The Fallacy of Post-Mortem Punishment
(In Light of a Successful Savior)
Can there be punishment after death
if Jesus is the savior of the world?
There are several logical, philosophical, and biblical reasons the notion of punishment after death seems to be a flawed concept. Hopefully, you’ll find the following ten points to be clear, and concise.
Before we explore these, it’s important to recognize that Paul teaches with clarity in Acts 24:15 that the resurrection is for all, not a mere few. (He made this so simple and straightforward, the religious leaders sought to stone him.) This seems apparent in Romans 11:32, Romans 5:18,19, 1 John 2:2, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 Timothy 4:10, John 3:17, and many other passages.
With this in mind, we can rest assured of a restored, physical, and conscious existence after death. At what point in time this resurrection occurs is a mystery.
The following might help us understand why punishment, vengeance, retribution, chastisement, penance, casting out, getting one's just deserts, correction, or judgment “in the afterlife” is problematic, based on biblical study and simple logic. [Yes, “logic”— as in reason, judgment, logical thought, rationality, wisdom, good sense, common sense, etc.]
It is quite important to understand that the passages of scripture that seem to indicate some form of punishment after our death can be investigated quite thoroughly and satisfactorily on TheHellVerses.com website. Many great books relating to the success of our Savior and His unconditional mercy can also be found at StudyShelf.com.
1) Post-mortem punishment voids the work of Christ.
We know that Christ came as the perfect Lamb to cover the sins of the world. If our sins are mitigated by our penance or discipline, then His death as the Lamb of God was in vain. If we assume our Savior’s venture to visit this planet in a physical body—which was beaten, scourged, and nailed to a cross—was perhaps only a partial payment, then we also might assume that human punishment in the afterlife could be the crowning completion of His incomplete effort. But this is absurd; our Savior was, and is, successful.
2) Retribution after resurrection assumes
that sin will be present.
Could it be that our Creator would resurrect us into an environment of sin with a sinful nature? We have only a few scriptures to tell us the details about our resurrection, but it certainly seems inconceivable that we will awaken to find ourselves in a world of sin with rebellious hearts and minds.
3) Belief in post-mortem punishment is inconsistent with Christ’s pattern of forgiveness - Seventy times seven!
In Matthew 18:22, Jesus told Peter to forgive others seventy times seven. If Jesus tells us to forgive like this, why should we assume God is not going to forgive us? Jesus did not tell Peter to forgive them “if” they ask for forgiveness or “if” they do something to deserve it. Forgiveness is unconditional.
Forgiveness, not punishment, wins hearts.
4) Post-mortem punishment trivializes the power of love — in particular, God’s love.
It assumes that God’s presence will not be the source of transformation and gives credit to pain and suffering or even some degree of discipline as the means of changing hearts. Physical or mental pain might gain behavior modification, but the presence and understanding of love transforms hearts. It seems that our Lord wants our hearts, not our altered behavior.
5) Jesus must be a failure or cruel.
Belief in post-mortem punishment seems to assert that either the Savior of the world can’t save us or He’s not willing. The idea of post-mortem punishment suggests that Jesus is unkind or His venture to save the world - not to condemn it, as we read in John 3:17, just didn’t pan out.
As the sovereign Creator - omnipotent and omniscient - He has the power to save. To assume that He doesn’t simply makes Him unaware, unable, or unwilling.
6) Paul declares that the result of sin is death,
not post-mortem punishment.
Paul shows us in his summary of theology, his letter to the Romans, that the result of sin is death. Nowhere does the apostle to the Gentiles indicate that any form of punishment after death awaits those who pass from this life as non-believers. Note: Paul was the first to make it crystal clear that we are universally sinners as a consequence of our birth - by means of the lineage of Adam. He also makes it understandable that those in Adam have been adopted into the lineage of the Second Adam. We did nothing to acquire our position as a descendant of Adam, nor can we do anything to be given our status as adopted children of the Second Adam, Christ Jesus.
Belief is not the means of adoption; it is the genesis of our
ability to appreciate it, which is life changing.
7) Vengeance by God on His creatures presumes
men are the masters of their own destiny.
Simply stated, God created us, and He created our environment. Every aspect of our lives is within His sight and power. He knew us before we were born and dictated thousands of events that enabled each of our births to occur. He has never been surprised by the heart, mind or actions of a single individual. He is sovereign; we are not.
Everyone who has died “without Christ” has done so as no surprise to our Creator and Sustainer. To assume that anyone who “goes to hell” gets there by their own free will is absurd.
