The following study, which I believe is important, has raised as many questions in my mind as it has answered. Are there degrees of punishment as there are degrees of reward? I do not have all the answers. I do not know the mind of God, whose ways are far above our own. I do know that our God is fair and righteous, and praise His name, merciful and gracious. May this study result in a blessing to all who pursue it.
In the Revelation, John described thrones upon which the resurrected souls sat, and he saw the souls of those beheaded for the name of Jesus. “This is the First Resurrection.” (Revelation 20:5) John said the rest of the dead were not resurrected until after the Millennial reign of Jesus. The unsaved dead were then part of the Second Resurrection, and were resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne of God. (Revelation 20:11-12) Many of those, it appears, will participate in the Second Death.
Why will not all those who stand before the Throne of God experience the Second Death? In Ezekiel chapter eighteen is an interesting discourse by the Lord concerning sin. In this text the Lord discussed whether a son or father is responsible for the sins of the other. He spoke to the Jews in this text, but He makes some interesting comments:
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another;” – Romans 2:14-15
Our wonderful Lord is not a capricious God. The judgment of the Revelation is not a charade. God is righteous. Just as He does not condemn an innocent child, who is not old enough to know right from wrong, God will not, in my opinion, condemn those who never heard the Gospel, but choose to do by nature the things contained in the Law.
What is in the Law? The Lord Jesus gave the two greatest commandments:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” – Matthew 22:37-39
Then He said:
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 22:40 (my emphasis)
All the dead will be judged, but Paul indicates that a hypothetical Polynesian, who lived before the time of Jesus and never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel, will be judged by his conscience. All mankind knows right from wrong, innately. The natives in the Amazonian jungle, who live in very primitive conditions, know right from wrong. For those who did not have the Law, or hear the Gospel, or who lived before the time of Jesus, the Apostle Paul indicates that our merciful and all-knowing Lord will judge them according to “the law written in their hearts.”
There will be a Judgment. It will not be a game. It will not be a charade, but will be based on each person’s life. Christians will not be there because they will be alive, because of their acceptance of God’s grace through the blood sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. And, there will be a Judgment for Christians. Believers will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, but not for punishment! This will be discussed in the next lesson.
What each of us can do now is make certain of his or her relation with the Lord and eliminate any question or uncertainty. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) We must also each do our part, praying for the lost and telling the Good News.
Praise the Lord for His mercy and His grace, and for His wonderful Plan of Salvation!