Wherever in scripture punishment for human sin is quantified, it is typically specified at double the offence; a principle applied quite literally in the Law of Moses for all manner of theft (e.g. Ex22:4,7,9). Likewise in the Prophets, God’s rebellious people are said to pay double for their sins (Is40:2, Jer16:18) as at the universal level in final judgement do the wicked (Jer17:18, Rev18:6). “Double” need not be taken literally in the latter cases but it is indicating that punishment in God’s eyes is proportional and finite, for nX≠∞ (where n is the multiple and X is the offence). Even so, thinking back through human history and applying such a principle it is no surprise that Jesus said of a few: “it had been better for them if they had never been born”, especially those who through megalomania or merciless psychopathy have brought untold misery to numerous lives, for they will pay a heavy price. They will not suffer because of any deficiency or “limit” to Christ’s atonement; nor, it should be noted, is final punishment presented in the gospels in terms of offences against God but against humanity (Mt25:41-46). Why? – because God makes full allowance for ignorance; man’s knowledge of the Divine Glory is at the very best incomplete, especially for the majority who have not received a faithful account of the Gospel. But there is less excuse with regard to dealings with our fellow man, for the requirement to be caring and compassionate is intuitive (Mt25 again), being discerned through the faculty of conscience, by which (to the astonishment of many) Paul asserts that many without the Law do, however feebly, the one thing required to fulfil its central purpose (Rom2:14,15; Rom13:8; Gal5:14).
One can take it from Christ Himself that human sin will be punished in accordance with the criteria stipulated by the Judge who is Himself a Man (Jn5:22), applying standards that will be seen by all to be fair and just (Mt6:14; 7:2). Of course with our God there is forgiveness a plenty, but retributive post-mortem punishment and exclusion from the blessings of God’s future Kingdom (i.e. Hell) for some is a biblically inescapable reality, albeit applying the principles established above . Such punishment and exclusion will be seen to be right and just and indeed necessary, once a new heaven and earth is established under Christ with His saints, in which righteousness shall dwell (2Pet3:13).
Note 1: References in the New Testament to punishment being “eternal” are derived from English and Latin translations of the Greek word “aionos” (Strong’s G166) which means age-enduring. For example, according to Revelation the Beast and False Prophet shall be punished for longer “aionas ton aionon (literally “ages of ages” or multiple ages –Rev20:10). All this is considered in more detail in my book (free PDF HERE)
Illustration – The Sistene Chapel painting: “The Final Judgement”
It is possible that the very servants of Satan may be transformed
into ministers of righteousness and become greatly revered amongst the righteous
(cf. 2Cor11:14,15). But there is a bench-mark that can be applied if they
happen to be theologians or spiritual teachers in the Church and it is God’s
depiction of His own character:
“I AM who I am: the
God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in faithful love and
constancy, maintaining my faithful love to thousands, forgiving fault crime and
sin, yet letting nothing go unchecked, punishing the parent’s fault in the
children and in the grandchildren unto the third and fourth generation”
God’s intelligible justice
Such is Yahweh’s nature; these are His judgements which are evidently right and just and in accordance with human reason, by which I mean they are exactly how one would expect a loving and just god to behave in judgement. There surely can be no better theologian than God Himself, so if anyone has presented a markedly different picture or declared God’s NATURE to be quite incomprehensible or inexplicable to man, he is no theologian at all however revered he may be – (relief may be at hand – cf. Rev10:7-10).
Whilst one may be mystified by God’s WAYS at times, this is a Being that we as human beings can truly love and adore as well as fear; not merely for the grace and mercy we believe He has shown to us but because He is genuinely good from the perspective of those created after His own likeness. Yahweh is forgiving, tender and compassionate just as a saintly human is uniformly tender and compassionate, only more so. Like a good parent He will have a special affection for His own (or rather His Son’s) immediate family but will show generosity and kindness to all, for that is His nature . As such He makes full allowance for the human weakness unavoidably inherited at birth; toleration being a vital ingredient of love as any parent will know, yet He will come crashing down on those who wickedly offend those He loves. He will take vengeance on behalf of His people (cf. 2Thes1:6); being all who fear Him and seek to do justice in accordance with the measure of revelation they have received from Him.
“I will praise you with uprightness of heart WHEN I learn your righteous judgements” (Ps119:7)
Such a God is expounded from Scripture as a whole in “Fellowship of the Secret” – a free PDF is available HERE
I am in the process of working through the Old Testament and highlighting the areas where God’s broader providence is indicated but not generally perceived. In doing so I must not fall into the typical proof-texting trap of being selective – drawing on the passages that support the emphasis I am endeavouring to put across whilst ignoring narratives that might appear to contradict the fundamental principles I wish to impart, being that God is Love personified and is impartial and fair to all. In Paul’s language, when it comes to judgement, God is “no respecter of persons” in spite of what he might appear to be writing in Romans 9 with regard to Isaac and Rebecca’s twin boys. Frankly, the apostle’s own proof-texting in verse 13, dare I say it, is somewhat inventive – he is taking Malachi out of context. [If the apostle actually understood himself to be “composing scripture” rather than preparing pastoral letters, I’m sure he would have given more consideration to how his words were likely to be interpreted centuries later – likewise verse 16, so beloved by Augustinians and Calvinists]. Here Paul is quoting from Malachi where God speaking through the prophet declares that although Esau, patriarch of Edom was Isaac (Israel’s) brother he hated Esau (i.e. Edom) BECAUSE HE WAS INDIGNANT AT THAT NATION’S WICKEDNESS (1:4). But Paul uses that quote to imply that God hated the hairy little infant in Rebecca’s womb even before it was born. That indeed may have been the case in view of God’s foreknowledge of his character though the context of Malachi was the wickedness of the nation that would be Esau’s inheritance as the prophet makes clear.
