Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

Question: Will there be degrees of punishment in the lake of fire acording to a person’s deeds?

Answer: I believe there will be. Here is the line of evidence. When Jesus addressed the unrepentant cities of Korazin and Bethsaida (Matthew 11:20-24), he told them that if the miracles he performed among them had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. He then says, “It will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you” (v.22). In what way will it be more tolerable? It seems that he is predicting a more severe judgment for the inhabitants of Korazin and Bethsaida because they had a more clear revelation of the truth through the miracles of Jesus.

When we come to Revelation 20 and the Great White Throne Judgment of unbelievers by Christ, we’re told that one of the books out of which they will be judged is the book of life and the other is of “what they had done” (v.12). Then we’re told that “each person was judged according to what he had done” (v.13) and that anyone who’s name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the Lake of Fire. A person’s name will be missing from the book of life because they have not believed in Jesus. But their degree of punishment will be determined by what they have done.

This seems quite reasonable. We would not expect that a mass murderer who never repented and trusted in Christ should have the same punishment as a young boy who was kind and generous but who never received Christ as savior. Granted, each of them rejected the truth about Christ and was in rebellion against God. But the one did much more harm to others and damage to his own soul. Hitler or Idi Amin should receive a more severe penalty in the lake of fire than Ghandi. Each provided either an outright evil form of leadership or a peaceful form of leadership. The examples could go on and on.

This also fits with the idea that believers will receive different rewards in heaven based on their faithfulness to Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Each one gets there only on the merit of Christ and on the basis of His sacrifice in their place, but each is also treated according to his or her level of obedience. This is why Paul can say in Romans 2:6-8,

God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

I cannot say how to describe the difference in punishment in the lake of fire. But God knows how to justly punish and reward all people based on His infinite knowledge of all their thoughts and behavior. He will do what is right.

Randall Johnson

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3 thoughts on “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

  1. We are in the age of grace when one sin is as damning as another. So why would there be different levels of punishment? Reiterating, this is against what Jesus preached! My study of the Bible indicates there is no eternal punishment, no rapture, no eternal soul (the only thing eternal is God). These are man-made concepts in which scripture often has been misinterpreted or manipulated. Man dies, sleeps in the grave, then is resurrected for the judgment. The saved are given eternal life, the unsaved are cast into the Lake of Fire (the Second Death). I was taught the rapture throughout my church life. There is nothing about it in the Bible. The apologists’ scriptures don’t apply. There is a rapture, but it is at the Second Coming. This plan makes sense and strengthens my faith because it is clear what God’s plan is, and it is a glorious plan of restoration and redemption. I think a lot of non-Christians AND Christians don’t think God knows what he is doing (especially on this eternal damnation thing, which serves no purpose except to torture “souls” eternally for no reason). Everyone needs to know we have a loving God who has a plan, then they will want to have a personal relationship with Him — which is what He wants most of all. God be praised!

    • There is, as you say, a rapture, a catching up to the clouds when Jesus returns (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). There is also disagreement among believers as to when this occurs. Is there a “partial” coming of Jesus in the clouds to resurrect those who have died in Christ (their bodies, that is) and catch up and give resurrection bodies to those who are still alive that is only completed later after the hour of tribulation? That is the pre-tribulation rapture view. Or is this catching up concomitant with Jesus final coming after the tribulation time to establish his kingdom on earth? That is the post-tribulation rapture view. There is evidence both ways. Interestingly, it is this very passage which seems to contradict what you are saying about there being no eternal soul. Please read my article https://askthepastors.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/are-my-husband-and-father-in-heaven-yet/.

      As to the punishment of hell offering nothing but to torture I believe this misses the point of God’s retributive justice. If He determines that the punishment of eternal hell fits the crime of our rebellion, then it is a standard of absolute justice and we are out of line to suggest it isn’t. This is not to say that an eternity conscious in hell is the definitive belief of all the church, but it is easily defended from Scripture.

  2. Pingback: If Christians are forgiven, why are we going to be judged? | Ask the Pastors

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