Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Will Good Unbelievers Be Punished Less Severely?

Is there degrees of Judgment for unbelievers?

Some Bible scholars say, "Just as there are no degrees of salvation for believers, there are no degrees of punishment for unbelievers." It all boils down to the question "Will Good Unbelievers Be Punished Less Severely?"". What is your take on this question?

I believe the question itself is not clear in the sense, the salvation of soul and the reward of God for the works we do after it, is mixed up (Col 3:23-24; Gal 6:9-10). We are not saved by good works, but saved for good works which God has planned for us beforehand that we should walk in them by co-operating with His Holy Spirit whom He had given to us as a guide and helper to walk in it supernaturally (Eph 2:8-10; John 14:26; 16:13). In the same way damnation of soul and the condemnation for it is mixed up.

What about these following verses which clearly points to various degrees of Judgment for unbelievers?

Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.'' (John 19.11). In this preceding verse in John 19:11, Jesus speaks against the Unbelieving Jews who delivered Him to Pilate the Roman Governor as the one who "has the greater sin". This shows that a group of people who know Jesus and have experienced the truth of Jesus face to face, but have chosen to reject it to fulfill their lustful flesh can be in danger of committing greater sin. 

(Jesus said...) "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation." (Mt 23.14). In this preceding verse the group of scribes and Pharisees were directly pronounced by Jesus as the one who will receive greater condemnation than other unbelievers because of their religiosity and hypocrisy which actually God hates. 

The very words "greater sin" and "greater condemnation" points to a measuring scale of God which differentiates whether some one has sinned greatly or normally according to the motives behind all their works they have done.

"21 Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.22 But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you." (Mat 11:21-22).

In the preceding verses, Jesus was comparing cities which were permeated with the gospel  to the cities which has not been and pronounces judgment for having rejected the revealed truth  of the gospel and its authenticating signs which followed it. Where more truth has been revealed and rejected, stricter judgment is predicted as the above verses shows. As much as it is applicable to cities, it is applicable to the individuals who live in such cities because the cities actually points to the people living in it. This is also true to a believer also who knows more truth than others (Heb 5:12; James 3:1). As Jesus has clearly said, "47 And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 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." (Luk 12:47-48). We are all accountable to God to the degree we were supplied with the resources to positively succeed.

The only basis for a believer to go to heaven is to accept the finished work of Jesus Christ and believe in it, and the only basis for the unbeliever to go to hell is depending on one's own works to save themselves from God's wrath and punishment (Matt 7:21-22, 23; John 6:39-40; 3:18; Mark 16:16). Other than this, I believe as a believer gets various levels of reward for His works the unbeliever also will get various degrees of punishment because the Bible says "the dead were judged according to their works" (Rev 20:12b) [Note: the Bible does not say that the dead were judged by their works but according to their works. That means each one will be punished accordingly to their works in various degrees]. Jesus also many a times emphasized about various degrees of Judgment even in His parables like in Luke 12: 46-48. This parable shows that God's judgment shall give due consideration to the amount of knowledge that the unbeliever had concerning God's will (Luke 20:47; 10:14; 12:48).

The reason God always is able to judge rightly is because he weighs the motives first and then he gives reward for the behavior of any humans (Prov 24:12; 21:2). Motives are nothing but the immovable thought sitting in the mind of a person which influences his actions. This is why the Lord sees the thoughts which influence a man's action first, before deciding whether an action is right or not (1 Sam 16:7; Ps 7:9). Because only the Lord can know the thoughts of any man, only His judgment can always be right in the entire universe (Ps 94:11; 19:9). This is why when God rewards any man it is not just for his actions that he does it, but also for the motives behind the actions (Job 34:11).

The Old Testament says, "And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death." (Lev 24.21). As we have seen if there were degrees of punishment even in the Old Testament for the offender, how much more in the final perfect White Throne Judgment? Unbelievers will definitely be awarded to go through various degrees of punishment? The religious hypocrite "will receive greater condemnation" (Luke 20:47). If there are no degrees of punishment then God cannot be just in His Judgment of people like Hitler who tried to wipe out the entire Jewish Race and an unbeliever who has lived a morally good life by helping people in all their needs socially and sacrificially, but unfortunately having rejected the gospel died without receiving Christ to save him from his sins. But the scripture clearly says, "...The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." (Psa 19:9) which again emphasises that there will be degrees of punishment accurately according to the works done in the life of an unbeliever and degrees of reward for the believers works (Job 20:5, 26-29; Ps 9:16-17; Rev 22:12). I believe serious offenders will be subjected to more fiery brimstone and intense burning wind for their offences than their unbelieving peers (Ps 11:6; Mark 9:43-44; Rev 20:15; 21:8). These degrees of punishment can be seen in the earthly sphere in the fury of Nebuchadnezzar when he said and commanded to his serving men of valour that, "...they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated." (Dan 3:19) against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego who defied his decree. How much more a just God who is "...known by the judgment He executes" (Ps 9:16) will justly punish each wicked person according to his works.

To those people who think that there are no degree of condemnation, my question to you is, 'If there are no degrees of punishment or condemnation why should God take so much trouble in opening the books of works to judge the unbelievers?' The Apostle John says in his apocalyptic Book of Revelation that during the final White Throne Judgment for unbelievers, "12 ... I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened...And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works." (Rev 20:12-13). Praise the Lord for God's righteous judgments!!


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