt) are in any sense "reconciled"? After all, when Paul later relates the cross of Christ to the demonic hosts he describes its effect as one of despoiling and conquering, not redeeming (see Col. 2:15). Fallen angels are consistently portrayed as irrevocably hostile to the kingdom of God with no hope of "salvation" in any sense of that term (see 1 Cor. 15:24-25; Mt. 25:41; Jude 6; Rev. 20:10).
What this suggests is that the "reconciliation" Paul has in mind includes the notion of subjugation and the bringing to nought of God's enemies. God's reconciliation of all things includes the triumph and victory over those who are and ever will be his enemies. Some have wondered how this constitutes a "victory" for God. Does not the perpetual presence in hell of unbelievers signify his failure, perhaps even his defeat? No. It would only be failure if they were to escape the punishment their sin merits. Divine justice prevails and holy wrath is revealed, all to the glory of God.
As John Murray explains, the consummated order of the new heavens and new earth, "however we may describe it in the various designations Scripture provides, is one from which all conflict, enmity, disharmony, warfare will be excluded; it will mean the final triumph of righteousness and peace, in a word, of reconciliation. The powers of darkness will be cast out and by the judgment executed made to 'confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father' (Phil. 2:11). Bowing the knee in compulsive submission, this will be the reconciliation as it bears upon them; it will constitute the ultimate unconditional surrender, the confessed defeat of age-long assault upon the kingdom of God. We can and must see in this grand climax of victory the fruit of the blood of Christ's cross" ("The Reconciliation," Westminster Theological Journal, 9).
Thus the demonic hosts and unbelieving humanity may be spoken of as encompassed by and participating in the "reconciliation", not in the sense that they are ultimately saved, but insofar as they will be subjugated, pacified, and rendered incapable of any longer disrupting the harmony and beauty of God's creative handiwork. According to Scripture, all evil will be excluded from heaven, all wickedness banished from its boundaries, all unbelief confined in hell (see Revelation 21:8,27; 22:15).
The point is that "peace" can be achieved in one of two ways: either by the removal of hostility through grace or by the pacification and subjugation of enemies through power and judgment. At the close of World War II, hostilities ceased. Battles came to an end. The threat of Nazi domination was terminated. The Axis Powers were defeated, subjugated, and compelled to submit to the oversight and authority of their conquerors. There was undoubtedly lingering hatred and disdain toward the Allies, but the latter were still victorious. Harmony and order and peace, as much as is possible this side of heaven, were restored. There was, in a word, reconciliation.
Likewise, although all creation will ultimately bow the knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11), the elect will do it voluntarily, by grace, whereas the non-elect will do it by compulsion, as one element in their judgment. Reconciliation can occur, therefore, without entailing the restoration of all to fellowship with God.
There will be no conflict in the age to come. There will be no warfare to threaten the security of God's people. There will be no corruption of nature or demonic temptation or opposition to the kingdom of God.
Paul used similar language in Ephesians 1:10 when he described God's eternal purpose as the "summing up" or the "uniting" of "all things" in Christ, "things in heaven and things on earth" (1:10). His final purpose will have been achieved: (1) his grace and mercy will have been glorified by the salvation of his people, (2) his holiness and justice will have been glorified by the condemnation of his enemies, (3) and heaven and earth will have been restored under their divinely created and determined order, the universe placed once again under its head.
I'm not certain which of these two views is the correct one (perhaps there is yet another alternative). But I am certain of this: there is no hope for reconciliation and peace with God apart from the blood of the cross of Christ.
Rejoicing in the Reconciliation,