Colossians 1:20—Does this verse teach that all will be saved (universalism)?
Problem: The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians, “For it was the Father’s good pleasure ... through Him [Christ] to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:19–20, nasb). If Paul says that all things are reconciled to Christ by His death and resurrection, this seems to imply that all people are saved. But other Scriptures declare that many will be lost (e.g., Matt. 7:13–14; 25:41; Rev. 20:11–15).
Solution: First of all, Paul is not speaking about universal salvation here, but simply universal sovereignty of Jesus Christ. In other words, all authority has been given to Jesus Christ in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). By virtue of His death and resurrection, Christ as the Last Adam is Lord over all that was lost by the First Adam (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45–49).
Note the contrast between two crucial passages by Paul:
When Paul speaks of being “in Christ” (i.e., being saved), he does not include “those under the earth” (i.e., the lost). However, all persons, saved and unsaved, will one day bow before Christ and acknowledge His universal lordship. But nowhere do the Scriptures teach that all people will be saved. Jesus will say to many, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). John spoke of the devil, the beast and the false prophet, and all whose names are not written in the Book of Life being cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev. 20:10–15). Luke speaks of a great impassible gulf between heaven and hell in which those who have rejected God are living in torment (Luke 16:19–31). Paul speaks of punishment on the wicked as “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thes. 1:7–9). Jesus declared Judas was lost and called him “the son of perdition” (John 17:12). It is evident from all these passages that not everyone will be saved.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.