While we may be beguiled by the idea of free will, and it certainly seems to be a reality, one hundred percent of our “free will” decisions are perfectly in line with God’s will. Our experience of “free will” is similar to a three-year-old sitting on his daddy’s lap while driving around in a parking lot; the child thinks he’s driving, but daddy really has control of the car.
To say that God is going to punish His creatures after resurrecting them would imply the following about Him:
He is not really in control of His creation.
He is a brute [Some may recoil at this point, but this is not to say that our God is a brute. This is simply stating that a “god” who would create people with feelings, consciousness, and sensitivities, and then place them into an environment, which he designed, which ends in a place of endless torment is not God. That kind of “god” would fall into the category of a monster.]
8) It is conjecture that punishment will lead us to Christ.
To assume that pain, misery, and suffering will somehow win our hearts is absurd. Jesus won the loyalty and love of His followers during His earthly ministry with kindness, understanding, and unconditional love. *He does warn the religious elite of impending doom in their lifetime, which did occur from 67-70 A.D. Nowhere in His ministry do we see coercion.
Physical or mental torment is not our Savior’s approach. Behavior modification is not our Creator’s purpose here. He wins hearts, and any changes in conduct are a result of His love.
Leaders in the military can demand behavior modification and achieve it. But, when soldiers see their commanders, perhaps in the midst of battle, placing themselves out front and in harm’s way - it is here where they win the hearts of their troops. There are many stories told by men in battle doing heroic acts - led by men like this.
Jesus wins the hearts of His followers in a similar way. It is only when we see our humble Savior, and His magnificent sacrifice before the Roman soldiers, and we hear His teaching that not one sheep will be lost that our hearts are truly won!
It’s a sad assumption that the idea of post-mortem punishment leads to one, or perhaps both of these:
A wearing down of the lost individual until they finally resign from their rebellion - in some way brought to the point of giving up or “crying uncle” - thus, finally become repentant and believe.
That this punishment or discipline, after one’s resurrection, is a form of justice - a means of providing the worst individuals a chastisement that is more severe or longer than others.
Neither one of these ideas seems to work in light of our loving Savior. It seems much more plausible that the resurrection - of us individually - will be such an exhilarating and mind-blowing experience, our hearts will surely be transformed by His forgiveness and mercy - just as quickly as the Roman soldier who crucified Jesus. When this centurion looked up at Jesus, his eyes were suddenly opened and he said, “Surely, this is the Son of God!”
Neither of these two views is reflective of our Creator’s characteristics of love and sovereignty. They both imply that God is vindictive and/or in need of man’s willingness in order to accomplish His plan to bring all to Himself.
9) Post-mortem punishment diminishes Christ’s finished work and His glory.
The assumption that a certain degree of punishment/discipline is needed in order for some folks to finally be saved implies that Christ’s work is not sufficient. If something more is needed or required from us, then our praise for Him will be diminished. If it is our wisdom, our willingness to accept or our decision to repent and trust in Him that saves us, then this is a semblance of us doing our part.
If something is required by us in order for Jesus to save us, then it’s a partnership, and the completion of our salvation is not all His. This notion that our salvation is some form of “decisional regeneration” goes along with the misunderstanding that God needs our help—or at least our acceptance.
Christ’s work on the cross was finished!
We have a successful Savior.
10) Adam is the source of death; Christ is the source of life!
We are not sinners because of our own sin.
We are sinners due to our lineage.
All of mankind has inherited death from Adam. This is the primary and basic teaching of the Apostle Paul in the 3rd, 4th and 5th chapters of his letter to the Romans.
Paul explains this in Romans 5:12 - 19; “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death so death spread to everyone - and yes we sinned. People sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. Still, everyone died - from the time of Adam to the time of Moses - even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God.
Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and His gift of forgiveness to many through this other man Jesus Christ. And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. For the sin of this one man Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and His gift of righteousness.
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but the Last Adam - Christ Jesus’ one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. ‘Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because ONE obeyed God, the many will be made righteous’” (New Living Translation)
No one made the choice to be born. We didn’t choose our parents and we certainly did not decide to be “in Adam.”
So, what makes us think we are responsible for the miraculous transfer, having our lineage switched from Adam to The Second Adam - Jesus Christ?
Our adoption is God’s work. Children in an orphanage don’t choose their new parents. Nor do we choose to have our ancestry transformed. This is the loving and merciful work of our mighty Creator who fully planned Adam’s fall in the garden and sent His Son as the Savior of the world.
