Reward and Punishment

God is a God of mercy. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and often delays His judgments in the hope of repentance.

Look at it from God's perspective. He has already determined to give all human beings every possible opportunity to choose life. What would you do with a person who—whether willfully or through continual neglect—rejects God's gracious offer of eternal life and deliberately chooses the devil's way? Would you give such a person eternal life in your kingdom, where he could continue to harm others indefinitely? What option would you choose?

Certainly some people picture God as a monster who punishes failed human beings in hellfire for eternity. Yet when we carefully and prayerfully examine the relevant scriptural passages—coupled with an understanding of God's true purpose for mankind—that is not the punishment of the wicked.

When will God reward those who love and obey Him?

"But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil" (Luke 6:35).

"But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid [rewarded] at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:13-14).

Is God also a God of justice in the sense that He will punish those who deliberately refuse to repent of their wickedness and wrongdoing?

"Then He will say to those on his left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels'" (Matthew 25:41).

"And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (verse 46).

The wicked suffer everlasting punishment in the sense that they are forever cut off from God and life itself, but He does not inflict them with eternal torment. Never forget that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23). Life and death are opposites, not two ways of saying the same thing. Death means the absence of life, not eternal life in another place.

The final book of the Bible prophesies of evil human beings being cast into the lake of fire. "Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence...These two were cast alive in the lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Revelation 19:20). What happens to physical human beings who are thrown alive into a massive cauldron of fire? They burn up and are completely consumed.

The Bible shows that a consuming fire is the ultimate fate of the wicked (Malachi 4:3). In fact, God has used just such a conflagration as an eternal example of the fate of those who refuse to repent of their wickedness. Jude explains: "...Sodom and Gomorrah,...having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7).

Although they are figuratively described as suffering "the vengeance of eternal fire," the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning. On the contrary, they are promised an opportunity to yet obtain eternal life (Matthew 10:14-15; 11:23-24) in the resurrection to judgment described in Revelation 20 and Ezekiel 37. (For more information about these little-understood biblical truths, please request your free copies of the booklets Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.)

Above all, God is a God of mercy. Read Psalm 136. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and often delays His judgments in the hope of repentance. As the apostle Peter explains: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

In principle, the apostle Paul expresses the same godly hope. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men [all people] to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4).

It is the eternal purpose of the living God to bring us into His family!


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