Current Issue

My wife, Audrey, and I receive a flyer in the mail on Wednesday or Thursday each week from one of the grocery stores in our town, telling us what their sale items are for the coming several days. If there’s anything Audrey wants at the discounted price, she has to go to the store between Friday and Tuesday the following week. If she waits till Wednesday, she’ll pay the regular price for those items.

Similarly, there’s a time limit on God’s offer of eternal life.

“Wait a minute!” you say. “Surely a loving God wouldn’t put a time limit on His offer of eternal life!”

Strange as it may seem, the Bible is very clear that this is what He has done, for two reasons.

The finality of death

The first one is death. Jesus told a parable about a rich farmer who had a bumper crop one year, so he decided to build huge barns and store the whole crop. That way, he figured, he could retire and live a long and leisurely life. But God said, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you” (Luke 12:20).

Please notice that last sentence: “This very night your life will be demanded from you.” These words have a sense of finality to them. Jesus meant that the rich man would die that night and have to account to God on Judgment Day for the way he had lived. It’s as if God told the rich man, “The school year has ended, final grades have been passed out, and you flunked.” There’s not one hint here that God would offer the rich man a chance to live his life over again or extend it to see if he could do better.

In His parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus expressed even more strongly the finality of the choices we make in this life. In this story, a rich man dies, is buried, and ends up in hell. Lazarus, a beggar, also dies, but he ends up by “Abraham’s side” (a Jewish figure of speech that meant eternal life with God). The rich man begs Abraham to have Lazarus bring him some relief, but he is told that “a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

Clearly, Jesus intended us to understand that death fixes a person’s eternal destiny forever. There is no changing sides after one dies. All choices for eternity must be made in this life.

The end of the world

The second factor that puts a time limit on God’s offer of eternal life is Christ’s second coming, which brings about the end of the world.

Let’s examine two of Jesus’ parables that illustrate this point. In the parable of the fish in the net, Jesus said that some fishermen pulled a net filled with fish onto the shore. Then they sorted the fish into two piles—the good fish in one pile and the bad fish in the other. “This is how it will be at the end of the age [the Second Coming],” Jesus explained. “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:49, 50).

Notice the finality Jesus ascribed to the fate of those who reject Him: They will be separated from the righteous and thrown into a fiery furnace. In other words, the wicked will have no second chance to choose eternal life.

This same lesson is taught in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus began this parable by saying, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him . . .” (Matthew 25:31). These words can refer to only one thing: Jesus’ second coming. He went on to say that when He returns, “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (verse 32).

In His conclusion to the parable, Jesus said the goats will “go away to eternal punishment,” but the sheep will go “to eternal life” (verse 46). He didn’t give the slightest hint that the wicked would be given a second chance to accept Him and receive eternal life. To the contrary, He specifically said that the wicked will receive eternal punishment.

Clearly, God will not offer a second chance at eternal life to those who rejected the offer before Christ’s return. All choices concerning our eternal destiny must be made in this life. Any later will be too late.

The close of probation

Christians sometimes use the expression probationary time to refer to the period during which human beings have the opportunity to accept Jesus and be saved or to reject Him and be lost. And the end of probationary time is called “the close of probation.”

The following words in Revelation make it clear that probation will close someday: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11, KJV). This verse says that a day is coming when the final choice of each human being will be fixed for eternity.

For most people, their probation closes when they die. However, for those who are still alive when Jesus comes, their opportunity to accept or reject God’s offer will end before they have had a chance to die. God will pass final judgment on them, and their probation will close, while they are still alive.

Jesus’ parables suggest that people will be able to accept or reject God right up to His second coming. In one of these parables, for example, the separation of the righteous and the wicked into two classes takes place “at the end of the age,” and in another, it occurs “when the Son of Man comes in his glory” (Matthew 13:49; 25:31).

Revelation, however, suggests a slightly different scenario.

The close of probation in Revelation

Both Jesus and Revelation assure us that the human race will be divided into just two classes at the end of time: the righteous and the wicked. Jesus illustrated this with His figures of the wheat and the weeds, the good and bad fish, the wise and foolish virgins, and the sheep and the goats. Revelation uses these same two categories but with different symbols. Revelation says that the righteous will receive the seal of God, while the wicked will receive the mark of the beast (Revelation 7:1–4; 13:16).

But when will this division take place? Revelation 16, which describes the seven last plagues, makes it quite evident that probation will close before Christ’s second coming.

I will begin by pointing out that all seven of these plagues will occur before the second coming of Christ. Thus, the first plague will obviously occur quite some time before the Second Coming. And notice who Revelation says will suffer the effects of the first plague: “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image” (Revelation 16:2; emphasis added).

All the plagues fall only on those who have received the mark of the beast—that is, the wicked. Since these plagues will occur before the second coming of Christ, it is evident that the close of probation—each human being’s final decision for or against God—must take place before the second coming of Christ and not at His coming.

So during the seven last plagues, those who have made a final choice for God will live on the earth together with those who have decided irrevocably against Him. The two groups will not be physically separated until Christ’s second coming, just as Jesus taught in His parables.

We close our own probation

Does it still seem unfair to you that at some point in the future, God will cut off the opportunity to accept Him and obtain eternal life? Actually, we will cut off that opportunity ourselves.

The mark of the beast and the seal of God are evidences of our characters. God never forces upon us the choices that form our characters. However, God will not shield us from the unfortunate consequences of our wrong choices.

Earlier I quoted the verse from Revelation that says, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still . . . and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” God is not telling us here of something He will do to us. He’s simply telling us the consequences of what we will have already done to ourselves.

While the second coming of Jesus will be an earth-shattering event that every human will be aware of, only God will know when every human being has made his or her final choice. Thus, God alone will know when probation has closed for every human being. We must be ready at all times. That’s why Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:13).

I cannot say strongly enough that the time to choose God is now. The time to accept Jesus as your Savior and to obtain the forgiveness of your sins is now.The time to choose the transformation of your heart and the cleansing from sin that Jesus offers is now.

I urge you to make these choices now, before it is forever too late.

When It Will Be Forever Too Late

by Andrew Gordon
From the July 2011 Signs