Thanks Dave for your question. The Bible is clear that God’s grace and gift of salvation is available to all, but nothing in Scripture indicates that those who have rejected this offer of salvation in their earthly life will have another opportunity post-death. Some have argued that God, being gracious, will give a second chance to those who have rejected Christ in their earthly life. They base their arguments on two passages which we will look at shortly.
Before we get there, let me address a more common question. How can a just God send someone who has never heard the gospel to hell? If he has not had a chance to hear the good news, wouldn’t God be unjust in sending him to Hell. The apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-20 writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
Paul writes “all are without excuse." Those who have never heard the gospel are judged on the basis of general revelation. Creation declares the invisible attributes of the Creator, namely His eternal power and divine nature. Paul says they, having received this revelation regarding the invisible attributes of God, have not responded in worship and gratitude. The problem here is not the absence of evidence but the suppression of it. No one can appeal to ignorance or lack of opportunity.
Now to your question specifically. Will people be given another chance post-mortem? Those who say “Yes” appeal primarily to two verses:
(1) 1 Peter 4:6 says, “For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.” The “dead” here are those who had heard and believed the gospel while alive and then subsequently died. Peter writes this to encourage Believers who are persevering in their faith in the midst of suffering. Although it seems like both Believers and unbelievers are meeting the same fate in that everyone ends up dying, Peter is reminding them that the gospel was preached to them so that they may live in the presence of God even though it appears that they have died like everyone else.
(2) 1 Peter 3:18-20 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”
If the spirits referred to in 1 Peter 3:19 are human beings who have died, one could argue that at least some were given a second chance post-mortem. However, these spirits are not humans who have died, but fallen angelic beings to whom Christ proclaimed His victory post-resurrection, prior to His exaltation.
It is very important to understand the context in order for us to make sense of the text. Again, Peter is addressing Believers who are scattered and persecuted on account of their faith. He is urging them to persevere in the face of persecution; if they remain faithful like Jesus, they too will be vindicated. It would be counterproductive to add that if they deny the faith they would have another chance post-mortem. As Tom Schreiner said, “If Peter were promising a second chance, the Petrine readers could not be faulted for concluding that they could deny the faith now and then embrace it after death.”
Lastly, Jesus through His parables clearly teaches that there is no possibility of a second chance post-death. In Luke 16, we read the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man is not offered a second chance even when he seeks mercy. Similarly in Matthew 25, the five foolish virgins who had gone to buy oil return to find that the bridegroom had already come while they were away. When they plead for the Lord to open the door, the bridegroom refuses to let them in.
“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb 9:27).