There are many people today and throughout history who have not wanted to be redeemed by Jesus Christ, usually because they did not really understand their need of redemption or did not have faith that He could really set them free. What about these people? Will they benefit from Jesus' redemption payment in spite of their unbelief? Yes, but not immediately. All will be held accountable for their actions, and every judgment will fit the crime.
Here is how it works. The law of redemption says that those who agree to be redeemed by their relative must serve their redeemer (Lev. 25:53). In other words, those who are redeemed are not set free to do their own pleasure. The redeemer has purchased their debt note, and therefore, they are still bondservants—but now they are bondservants of One who loves them and will treat them right.
The apostle Paul puts it this way in Rom. 6:18, “Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.” He continues, saying, “when you were servants of sin, you were free from righteousness; but now you are set free from sin and have become servants of God.”
A person set free from sin does not mean that he suddenly becomes perfectly sinless. Paul is referring to sin as the old slave master. When we worked for the old slave master, who told us to sin, we were free from God and His righteousness. Conversely, when God purchased us through Jesus Christ, we are no longer bound to do what sin tells us to do, and we are free to do what is right.
Paul calls himself “a bondservant of Jesus Christ” (Rom. 1:1), because he understood the laws of redemption. That is why he told the Christians in Rome that Christ's redemption did not mean they were free to continue in sin. They were only free from the old slave master who, in the past, had commanded them to sin.
But what about those who refuse to accept the provision God has made for us to be redeemed? The law says in Lev. 25:54 that “even if he is not redeemed in these years, he is still to go free in the year of Jubilee, both he and his children with him.”
The old Hebrew calendar divided time into periods of seven days and seven years. A Jubilee cycle was a period of 49 years. Then ten days into the 50th year a trumpet was blown to signal the day of Jubilee. This was the day that all debts were cancelled, and every man was to return to his inheritance if he had lost it any time during the previous 49 years.
Of course, this was only applicable to those who had been unable to work long enough to pay off their debt. It was also applicable only to those who did not have a redeemer—or if people had not accepted the redemption of a willing relative. Perhaps they did not trust him or know him well enough to trust his motives. Or perhaps they just thought that his commands would be too rigorous. Whatever their reasons, even if they have not availed themselves of the redemption of Christ in this age, they will still go free in the year of Jubilee. There is a limit on how much judgment and discipline that God dispenses upon His children.
The time to be redeemed was an absolute maximum of 49 years from one Jubilee to another. With God, there is no such thing as never-ending punishment. The Bible verses that are usually quoted to prove never-ending punishment are actually mistranslations of the original text.
The word for “eternal” and “everlasting” is the Greek word, aeonian, which means “pertaining to an eon (age).” In other words, God's final judgments pertain to a specific age in the future that eventually will end with the great Creation Jubilee, when all judgment ceases, and all men are brought fully into the glory of God, even as He promised by covenant.
Many people throughout history have not known of Jesus' redemption payment. Others have rejected His redemption because they were misinformed about Him. Others preferred to fulfill the commands of their old slave master, sin, and did not want to be set free. Whatever the reason, many people have not availed themselves of Jesus' redemptive work.
So what is to happen to them?
The Bible speaks of a final day of judgment where all men will stand before the Great White Throne (Rev. 15:11-15). Here is where God will foreclose on all debts from the beginning. Here is where all men will be held accountable for their actions that they did in their life on earth.
The Bible speaks of this judgment in terms of “fire.” Some think this “fire” is a literal torture pit. It is not. The divine law never once dispenses torture as a judgment for any sin.
Deut. 4:12 tells us that God manifests Himself as a fire. In the New Testament, we read in Heb. 12:29 that God Himself is a consuming fire. This simply means that the presence of God will consume whatever is not good. Further, His judgments are designed to correct men, not to destroy them. They are designed to restore the lawful order, so that whatever men have done to violate the rights of others will be righted.
The law's purpose is to obtain justice for the wronged and forgiveness for the sinner who wronged those other people.
The divine law itself is the “lake of fire.” Moses tells us in Deut. 33:2 that the law is a “fiery law” in His hand.
Daniel 7:9 also pictures that final throne of God. He says that the throne itself is a fire, out of which comes a “fiery stream” that judges all men. It is simply a metaphoric way of saying that God's fiery law will judge all men. But to know the nature of that fire, one must study the divine law itself. And not once does the divine law prescribe torture for any sin.
Thus, the “lake of fire” in the Bible is never taken as literally as some have interpreted it.