Yesterday, I tried to answer the question of whether heaven would be the same for all believers or will there be different rewards. With this article, I would like to address the question of eternal punishment, will it be the same for all lost sinners or are there different levels of punishment.
First of all, we have to establish that the punishment for all who do not confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is that they will be punished by God with what the Bible describes as the second death. It is in the lake of fire that will last for eternity. All of it is torture yet, for some, the torture will be worse than for others.
I. All sinners will be judged
The author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote on this subject. All of us are going to die one day, which proves that all of us are sinners. The wages earned for sin is death. We fear death because we know that once death takes place, judgment follows.
27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9)
For believers, we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, not to be judged for our sins, but, to give an account of how we lived during our lives as believers. For the nonbelievers, they will stand before God and be judged. Here is the criteria used by God when He judges
25 For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. (Colossians 3)
God is not partial. He knows every one of our deeds and He will judge us according to those deeds. The judgment will be more harsh for some than for others.
12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Revelation 20)
Whether you know it or not, God is keeping a record of all of your actions and will repay you according to those actions. If and when you repent and accept the Lord Jesus as your Master, the slate is wiped clean. A new record begins, not of your sins, but of how you live for Christ once you accept Him. If you do not repent and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, that record remains all of your life and will be used against you on the day of judgment. That should terrify anyone. Some will say okay, I have never murdered anyone. I have never committed adultery. I have never . . . Jesus dealt with those statements in the Sermon on the Mount when He taught that if you have ever looked at a member of the opposite and had relations with that person in your mind, you are already guilty of committing adultery. All the men just said “ouch”. Some of the women may have said “amen”. Jesus then said that if you have ever been angry at a person to the point where you harmed them in your mind, or, said words that harmed them, out of your anger, then, you are guilty of committing murder. Now all the women just said “ouch”. We are all guilty of some very nasty things. These are just two of the many that could be listed. Do you want all of that counted against you on the day of judgment? If you do, then do nothing and it will happen. On the other hand, if you would like that list erased, bow to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and God will erase your sins; past, present, and future.
II. Some sinners will be judged more harshly than others
The scribes and the Pharisees come to mind when I think of greater judgment.
46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 47 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.” (Luke 20)
They had the Truth of the Word of God yet, not only did they not follow the Truth of the Word, they taught others not to follow the Truth of the Word either. Jesus was very harsh on them and confronted them on many occasions, one of which on the subject of setting aside the Word of God.
6 And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY * FROM ME. 7 ‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ 8 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” 9 He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. (Mark 7)
Their judgment and condemnation will be greater than the ones who did not have the Truth that they had. In fact, that determines the different levels of punishment. The more that you knew of the Word of God and rejected, the greater the eternal punishment will be. That is why Jesus says what He does to the people who saw all of the miracles that He performed and listened to all of His Holy Teachings, yet, they chose not to believe.
20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 “Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. 24 “Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11)
While, on the other hand, those who did not have the Word and still disobeyed out of ignorance, they will be punished, but, not as severely.
47 “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more. (Luke 12)
May the Lord help us avoid the judgment to come by repenting of our sins and surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. God is waiting for your repentance and He withholds His wrath and judgment for that very reason. He does not want you to perish but, instead, He wants you to repent and escape the judgment to come.