Most Bible students wish that God would have answered the question a little plainer concerning degrees of punishment in Hell or degrees of reward in Heaven! Many have concluded that wicked men like Nero, Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein (instigator of the Desert Storm War of 1991) certainly deserve more of a punishment in Hell than a person who is a good moral person, but just never accepted Christ as his/her Savior.
Luke 12:47, 48 reads, "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." There is the reference to many stripes and few stripes. It has been from these verses that many have drawn the conclusion that there will be degrees or levels of punishment in Hell. However, many also see the verses teaching that willful unfaithfulness should bear many stripes, while the person ignorant of God's will receive few stripes.
Luke 19:11-27 reads, "While they were listening to this, He went on to tell them a parable, because He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: 'A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. "Put this money to work," he said, "until I come back." But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, "We don't want this man to be our king." He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. The first one came and said, "Sir, your mina has earned ten more." "Well done, my good servant!" his master replied. "Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities." The second came and said, "Sir, your mina has earned five more." His master answered, "You take charge of five cities." Then another servant came and said, "Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow." His master replied, "I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?" Then he said to those standing by, "Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas." "Sir," they said, "he already has ten!" He replied, "I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me."' This passage records a parable of responsibility. In this parable — there is a hint of degrees of reward, according to responses made by those who were gifted and assigned a task. Those who moved by faith were rewarded accordingly. They understood that they were accountable.
Matthew 20:1-16 reads, "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered. He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.' When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Some have stated that this is a proof text for degrees of rewards and that God is not fair because of this parable.
Matthew 11:22,23 reads, "But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day." Some have concluded a teaching of degrees of punishment is taught here. However, others have concluded that it teaches that Tyre and Sidon had fewer opportunities for knowing the truth, and therefore would not be punished as severely on Judgement Day.
II Peter 2:20-22 reads, "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: 'A dog returns to its vomit,' and, 'A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.'" It speaks of a falling away and one being worse off than those who never were saved! Certainly people who had tasted of God's goodness are going to be remembering it far ahead of those never saved — thus, their punishment will seem worse to them.
As one becomes involved in the study of God's Holy Word, if nothing stands out — being saved by grace certainly does! All mankind is lost apart from Christ and no one is good enough for salvation, nor can one earn his salvation by good works. This is God's world and if He wants to offer the same reward to all people, even if one does not become a Christian until the "Eleventh Hour," that is His business.
Luke 15:11-32 reads, "Jesus continued: 'There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men." So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. "Your brother has come," he replied, "and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound." The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!" "My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."'
This is one of the Bible's most heart-felt stories concerning forgiveness. The prodigal son certainly did not deserve the opportunity to return to the father's household, but due to the love of the father — the son was welcomed back. God is trying to teach us the real meaning of love. Yet, the older son was unforgiving and is seen by most Bible students as the real prodigal of the story.
Once while I was working in a steel mill in northern West Virginia, I had a fellow worker poke fun at Christ and His church. As I attempted to converse with him concerning the love of God and the danger of Hell, he replied that he knew that he would be going to Hell — but since most of his friends would be there, they would just have one big party. In attempting to change his mind I said to him, "If I would attempt to run through the hot (2700 degrees) coke oven and take you with me, would I have any less pain from the burning and the heat?" He said, "Heavens no, you and I would be so concerned about our burning and pain that we would not even know one another was present." My response was, "That is just the way it will be in Heaven and in Hell. One will be so much in either pain or rejoicing that he will not be thinking of others, whether they are receiving less punishment or more rewards than he."
Now, the important question that each of us must answer is — Are we ready to meet Jesus when he comes? The question is not if our spouse is ready, or our children, or our parents — but are we as individuals ready to meet our Maker.
The Bible teaches, in the Book Of Acts, that one must:
Believe In Jesus as Savior (16:31),
Repent of sins (17:30),
Confess Christ Audibly (8:37),
Be Baptized In Water (2:38),
Live A Christian Life (14:22),
Be Active In The Church (2:47).
When one obeys the Lord in becoming a Christian, He adds him/her to His Church (His "Called Out Followers"). Therefore, one needs to identify with a local congregation of Bible studying and dedicated believers. One needs to do this so that a person may be nourished spiritually and can share in opportunities to use various God-given talents to serve the Lord. The local church is a "Lighthouse" in the community. It is in need of one's abilities and support as much as a person is in need of the church. May each of us be understanding that it is only by God's grace that anyone can be forgiven of sins and have the opportunity for Heaven.