[Editor’s note: This post is part of a larger series on eternal rewards by Clint Archer. You can view part one and part two on The Cripplegate.]
Over the past two weeks (part one and part two) we have looked at the question of eternal rewards in Heaven, prompted by the video by Dr Wellum in which he sidestepped taking a firm position on the reality of degrees of rewards. In the same video he equivicated on the issue of degrees of punishment in Hell. He said:
“When we think of punishments there is this sense of greater and lesser. How that works out in terms of Hell and judgment, Hell is Hell, yet Scripture seems to say that even though Hell is Hell there is somehow a greater accountability, maybe a greater experience that ‘I knew much more.’ Yet Scripture is very clear, we have to be very careful on this point as well that anybody that is receiving final judgment it is because they are accountable for their actions, there is no one innocent, that they have turned from truth.
Those who turn from more truth, it could very well be that there is a greater sense of punishment or judgment. We are not told, we have hints of that. How that all works out is not easy to understand yet that seems to be the parameters we have to work through…”
Once again I find myself disagreeing, to a degree, with him. This is an extract from my treatment of the sobering subject, A Visitors Guide to Hell, in which I examine this question.
Think about these clues regarding degrees of punishment.
Judas is said to be in “his own place” (Acts 1: 25), which has been interpreted by some as referring to a reserved spot in
Pharisees’ converts were said to be “twice the son of Hell” as their mentors (Matthew 23:15).
And in Matthew 11:23-24 Jesus thundered, “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
In Luke 12:42-48 the parable lists as consequences two differing degrees of punishment for disobedience. For those who sinned without knowing they were doing wrong, the punishment was limited to only a “few blows,” while those who rebelled wilfully were sentenced to receive “many blows.” This indicates to us that Jesus recognized degrees of punishment, depending on how much a person knows what he or she is doing.
Note that the degree of punishment is not based on how much sin you did or what kind of sin you committed, but the appraisal is based on how much truth had been revealed to you.
Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
That there are degrees of punishment in the afterlife is strongly implied in the teachings of Scripture. In summary, it is accurate to think of Hell as a place with physical dimensions that can be experienced as a reality. But at the same time it is to be understood as a realm that is not rooted in the same space and time as our lives here on earth. It is a spiritual dimension. Just as Heaven has trees and rivers and creatures that eat and speak and walk, in the same way Hell is a place with a landscape and a climate and population. It is painfully hot, depressingly dark, and teeming with the living dead.
. . .
I hope that this short series on accountability in the afterlife has been rewarding. Of course, our salvation is totally of God, and not the good we do. The good deeds we perform flow out of a response of love and gratitude and worship for God our Savior. And even those works have been prepared beforehand by him for us to walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).
In addition, because our God is a kind and wise Father, he gives us incentives and encouragement in the form of promised rewards, and he even commands us to pursue them (Matthew 6:19-21). While we might choose to disregard God’s gracious provision and insist that we will work purely for his glory, when we do this we not only disobey his command but evidence our lack of faith in his word. Quite possibly we even show that we think we can come up with a better plan than the one God has devised for us. God promises to reward our faithfulness to maximise the responsibilities and gifts he has entrusted to us. This satisfies our God-given sense of fairness; somehow it does not seem right that Mr Couch Potato Christian (or me for that matter) should receive the same eternal reward as the apostles, martyrs, missionaries, or the lady living with cerebral palsy who prays for hours a day.
But we have also seen that this same principle applies to Hell. Jesus’ teaching and that of the writer to the Hebrews leaves very little doubt as to the fact that there will indeed be degrees of punishment for unbelievers.
If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, be assured of this, Dr Wellum is correct – Hell is Hell. So, turn to God in repentance, accept the death of Jesus in your place on the cross and start living the life that pleases him and that will give you great joy on earth and great reward in eternity!
This post originally appeared on The Cripplegate. Used with permission.
Clint Archer has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Mike_Sheridan