Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Degrees of Punishment (Revelation 20)

"Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works" (Rev. 20:13b).

Most people who are not familiar with what Scripture says about hell would suppose that hell is so frightening that any consideration of gradations of punishment would be superfluous, if not silly. But this was not the case for the preachers of revival in early America, and certainly not for Jonathan Edwards. God has declared in the Scriptures that every man will be judged according to his own works (and thoughts). Because every person has not lived the same life, each will be judged differently. Just as civil penal systems do not treat every crime or every criminal with the same punishment, neither will everyone receive the same degree of punishment in hell.

“The punishment and misery of wicked men in another world will be in proportion to the sin that they are guilty of,” Edwards wrote. “The second act of drunkenness … heats hell a great deal more than the first.” This should make those who heap sin upon sin think twice. “The sinner spends all his time here gathering fuel for his own fire there. Every continuance in sin adds to the heat of hell-fire. The longer sinners live, the more wrath they accumulate. Unlike worldly treasures these come easily and are never lost. It would be far better for the unawakened to have spent the time in hell, than on earth; yea better for them to have spent ten thousand years in hell, instead of one on earth.”

Jesus alludes to degrees of punishment when He tells the parable of the faithful and evil servants in Luke 12. There He says, “But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:48–49). Again in Matthew 16:27, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”

This doctrine spurred Edwards to evangelize to the young, to warn them of the dangers of piling sin upon sin should they die without faith in Christ. He urged them to seek God’s mercy in their youth, not to accumulate wrath for the day of judgment.

How does teaching on degrees of punishment restrain sin? If God is going to judge every person according to what he has done, what should your life be like (1 Peter 1:13–25)? How does this apply even to those who are covered by the righteousness of Christ for salvation?