Eternity… As Biblical Christians, we know that life does not end at the grave. Further, there is neither the ability to change our destiny after we die (Heb. 9:27), nor can we expect to find an ultimate nirvana, based on the false theology of reincarnation. Mankind lives a life on this earth, at the end of which we are judged either by our works (our deeds) or our relationship with Jesus Christ.
A Painful Topic
If we are judged by our works, we are sinners and will spend eternity in a real and literal Hell. If we have recognized that Christ paid for our sins and have accepted Him as Lord of our lives, we will spend eternity in Heaven, worshiping the Father. What that worship actually might look like, was discussed in Part 1 of this series. What follows in this article is a view of Hell and whether some of those who enter that domain will experience differing levels of torment.
Needless to say, this is a very painful topic, for Biblical Christians who know those who have not accepted Christ, and for the lost who are both fearful and understandably confrontational over the possibility of Hell.
As sensitive as this topic is, what is worse is ignoring this reality while we still have the opportunity to impact our final destination. To that I would offer:
- An earlier two-part series, “What Does It Take to Get Into Heaven, Part 1 and Part 2.
- Our generic “Statement of Belief” found on BCWorldview.
- The link “Heaven” found on BCWorldview includes the Romans Road, John 3:1-8, and a link to Billy Graham’s “Steps to Peace”.
Do Americans Believe in Hell?
Christianity Today reported on a Pew poll published in November of 2021 asking this question to 6,500 respondents, spread across all religious and atheistic theologies. The results indicated that “nearly three-quarters [75%] of Americans believe in Heaven”. Perhaps more interestingly, only 62% indicated a belief in Hell. Within that smaller group only:
- 51% expected there will be physical suffering.
- 49% recognized that those in Hell would not have a relationship with God.
- 44% believed that those in Hell would “meet” Satan.
These numbers, which support a theologically sound view of Hell, are anemic. To be specific, from the numbers above, only 32% of Americans believe there will be suffering in a real and literal Hell.
Beyond those who believe God could not allow the existence of Hell due to His love for mankind (ignoring His holiness, righteousness, and justice), are many who believe that if one “does not make it” to Heaven, they will be annihilated rather than experience eternal suffering and separation from God. For example, this position is a core theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Bible confirms that at the end of the age, everyone will be resurrected, both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15, Rev. 20:13). Matt. 25:46, among other verses, makes it clear that mankind is immortal, regardless of our position in Christ.
What Does the Bible Say?
- Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
- Matthew 25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
- Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
- Jude 1:7 Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
- Mark 9:43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
Are There Different Levels of Hell?
Establishing that Hell exists and that it will be populated by those who have not developed a relationship with Jesus Christ, the next questions one might ask are;
- Will some suffer more than others,
- What will be the basis for that difference, and
- What do those differences consist of?
Will Some Suffer More Than Others?
God speaks to this question by warning those who have not yet accepted His Son as man’s Savior in Romans 2:5 by making the point that the lost are building up a list of sins that God will eventually judge. The two verses below also suggest varying degrees of punishment.
- Matt. 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
- Matt. 11:23-24 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
This second verse would also suggest that those who have heard the gospel message and have actively rejected it will be judged more severely than those who have never heard. Conversely, a few verses above is Matt. 11:11 which acknowledges that the least in Heaven is greater than John the Baptist.
What Will Be The Basis For Differing Judgments?
The most logical answer from a human perspective would be to look at each person’s lifetime of behavior. The more sin and/or the greater societal view of the level of sin, the greater the eternal punishment one could expect from a righteous judge (God). However, Biblical Christian theology is not quite so elementary; just consider the issue of Predestination vs. Free-Will.
Does God always offer us a free choice to draw toward/away from Him? Does God protect some more than others from their sin nature? These are question that impact the basis for differing judgments but are largely beyond the understanding of mankind on this side of the grave. However, we still have to look at what we are given in Scripture.
In regards to the eternal consequences of sin, all sins are the same (Rom. 3:23,6:23, James 2:10). However, from God’s righteous and just perspective, should Hitler be punished more severely than the “average sinner”, if both find themselves in perpetual Hell?
This would seem an easy question to scripturally confirm or reject. However, unlike in the case of Heaven, the Bible focuses on a more black and white view of those who sin and reject Christ, rather than the more granular impact of differing sins. Most theologians I respect suggest that there are levels of Hell based on the sins committed by man. However, interestingly enough, they make this claim without offering much in the way of supporting Scripture. I would offer the following in defense of this concept:
- In the Old Testament, there are differing punishments for varying acts of violence (ex. Numbers 15:27-31). This would suggest that God might also allow differing eternal punishments based on our “free-will “deeds while on earth.
- There also are verses that document the recording of the thoughts and actions of those being judged at the Great White Throne of Rev. 20:11-15. This time of accounting is also referenced in Dan. 7:9-10 and Acts 17:31. From the verses below, it would seem that those who have not been forgiven through a relationship with Christ, will be both graded and judged based on their works (behaviors and actions).
- Psalms 28:4 Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
- Psalms 62:12b For you will render to a man according to his work.
- Romans 2:6 He will render to each one according to his works:
- 2 Thessalonians 1:6 Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
- Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
- Revelation 22:12 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.
What Do Those Differences in Hell Consist Of?
If we accept the existence of Hell as a place of punishment for sin based to some degree on our deeds while on earth, what will the various consequences be? Scripture paints a desperate picture of what Hell will look like. It includes a Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14-15), yet outer darkness as well (Matt. 8:12), and it can be viewed as a prison (1 Peter 3:19). A future article will expand on each of these and other aspects. In the end, a focus on Heaven, and he love of God, and Jesus Christ rather than the fear of Hell is what God desires from each of us.
As we consider the reality of Hell and our loved ones, one verse comes to mind among many.
Luke 10:27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
It’s vitally important that we share the love of God with our neighbors, friends, and family. We should not focus on fear on Hell, but on a loving, yet righteous God. Hell should not be the object of our willingness to tell others about the saving grace of Christ. Instead, our investments in relationships and courage to open up about our faith should come from the love that emanates from us as the Holy Spirit directs. The fear of rejection in this post-Christian nation must be set aside as we consider eternity.