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Don Stewart :: Will There Be Degrees of Judgment in Hell?

Don Stewart
Will everyone receive the same judgment in hell or will there be different degrees of punishment depending upon the sin?

Judgment Based Upon Knowledge

There is a principle found throughout the entire Bible which teaches that judgment is based upon the amount of knowledge that the person has. According to the Old Testament, those who belonged to the covenant people, Israel, were judged on a much stricter basis than those who did not belong. God said to them.

Then in My anger I will be hostile toward you, and I Myself will punish you for your sins seven times over (Leviticus 26:28).

Greater Judgment

In the Book of Amos, we read that God said to His people.

You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities (Amos 3:2)

Jesus

Jesus illustrated this truth to the people of His day.

Then He [Jesus] began to upbraid the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: 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. But I say unto you, It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you (Matthew 11:20-22).

Jesus went on to say the same sort of thing about the city of Capernaum. He compared it to the evil city of Sodom.

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you (Matthew 11:23,24).

Guilty Condemned

Later Jesus reiterated the fact of the guilty would be condemned.

The people of Nineveh will rise in the judgment against this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment against this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here (Matthew 12:41,42).

Greater And Lesser Guilt

Jesus told Pilate that his guilt was less than those who delivered him.

Jesus answered, "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed Me over to you is guilty of a greater sin" (John 19:11).

Judged Upon Knowledge

Scripture says that God judges based upon the knowledge that each of us has.

That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. 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 (Luke 12:47,48).

Paul

The writings of Paul contain the same truth.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the Day when God will judge the secrets of humanity through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares (Romans 2:12-16).

Hebrews

The writer to the Hebrews says there will be greater punishment for those who rejected Jesus than those who rejected Moses.

How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29).

James

The same principle of judgment is found in the Book of James.

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

Though this is referring to a different type of judgment, the principle is the same. God judges based upon the knowledge the person has.

God Will Be Fair

Since God is fair, He will take into account the amount of light a person has received. Those with more advantages will be given stricter judgment. Jesus prayed for God to forgive those who crucified Him in ignorance.

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up His clothes by casting lots (Luke 23:34).

Peter also acknowledged the ignorance of the people.

Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders (Acts 3:17).

Paul himself admitted that He persecuted Jesus in ignorance.

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13).

Not An Excuse

Ignorance is not an excuse. People are still guilty for their actions but their knowledge, or lack of it, will be taken into consideration when God judges unbelievers.

Summary

There seems to be degrees of punishment in the next world. Jesus spoke of different levels of judgment of certain cities that rejected Him. Furthermore there is a principle in Scripture that those who have more truth revealed to them will be judged more harshly. Consequently the suffering in hell will be proportionate to the light people have received. As the Scripture says, "To whom much is given, much is required."
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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