Q: Can anyone go to Heaven if they did not hear the Gospel while they were alive?
RBHILL: This is an amazing answer!!! to the above question.
A: If you are a Christian that is a good question to ask Job, or Abraham, or Daniel someday. Everyone will hear the gospel of Christ, even if it is after they die, for every knee will bow to Jesus. Some hear before they die, and some after. Those who hear after they die include Old Testament saints who faithfully followed the truth they had, and evildoers who rejected the truth they had.
Scripture also implies that babies and little children can go to Heaven too (2 Samuel 12:23; Luke 18:16). What is the "cut-off" age for children/adults?
While Scripture is silent on if those who did not make any choice can make one after they die, the early Greek-speaking Christian Clement of Alexandria (193-217 A.D.) taught that they could, based on 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6. Other Christians disagree though. Five points to support this answer.
a) Every knee, not only in Heaven, on earth, but under the earth (in other words the dead) will bow to Jesus in Philippians 2:10 (See also Isaiah 45:23-24). Every eye will see Jesus return in Revelation 1:7, and will see God's glory in Isaiah 40:5.
b) Whatever God intended to communicate 1 Peter 3:19, Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, and "for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (1 Peter 4:6 KJV)
c) People die once and then face judgment (Hebrews 9:27-28). There is no second chance after death for people who reject Jesus. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce speculated that it might be possible for those in Hell to repent then and go to Heaven. However Mt 18:8; 25:41,46 and 2 Th 1:9 show that this speculation of C.S. Lewis is wrong. Luke 16:26 also shows there is an impassable chasm.
An interesting illustration was given by C.S. Lewis. Consider Heaven and Hell as two points, with Heaven above Hell, and a horizontal line (salvation through Christ) drawn between them. Some people might be directly between the two points, with some closer to Heaven and some closer to Hell. Some people might be way to the left or right of the two points, again some closer to Heaven and some to Hell. Those who far from Heaven and Hell, if they reject what they know have a lesser punishment, and those who believe the little truth they have been given have fewer opportunities for rewards. Those directly between Heaven and Hell have the greatest opportunities for rewards if they believe. They also are the closest to Hell, and receive the greater punishment, if they reject Christ. How close you are to being directly between Heaven and Hell depends on the knowledge you have been given.
My Conclusion: We can see in many ways how God is just, though God has not told us everything He will do. But, what will you do? Now that you know, what are you going to do about it? If you are concerned about those who have not heard today, then accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, become a foreign missionary, and go preach to them.
Your Conclusion: When you come to your own conclusion about those who died before hearing the gospel, you have to answer two questions
(Yes/No) Did a just God choose to give everyone an opportunity to be saved?
(Yes/No) Would it be possible for God to ever give anyone an opportunity after they die?
Erickson, Millard J. How Shall They Be Saved : The Destiny of Those Who Do Not Hear of Jesus. Baker Books 1996.
Packer, J.I. Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God. InterVarsity Press 1961.
Richardson, Don. Eternity in Their Hearts -revised. Regal Books 1981.
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Early Church Speculations on Those Who Died Before Hearing the Gospel
Shepherd of Hermas (c.160 A.D.) book 3 ch.16 refers to those who died before Christ and before being baptized. It says apostles and teachers [no mention of Christ] preached it to those already asleep.
Justin Martyr (138-165 A.D.) Those who did which was universally, naturally, and eternally good are pleasing to God, they will be saved through Christ in the resurrection equally with the righteous men before them, such as Noah, Enoch, Jacob, and others. Dialogue with Trypho ch.45 p.217. Also, First Apology of Justin Martyr (c.150 A.D.) ch.63 p.184 mentions that those who died are "yet in existence and men belonging to Christ Himself." Also First Apology of Justin Martyr ch.46 p.178
Irenaeus of Lyons (182-188 A.D.) "It was for this reason, too, that the Lord descended into the regions beneath the earth, preaching His advent there also and [declaring] the remission of sins received by those who believe in Him. Now all those believed in Him who had hope towards Him, that is, those who proclaimed His advent, and submitted to his dispensations, the righteous men, the prophets, and the patriarchs,… For ‘all men come short of the glory of the God,’ and are not justified of themselves, but by the advent of the Lord," Irenaeus Against Heresies Book 4 ch.27.1 p.499
Irenaeus of Lyons (182-188 A.D.) "And on this account all things have been [by general consent] placed under the sway of Him who is styled the Most High, and the Almighty. By calling upon Him, even before the coming of our Lord, men were saved both from most wicked spirits, and from all kinds of demons, and from every sort of apostate power." Irenaeus Against Heresies book 2 ch.6.2 p.365
Clement of Alexandria: (193-202 A.D.) answers about those who never heard the Gospel.
Wherefore the Lord preached the Gospel to those in Hades. Accordingly the Scripture says, "Hades says to Destruction, We have not seen His form, but we have heard His voice." [allusion to Job 28:22] It is not plainly the place, which, the words above say, heard the voice, but those who have been put in Hades, and have abandoned themselves to destruction, as persons who have thrown themselves voluntarily from a ship into the sea. They, then, are those that hear the divine power and voice. For who in his senses can suppose the souls of the righteous and those of sinners in the same condemnation, charging Providence with injustice? But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that. the Lord reached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept "in ward and guard"? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge. And, as I think, the Saviour also exerts His might because it is His work to save; which accordingly He also did by drawing to salvation those who became willing, by the preaching [of the Gospel], to believe on Him, wherever they were. If, then, the Lord descended to Hades for no other end but to preach the Gospel, as He did descend; it was either to preach the Gospel to all or to the Hebrews only. If, accordingly, to all, then all who believe shall be saved, although they may be of the Gentiles, on making their profession there; since God's punishments are saving and disciplinary, leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance thorn the death of a sinner;" The Stromata book 6 ch.6 p.490-491
Tertullian (198-220 A.D.) mentions that Christ went to Hades "that He might there make the patriarchs and prophets partakers of Himself." (It does not say whether or not Jesus preached to them though.) A Treatise on the Soul ch.55 p.231.
Hippolytus (222-235/6 A.D.) "He [Jesus] who is become the preacher of the Gospel to the dead, the redeemer of souls, and the resurrection of the buried;" Fragment from Commentary on Psalm 19 or 20 p.170. Also ch.7.14 p.189
Origen (225-254 A.D.) "but also, then when He became a soul, without the covering of the body, He dwelt among those souls which were without bodily covering, converting such of them as were willing to Himself, or those who He saw, for reasons known to Him alone, to be better adapted to such a course." Origen Against Celsus book 2 ch.43 p.448