Why Does God Punish People
Read Revelation 21:5-8 (ESV)
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Why is it necessary for those who reject God to be punished? What would heaven be like if nonbelievers were allowed to be there?
A common objection to Christianity is the fact that God eternally punishes those who reject them. Isn’t that a bit harsh, they say? How can a loving God send people to hell? But we can start to understand this better when we know who gets punished and why but also who doesn’t get punished and why.
In today’s passage, John saw Jesus sitting on the throne declaring that He is making all things new. We talked about the new heaven and the new earth yesterday. The best part about heaven is living in God’s presence forever! But how can sinful people live in the midst of a holy God?
In verse 6, Jesus says that He gives living water to people who are thirsty. Remember the story of the woman at the well? “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’” (John 4:13-14).
In John 7:37-38, Jesus said: “...If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Jesus is not talking about quenching our physical thirst. He is quenching our spiritual thirst. People who are thirsty for God are people who recognize that they need Him. They know that they can’t save themselves and that they are separated from God because of their sin. They gratefully accept His free gift of everlasting life. They put their trust in Him to meet their need and are granted salvation.
Jesus goes on in verse 7 to give us more details about who will be in heaven. He says that “the one who conquers will have this heritage.” But what does he mean by “the one who conquers”? John answers that question for us in 1 John 5:4-5: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” It is our faith in Jesus Christ and our acceptance of His free gift of salvation that allows us to live in heaven in the presence of God as His sons and daughters.
But what about the people who reject God? John listed them out in verse 8 according to their sins and said that they would not receive the inheritance of heaven but instead will suffer the “second death” and be thrown into the lake of fire forever. What differentiates us and them? Only our faith in Jesus Christ.
But why is eternal damnation necessary for nonbelievers? First, because God cannot be in the presence of sin. But also, remember that Jesus said He is making all things new. One of the defining characteristics of the new heaven and the new earth is that it is free from sin and sin’s consequences—death.
If God didn’t banish unredeemed sinners for all eternity, their sin would taint the new earth. What would be the point of creating a new world unstained by sin if sin was allowed back in? Just as unreformed criminals cannot be released back into society, unredeemed sinners cannot be allowed into paradise.
Friends, Jesus has made it perfectly clear. We have a choice where we will spend eternity. He is offering everyone living water without payment. Everlasting life is a free gift! Have you chosen to accept it?
Lord, I confess my sins to You. I know that apart from You, I deserve the lake of fire. But I am thirsty for You, God. I know I need You. I thank and praise You, for offering me the gift of eternal life in Your presence. I humbly and gratefully accept. Amen.