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”
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