Sometimes people wonder whether there will be degrees, or different levels of severity of the punishment meted out to lost individuals after death. Similarly, it is questioned whether there will be various levels or degrees of reward. Does the Bible teach that there are degrees of punishment and reward after death? Clearly it does, and in several ways.
Consider our earthly penal systems. 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. That added element of evil intent clearly makes the crime more serious.
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 few stripes, (Lk. 12:47-48a). Note that ignorance is no excuse, but the penalty for the unintentional violation is less severe.
The sensibilities of Bachtell,, civilized people would indeed be shocked if every crime were punished in exactly the same way. We recognize that judges must consider all of the circumstances in rendering an appropriate sentence. Circumstances like the age of the offender. Did you know that juvenile offenders are not subject to the same penalties as adults? Why not? Because we recognize that the youth and inexperience of juvenile offenders mitigates their responsibility, and the appropriate punishment.
In the same way, people who commit unintentional sins, or sins of carelessness, youth, or inexperience, are not in the same category with deliberate, hardened offenders. Surely the great Judge of the universe will take all appropriate factors into account on that great Judgment Day. There are distinctions between people, which affect their level of culpability.
Jesus gets down to the true reason for these distinctions 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. The person with more ability, more talent and resources provided by God, is held to a higher standard that others. 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. “A man that hath set at nought Moses’ law dieth without compassion on the word of two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace,” (Heb. 10:29-30 emphasis supplied)? The punishment of some will be “more sore.”
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 or unrewarded by the Master.
Further, consider the fact that the good or evil a person does cannot fully be determined at the moment of death. There may be continuing effects of a person’s actions long after they die. All of the good that you accomplish during your lifetime may be a small percentage of the total effect of your life. Likewise, the evils committed by some people may continue to plague others long after they are gone. Only an All-wise, Almighty God could possibly understand and weigh every relevant factor in rendering the appropriate judgment for each individual.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.