Are There Degrees of Punishment in Hell?
Will there be different degrees of punishment in Hell? The short answer is “yes,” according to the Bible. The primary reason is that not all sins are equal. Somehow it has become common, at least in Western evangelicalism, to believe that all sins are equal in God’s eyes, but the Bible never teaches this. While it’s true that one “trivial” sin makes us guilty of the whole law and liable to eternal torment (James 2:10), the Bible is equally clear that some acts are worse than others and deserve harsher punishment (Numbers 35:9–29).
For example, as bad as Sodom was, her sentence will be lighter on Judgment Day than Bethsaida’s because Sodom never saw Jesus (Matthew 11:20–24). Bethsaida was a small Jewish village near Jesus’ adopted home town of Capernaum. The sinner who never hears of Christ will go to Hell (due to his sin and rebellion), yet his pain will be less intense than those who hear the gospel each Sunday and refuse to repent. Furthermore, the Bible is clear that with greater revelation and responsibility comes stricter judgment (cf. James 3:1). Jesus warned the Pharisees that they would “be punished most severely” for their willful hypocrisy (Luke 20:47). As noted above, in denouncing the cities where most of his miracles had been performed, Jesus said, “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). Thus, said Jesus, “It will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you” (v. 22).
Jesus used the metaphor of physical torture to warn his hearers that those who knowingly disobey will experience greater torment in Hell than those who disobey in ignorance (Luke 12:47–48). God is perfectly just and will reward and punish each person in accordance with what he or she has done.
In Luke 11:32, Jesus says, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here.” How sobering: evil Sodom and wicked Nineveh will have it better on judgment day than simple Jewish villages where Jesus preached and taught yet was rejected.
The bottom line is this: the afterlife is not a level playing field. There will be degrees of reward and responsibility on the New Earth and levels of judgment and punishment in Hell. All the more reason to serve Christ with our whole hearts.
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor