One of the big conundrums Christians come up against when saying Jesus is the only way to heaven is the question, “What about those who have never even heard about Jesus? Will they go to hell too?”
And because of this question, many people start to wonder if perhaps there is another way. Everything we read in scripture, however, clearly states there is no other way. And we see it in this story as well.
Here was another man who, like the Ethiopian eunuch in chapter 8, was a God-fearer. He gave alms to the poor, and prayed continually to the one true God. The problem was that while he had no doubt heard about Jesus, he nevertheless didn’t know the way of salvation that comes through Jesus.
So God sent an angel to him. Cornelius, understandably, was terrified. “Why has this being come to me? Has he come to kill me for my sins?”
But the angel said,
Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Therefore, I have come to tell you that salvation is yours. Peace to you. Rest in your salvation.
Is that what he said? If you believe the people who say that there is another way to salvation for those who have never heard the gospel, it sounds right.
But that’s not what the angel said. Instead, after talking about how God accepted Cornelius’ prayers and gifts, he said,
Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea. (5-6)
Why did the angel tell Cornelius to do this? So that he could hear the gospel and be saved. Hearing the angel’s command, Cornelius obeyed, and sent men to bring Peter to his house.
Peter, when he came and heard Cornelius’ story, exclaimed,
I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (34-35)
In other words, “God is fair. God accepts anyone who fears him, no matter what nation he is from.”
Peter then said, “God bless you,” and went on his way.
No? No! He preached the gospel to them. They believed and were baptized in the Holy Spirit.
What can we get from this? First, there is only one way to heaven. By hearing the gospel and believing it. Everything in this story makes that crystal clear.
What about those who have never heard? I believe that if they respond to what God has given them, God will respond to them.
Cornelius responded to what he had heard from the Jews about God. So did the Ethiopian. And I believe if there is someone out there in an unreached country, that sees creation, realizes that there’s a creator, and cries out, “God reveal yourself to me,” he will. Because God is fair. And he is faithful.
How will he reveal himself? Either by direct revelation, by sending someone, or both. In this chapter, we see both.
I was reading in a missions newsletter of just such a man. He had known there was a “Most High God,” but didn’t know who he was. Every day for 20 years, he prayed, “God, send somebody to me to explain who You are.”
And when the missionary came, the man immediately believed.
God is just. No one who truly seeks him will die without hearing the gospel. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking there is another way. There isn’t. So let us obey our Lord’s command, taking his gospel to the utter ends of the earth that all may hear and believe.