Do unbelievers get a second chance to believe in Jesus after they die?
According to universalists they do.
They say that someone who dies in unbelief today may still have a chance to believe in Jesus for eternal life in the underworld tomorrow. On that theory, when an unebeliever wake up in Hades, they will realize how wrong they were and come to faith in Jesus.
By contrast, according to the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment (ECT), you get one chance to believe in this life. After you die, it is too late.
Who is right? Which view is true?
To be honest, I wish the second-chance view was true. I wish all my dead friends and family—those who died in unbelief—could somehow come to faith after death and spend eternity with God. I don’t want them to be separated from God forever.
But I also know that wishing something to be true does not make it true.
In this series of blog posts exploring ECT and its rivals, I have tried to stand under God’s Word. I want to bring my beliefs—and my wishes—into alignment with Scripture. If ECT is wrong, I don’t want to believe it. If ECT is true, then I’ll believe it no matter what I may feel about it.
What does Scripture say about second chances after death?
First, there is no verse that explicitly teaches there are second chances after death. If the universalists were right, I would expect there to be at least one verse that says it. I don’t think there is (but I’m open to correction).
Second, Jesus said you must be alive in order to believe in Him for eternal life. Do you remember Jesus’ conversation with Martha? He added a little detail that has a bearing on this question:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
There are two conditions to have eternal life. You must believe. But you must also be alive. “Everyone who lives and believes in Me…”
Why does Jesus add that provision?
It is possible that Jesus is implying that your only opportunity to believe happens in this life. An unbeliever can come to saving faith right up until he takes his last breath. Deathbed conversions are possible. But post-mortem conversions are not. You must be alive.
Third, the fact that Hades is full tells me there are no second chances after death. If there were second chances after death, I would expect Hades to be empty right now. Every dead person will have realized they were wrong and come to faith in Jesus and gone to heaven. But in the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the Rich Man remains in the fire. He does not cross over into Abraham’s bosom. He cannot.
Fourth, Hebrews implies you only get one chance to believe in this life:
And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Heb 9:27).
What comes after death? A second chance to believe? A third? A fourth? No. After death comes the judgment. Judgment follows death—not second chances. You need to believe now.
When I take these verses together, I conclude that you and I have been given a precious opportunity to come to faith in this life. Do not waste this chance, because God has not promised you another.