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God's Compassion for Non-Christians

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:35-36, ESV throughout).

Even with Jesus' outpouring of compassion and miracles, almost none of these people became His loyal followers.

And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him (John 7:12-13).

When the corrupt Jewish government falsely accused Jesus before the Roman governor Pilate, many people who had once experienced His love joined in shouting “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” (Luke 23:21). Jesus willingly accepted that death to save all mankind (John 10:15; 1 John 2:2). Even after He rose from the dead and his disciples gathered 50 days later at Pentecost, there were only 120 of them (Acts 1:15). Jesus spent His human life on a mission of mercy to people who were not Christians and who did not grasp what he did for them.

Personalized Compassion

Jesus knew what it was like to be a soldier in his day—not much different from being a soldier in our day. Soldiers kill whomever their commanding officers tell them to kill; it is not their job to evaluate who or why. If they are told to treat the “bad guys” roughly, they treat them roughly.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him (Matthew 27:27-31).

What was Jesus judgment on these men who treated him so shamefully?

...[The soldiers] crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”... (Luke 23:33-34).

The soldiers gave Jesus the most horrific experience of his life. They did not repent or become Christians at that time—they continued to mock Him while He was on the cross (v 36). Jesus forgave them because they did not know what they they were doing. They were simply following orders.

But that was not Jesus' last act of compassion. A convicted criminal crucified with Him would also experience the love of God even at that most troubling time:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

This is the only time in the Bible where Jesus used the Greek word paradeisos, which is the Greek mythology word for “paradise” promised to adherents of that religion. In His normal teaching to Israelites with an Old Testament background, Jesus used “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Kingdom of God”, “the age to come”, and similar terms. Jesus was literally feeling the man's pain of the moment and knew he had no strength to absorb theological teaching, make a profession of faith or understand the Holy Spirit. He saw this man's repentant heart and spoke to him in the Greek terms he would understand.

Compassion Continues

God continued to show his compassion for non-Christians through the ministry of the apostle Paul. Paul and Silas had been unjustly beaten and jailed for casting out a “spirit of divination” from a slave girl who had made much money for her masters (Acts 16:16-23). The Roman jailer was told to keep them in a maximum security cell, but at midnight an earthquake opened the doors and caused every man's chains to come off (vv 24-26). The jailer, realizing he would still be held responsible for the escape of high-profile prisoners, was about to kill himself with his sword (v 27).

Nearly every prisoner would see this as the ideal opportunity: Doors open, chains gone, earthquake danger was a good reason to leave the prison! If the jailer killed himself, there would be nobody to report to, so they were free to leave. Beyond that, nobody was present to begin organizing their re-capture. Yet God and the apostle Paul were also concerned about the life of the Roman jailer. Paul convinced the other prisoners to stay and he plead with the man not to take his own life (v 28). The jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas and he and his family believed in God and Christ (vv 29-34).

Several years later, Paul was again imprisoned on false charges. He had appealed to Caesar and was on his way to Rome in a ship (Acts 25:12; 27:1). The Centurion who kept Paul was persuaded by the ship's owner and pilot to keep on sailing, even though it was into the dangerous fall season. They did not heed Paul's warning:

... “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives” (Acts 27:10).

At the appearance of a gentle breeze, the ship's management team chose to set sail, only to meet a wind so powerful that it nearly broke apart the ship. They threw its cargo and some of its rigging into the sea to lighten it. Everyone except Paul thought they were going to die (Acts 27:13-20). Would God punish these men for putting profit before people and failing to listen to His apostle? Paul said:

“For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island” (Acts 27:23-26).

And so it went. These were not all repentant righteous people seeking to become believers. Part of the ship’s crew tried to sneak away in a life boat, leaving the ship to founder. Some soldiers wanted to kill all the prisoners—including Paul—so as not to risk punishment for their escape. God saved all 276 of these people—even the ones who could not swim—and brought them to the shore of the island of Malta (Acts 27:27-28:1).

Compassionate Conclusion

Sure, the Bible has verses showing there will be judgment for the sinner and the unbeliever. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve were allowed to eat from every tree in the Garden of Eden but one, and then willfully ate from the forbidden tree (Genesis 3). Since then, mankind has gradually walked away from God, and suffered both from not doing what God said, and no longer knowing what God said (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). As a whole, we have become like ”sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36, cited above). Jesus has a plan to solve that problem!

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:11-16).

It is unfortunate that there are some bad shepherds—hired hands—that work in Christian ministry and do not care for all His sheep. But that will not stop Jesus. He has some sheep that “know Him” and “other sheep that are not of this fold” who will know him someday. He has plans for all to be united under the one true Shepherd!

— Norman Edwards, March 2019


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About the Author

Picture of Norman Edwards, about 2009

Norman Edwards is the author of all these pages and articles--unless otherwise noted. He has been a life-long Bible student, teacher and author and is now in his 60s. His career, in round numbers is:

The purpose of this site is to encourage everyone everywhere to study and better understand the Bible. Norman has not been a member of any religious denomination or sect since 1995. He does not study to confirm what he or a church group already believes. He reads the Bible, does research and writes what he understands through prayer and the Holy Spirit. Research usually consists of looking for other related scriptures, but also includes the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words and the historical context in which the Scriptures were written.

Yet he also believes that "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17) and welcomes corrections and comments about his writing. The peer review of fellow believers has caused him to change his teaching on some subjects.

While Norman has written many hundreds of articles and it will be some years before they are all added to this site. He realizes he will not be able to study every subject of interest before he dies. He realizes this website needs improved organization and new software for a more modern look.

But the purpose of life has never been about doctrinal or technical perfection. It is about learning to love God with all are hearts and to love our neighbor as ourself (Matthew 22:36-40). God gives knowledge and many other spiritual gifts which we should use to His glory (1 Corinthians 12 - 14). But the greatest of these is love! (1 Corinthians 13:13).

This writer encourages Christians everywhere to:

God is very interested in answering prayers about these subjects. He will show you what to do. Be peaceful and gentle with others who are not as gifted or able as you—even with Christians who are clearly in error. God gave us time to bring us to where we are now, and we all still have more to learn!

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