The point Paul wished to impart was that God’s choice, i.e. His elective grace was not based on a person’s virtue but His sovereign will. That is absolutely the case, but as I say that was not the aspect that God wished to get across to His people through His prophet in Malachi 1. Yet this principle of election by grace alone does not in the least impugn God’s impartiality or equity providing the nature and purpose of such election is properly understood. God’s choice is not referring to whom is arbitrarily to be delivered from eternal punishment (which as His Son makes quite clear is determined by faith evinced by works of compassion – Mt25); election or predestination pertains to who are to be His chosen nation and royal priesthood, the faithful of whom are destined for betrothal to His own Son. Confusion also arises from Paul’s references in this context to God “showing mercy” to whom He so chooses. Again that is not referring to final judgement (the same general criteria will apply to all albeit allowance is made for ignorance and incapacity); rather the mercy refers to deliverance IN THE PRESENT from “the body of this death” which the Christian alone can experience through the purging of his sin, empowerment to live a holy life and a restored relationship with His Creator providing joy and hope for the future. That is mercy indeed and it is quite underserved on the recipient’s part. It also can pertain (as in Paul’s example of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Romans 9) to how God chooses to deal with the profoundly wicked or seriously misguided (Saul of Tarsus had been the latter); He may show mercy as in Paul’s case or harden the heart further as with the Pharaoh. But even here, Paul makes the point that God had shown mercy towards him because he did what he did in ignorance (1Tim1:13).
Reviewing the lives and destinies of Jacob and Esau as
individuals, the former was something of a crafty, cheating deceiver whilst the
latter had despised his birth-right and gone on to choose Canaanite brides in
defiance of his parents’ wishes. Yet these two flawed brothers are finally
depicted together (illustration) showing an extraordinary degree of mutual
respect and deference to each other (chapter 33) and later to their father
Isaac (who actually favoured Esau), attending to his burial together as Isaac
and Ishmael had done with their father Abraham.
and Esau’s reconciliation – Rubens (1624) courtesy Wikipedia
The physical descendants of Abraham and Sarah’s union were intended to be the “holy nation” that God called to be His priesthood for the world. They would learn the ways of Yahweh and thus be equipped to enlighten other nations. His exclusive covenant with Israel had been as follows:
So now, if you are really prepared to obey me and keep my covenant, you (Israelites) out of all peoples shall be my personal possession, for the whole world is mine. For Me you shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. (Ex19:5,6)
So in due course He gave them the Decalogue along with more detailed requirements concerning how they were to conduct themselves, set out in the Torah of Moses or Pentateuch which scripture generally refers to as “the Law”. It was to be their schoolmaster up until Christ, for contrary to the teaching of many, justification by faith in a Saviour was not disclosed even to God’s chosen people before His coming, as a careful reading of Gal3:23-27 (Greek interlinear) affirms. When Paul asserts in that passage that justification on the basis of the faithfulness of Christ for those who had exercised faith had “not yet been disclosed” (v23 Greek) he was not saying it had not availed for those Jews who had been faithful, but their instruction had always been to “keep Torah” not to “acknowledge their moral impotence and trust in God’s mercy or the merits of a coming Saviour” or suchlike as Augustine and later the Reformers asserted.
At the same time, Paul was making it clear that no one had ever been justified on the basis of a perfect fulfilment of the Law (v21); it had always been on the basis of Christ’s faithfulness availing for those with “faith”. Yet once that was disclosed, the Torah as schoolmaster would be filled out by the teaching of Christ, and with the enabling that would be provided through an interior participation with Him and the Spirit, the children of God would come to obey what James referred to as the “royal law” of love for God and neighbour (cf. Jam2:8) and would do so “in spirit and in truth” rather than the deadness of the letter. In the meantime it is quite clear from the above quote from Exodus that the chosen nation were to be obedient to their covenant with Yahweh if they were to occupy a land that He had promised to Abraham. The occupants to be displaced were the polluted seed pool of Canaan, the accursed son of Ham that we considered earlier. Their supplanters were to become a divinely disciplined and holy nation to act as a salvific bridgehead to the rest of creation (Dt4:5,6). It had never been intended that the whole world “become Jewish” but neither was it destined for the cosmic waste-paper basket; many in the world would be enlightened by the Jews and come to revere Yahweh.
How the above assertions are squared with the teaching of the New Testament is set out in the Fellowship of the Secret – available freely as a PDF from HERE