This question should surely arise, not from mere curiosity, but from genuine compassion and concern for those who may die without knowing about Christ and the gospel--and who may be in danger of everlasting destruction.
It is a question which relates to the eternal destiny of man, and it is plain from the teaching of the Bible that all of mankind will ultimately go to one of two places--heaven or hell. This particular question is therefore asking whether those who never heard of Jesus and the gospel will go to heaven or to hell. For, there is no other place known in the Bible.
In seeking an answer, we cannot rely upon human reasoning, emotions, feelings or opinions. Rather, we must seek the mind of Christ on this matter as it is revealed in the New Testament Scriptures. So if there is an answer which may be known, it must be found in the Bible--in the Word of God.
The Biblical answer may be reasonably deduced from certain revealed truths in Scripture.
- All mankind without exception, (from the time of man's fall, Gen. ch.3) are sinners in the sight of God (Rom.3:9-23; Eccles.7:20). This includes those ignorant of Christ.
- Sin brings all mankind under God's wrath and curse (Rom.1:18; Eph.2:3; Gal.3:10), as well as condemnation and judgment (Rom.5:16,18). All without exception.
- Mankind's sin is highly offensive to our holy God and has separated us from God (Isa.59:2).
- It is the fact of man's inherited condemnation and actual sin, which keeps him from the presence of God in heaven, not his knowledge of, and rejection of Christ. The latter of course, will compound the guilt and condemnation of the sinner (Matt.10:14,15; 11:20-24). (Note, here we are reminded of the reality of degrees of punishment for the lost.)
- The gospel is the proclamation of God's gracious provision of salvation for sinners by way of the sacrificial and atoning death of his Son Jesus Christ. Only through hearing this 'good news' and through faith in Jesus Christ, can a sinner be justified, forgiven and saved from the wrath to come (Rom.10:13-17; John 3:16; Rom.5:1; 8:1).
- And importantly, this redemptive provision is the only way to salvation and heaven. See Acts 4:12, "Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Also, John 14:6. Thus, there is no other way into the fold of Christ but through faith in Christ the door (Jn. 10).
We must conclude therefore, that those who have not heard of Christ and the gospel, are indeed condemned sinners who are perishing and who will suffer the eternal judgment of God, unless they repent and believe the gospel (Lk.13:3; Heb.11:6).
Finally, it was in the light of this awful reality that the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned his church to 'go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature' so that sinners may believe and be saved rather than damned (Mk.16:15,16). And it was this realization which has motivated thousands of Christ's missionaries to devote their lives to taking the gospel of salvation and hope to the lost multitudes in heathen lands such as China, India, Africa, South America and so many other places of darkness and ignorance. It should also motivate all believers to speak of the gospel to the ignorant of their own neighbourhood today.
NOTE: God the righteous judge, while not clearing the guilty, apart from Christ, will administer judgment by degrees, in accordance with men's deeds (Rom.2:1-16). People will be judged according to the light they have received. And further, we can be sure that every one of Christ's elect sheep shall be saved (Jn.10:27-29). In the comfort of this assurance, believers in thankfulness to God for his grace, will with concern and compassion for the lost, always pray that the Lord of the harvest will send forth labourers into his harvest (Matt. 9:36-38). Let us always pray, "Thy kingdom come."