People have asked, “What’s the basis of God’s Judgement of those who never heard the Gospel?” This is a good question because there is an erroneous belief adhered to by many people that those who have never heard of Jesus Christ in this life will have an opportunity to be saved after death. Some even teach that they will have this chance when they resurrect to life during the 1,000 millennial reign of Christ which they call “judgement day.” These are untrue.
1. God has spoken to all mankind through nature, but many have rejected the voice of God that spoke to them. “Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).
2. God will judge on the basis of the Law. “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Heb. 10:28).
3. God will judge their character and conduct on the basis of the light they had. “To those who by persistence in good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. But those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:7-8)
4. God will judge those who didn’t have the Law according to their living up to the conscience. Every person has an inner conscience and is reflective of the laws of God. When one goes against his conscience, he violates the moral law of God.
“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Romans 2:14-16).
This vs. 16 raises another point: the gospel has been given to all alike. Even before Jesus came in the flesh, the gospel had been preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8) and to Israel (Heb. 4:1-2). Even Abel, Enoch, Noah etc. had the gospel (Heb. 11). Christ, as the pre-existent Word, revealed Himself to them at different times — as theophanies.
What is a theophany? This can be defined thus: “It is the Second Person of the Trinity who appears thus in human form … The One of the three who is called LORD, or Jahweh, in the incident recorded in Genesis 18, is to be taken to be the Second Person of the Trinity.” (J. Oliver Buswell, A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962, 1:33).
However, in cases where men have not had the law or the gospel, God will judge them on the basis of the light they have had and their conscience.