On Wednesday or Thursday of each week, my wife and I receive a flyer in the mail from one of the grocery stores in our town, advertising their sale items for the coming week. If we want anything at the discounted price, we must go to the store between Friday and Tuesday the following week. If we wait until Wednesday, we have to 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 is what He has done. God’s offer has two types of time limits.

the finality of death

The first of those time limits 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).

These words have a sense of finality to them. Jesus declared that the rich man would die that night and have to give 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 issued, and you flunked!” There’s not one hint here that God would offer the rich man a second chance to live his life over or extend it to see if he could do better.

Clearly, Jesus wanted 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 time limit on God’s offer of eternal life is Christ’s second coming at the end of the world.

Let’s examine two of Jesus’ parables that illustrate this point. In the parable of the net, Jesus told of some fishermen who pulled a net filled with fish onto the shore. 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 blazing 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 blazing furnace. In other words, the wicked will have no second chance to choose eternal life.

Jesus taught the same lesson in His parable of the sheep and the goats. He began 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 continued, “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 [the wicked] will “go away to eternal punishment,” but the sheep [the righteous] will go “to eternal life” (verse 46). Once again, He didn’t give the slightest hint that the wicked would be given a second chance to accept Him and receive eternal life. On the contrary, He specifically said that the wicked will receive eternal punishment.

Clearly, all choices concerning our eternal destiny must be made in our lifetime before Christ’s return. Any later will be too late.

the close of probation

We sometimes use the term probation to refer to a limited period during which people have the opportunity to demonstrate good behavior on a new job or after committing a crime. Similarly, human beings are given a time of probation to either accept Jesus and be saved or to reject Him and be lost.

The following words in Revelation make it clear that humanity’s 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). On that day, the final choice of every 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 die. Their probation will close while they are still alive.

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

Revelation, however, puts a magnifying glass on final events, showing a more detailed scenario.

the close of probation in Revelation

The parables of Jesus and the book of Revelation both 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 figures of wheat and weeds, good and bad fish, wise and foolish virgins, and sheep and goats. Revelation shows the 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, 17).

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

All seven of those plagues will occur before the second coming of Christ. Thus, the first plague will obviously occur quite some time before the Second Coming. 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, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its 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.

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, the unrighteous cut off that opportunity themselves.

Earlier, we read God’s declaration, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still . . . and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11, KJV). God is not telling us here of something He will do to us. He’s simply telling us what we will have already done to ourselves, and time is up!

The second coming of Jesus will be an earth-shattering event that every human will be aware of, but only God will know when each 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.

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.

Marvin Moore served as editor of Signs of the Times® from 1994 to 2021.

Forever Too Late

by Marvin Moore
From the July 2024 Signs