Jesus also had more to say about punishment after death than anyone else in the Bible. "And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." (Luke 12:4-5)
Proclamation of the Gospel was "Good News," but it also made mankind more responsible in God's sight. "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 17:30-31 NIV)
This was indeed something new, both for the Gentiles who had been left largely without knowledge of the true God prior to this, and for the Jews who were being called from a distant organizational relationship with God the Father to come individually into a closer, more personal relationship through the Son. "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." (John 14:6 KJV)
Jesus was the kindest, most loving man ever to walk the earth. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28 KJV) His love drew people to him, wherever he went—even hardened prostitutes and macho soldiers. How, though, can we reconcile this with the unbelievably serious consequences of rejecting that love?
"Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" - Hebrews 10:28-29 NIV
The punishment for rejecting Christ is more severe than simply dying without mercy. Does the context soften this?
And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let
us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? - Hebrews 10:24-29 NIV
This is, without doubt, a warning not to be ignored. Yet it should not leave any of us with an unhealthy fear of God—a fear that God might be cruel, unfair, unloving.
Would God the Father or Jesus Christ take someone you love and inflict pain unmercifully on that person, tormenting them without letup, ignoring their desperate pleas, hurting them repeatedly and continually, for ever and ever? Even those who know God personally, who feel his love, and who know that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), and who know that he is the one who teaches us to love—even we may fear for others. But to assure our hearts in this, he had recorded in his Word the fears that Abraham entertained when he heard of the punishment about to be inflicted on the city of Sodom. God patiently put up with a lengthy cross-examination by Abraham, finally assuring him that the Judge of all the earth will indeed do what is right, what is fair, and what is good. (Compare Genesis 18:23-33)
If the thought of some receiving punishment after death troubles us, the solution does not lie in denying the Bible's inspiration, nor in explaining-away Jesus' words by distorting their meaning. Rather, the solution lies in trusting God. After all, that is what faith really means: not getting God to answer all of