Question: Does the Bible teach that there are degrees of punishment and reward after death?
Answer: Yes it does, and in several ways. Is a jaywalker worthy of the same penalty as a rapist? Can we not easily see the difference between first degree, premeditated murder and an accidental killing, or manslaughter? Would anyone seriously argue that these should be penalized the same? If we can understand that distinction in earthly, criminal law, why do some people have such difficulty understanding it with regard to God’s law?
Usually, the reason one crime is punished more severely than another is because it is more serious in nature. It involves some evil or malicious intent, which gives to the action a heightened importance. Although ignorance of the law is no excuse, one who unintentionally breaks a law is less culpable than a person who deliberately sets out or plans to do so.
Jesus recognized this distinction in his discussion with the apostles regarding faithful and unfaithful servants, (see Lk. 35-48). Explaining the distinction between intentional versus unintentional disobedience, Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with your stripes, (Lk. 12:47-48a). Note that ignorance is no excuse, but the penalty is less severe.
Jesus gets down to the true reason for this distinction in the last part of verse 48: “To whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.” With greater knowledge and opportunity comes greater responsibility. Thus, the person with more ability, more talent and resources provided by God, is held to a higher standard. God expects us to use what he has given us. And the person richly blessed by God who spurns or misuses such gifts, will be punished more severely than the person who had less.
The same principle applies with respect to rewards. In the parable of the pounds, Jesus taught that those who produced more return for the master would be given a greater reward, (see Lk. 19:11-27). A servant’s hard work does not go unnoticed by the master.
Question: What does the Bible teach about becoming a priest? Are there special qualifications for members of the church who want to become a priest? Can women be priests?
Answer: According to the New Testament, every member of the church of Christ, male or female, is a priest. Listen to the Bible: “Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” (1 Pet. 2:5). To whom was Peter writing? Christians, (see 1:1-2). Thus, all Christians are “priests” in the Bible sense of the word.
Under the Old Testament, the Israelites were directed to recognize certain men from the tribe of Levi as “priests.” These men, whose qualifications are set forth in the earliest books of the Old Testament, offered sacrifices for the sins of the people, and served as “mediators” or “go-betweens” from man to God. Throughout the OT, the coming of a “great high priest” was predicted, until the coming of Christ himself, (see Heb. 9). Christ now serves in that role, on behalf of all Christians, (Heb. 9:11ff).
The wonderful message of the gospel is that all Christians are priests. Our sacrifices are not the blood of bulls and goats, but are spiritual sacrifices. As Paul declared, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service,” (Rom. 12:1; cf Heb. 13:15-16). It is not surprising, then, that children of God are referred to as “priests” in the New Testament (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6).
To become a priest, one must become a child of God, a Christian. To become a Christian, one must hear the Gospel, (Rom. 10:14-17); believe on Jesus Christ, (Heb. 11:6); repent of sins, (Lk. 13:3; Acts 2:38); confess Christ, (Rom. 10:10; Mt. 10:32); and be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins, (Acts 22:16; Mk. 16:15-16). Becoming a Christian places a person into the church (Acts 2:47), also known as the “priesthood of believers,” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9).
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.