God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:20, 21
A Few Additional Thoughts . . .
So, what about sin and its results?
We see the results of sin all around, especially on the news. Even though “hell” is not an accurate biblical term in the original texts, perhaps there is a small degree of truth to the notion of hell, but it’s what is experienced in this life. This is what Paul speaks of when he refers to judgment.
We can think of it with this acronym:
D U E - Difficult Unpleasant Experiences
This is what we experience in this life, difficult and unpleasant experiences. Even though we have many troubles and pain in this life, it still seems unfair. Shouldn’t Hitler get more than a self-inflicted bullet to the head?
If that’s the end of his punishment, then how can we say God is just?
That’s a good question. But we should also ask ourselves (assuming a belief in eternal torment), why should a sweet grandmother who loved her family and helped everyone around her, who never knew Christ, burn in hell or be cast into outer darkness?
It’s important to remember that the word judgment means to put right, rectify, or put back on course. A straightening out.
Also, the greatest expression of justice is mercy.
If grace is conditional, can it be called grace?
What is grace? It is the free and unmerited favor of God. It is simply an expression of God’s love with no conditions or prerequisites on our part. None!
The definition of unconditional is: Not subject to any conditions. (unqualified, unreserved, unlimited, unrestricted, unmitigated, unquestioning; complete, total, entire, full, absolute, out-and-out, unequivocal)
If our definition of grace assumes that we must do something - even if it’s as simple as “acceptance” - then it is no longer unconditional.
Paul talks about grace over 140 times in his N.T. letters. Nowhere do we read of conditional grace.
Some confuse faith as if it is a condition of grace. This is due to some English translations that say we are “justified by our faith.” However, the Greek texts make it clear that we are “justified by the faithfulness of Christ,” not our faith.
The faith God gives us enables us to appreciate
and understand His grace,
but it does not trigger or impute His unconditional mercy.
Shouldn't Paul, the “chief of sinners,” be punished?
Assuming that there is post-resurrection punishment, any pain or suffering that might be experienced would be the result of a person’s attitude and deeds in this life. Whether this punishment was inflicted for the purpose of retribution, restitution or reformation, it then seems to follow that the worst of sinners should suffer the most severe misery.
This would mean that the self-declared “chief of sinners”
should certainly be punished.
However, if one reasons that Paul should not be punished - since he was a believer, then that reasoning leads us to the conclusion that he was able to escape this assumed punishment.
If one reasons that Paul, as well as all those who are believers in Christ, will be shown mercy - not punishment - in the afterlife, then, according to that reasoning, since punishment is assumed, God punishes His creatures for their unbelief and He withholds His mercy from those whom He did not bring to Himself in this life. Keep in mind, God is the one opening hearts and minds to believe.
Remember too, Paul was on His way to arrest and
kill Christians when He was stopped by a miraculous event.
Perhaps this miraculous event was a precursor
to the event everyone will experience
when they are resurrected—even Hitler!
To assume that others deserve punishment is an
attitude of arrogance and contempt.
One of the most common complaints against the church by skeptics and atheists is the self-righteous attitude seen among so many. Unfortunately, it’s true that many see themselves as better than others, whether it’s because they have been living a “godly” life or because they see themselves as being among the elect. This can be unconscious and subtle. This self-induced perspective certainly carries a view of the afterlife with the idea that the lost deserve to be punished and perhaps their punishment is deserved for simply “not accepting Christ.”
These contemptuous Christians seem to have the exact attitude of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The older brother believed his brother didn’t deserve the feast and honor he received from their father.
Nothing will be more indicative of our Father’s love and mercy than the presence of people like Hitler and Stalin at a banquet feast in the restored world that’s coming.
The most shocking aspect of these kinds of Christians is that they seem to treasure their view of hell and eternal torment for the “lost.” When given the opportunity to explore the possibility that their view of hell might be wrong, they often resist and rush to their position of loathing.
I know, because I was one of those kinds of Christians for many decades.
Punishment after death is inconsistent with our understanding of how individuals become believers.
For those who believe in purgatory or some form of “second chance” salvation, there’s a serious philosophical or logical line of reasoning.
While some (Calvinists) believe that God is the one who opens the eyes and hearts of a select group, and others (among them, Arminians) teach that the lost are given limited opportunities to “come to faith” - while these opportunities are granted periodically during one’s lifetime, both promote the idea that it is the work of God that enables people to become believers.
Therefore, it is normally agreed that it is a work of the Holy Spirit that initiates belief.
This being the case, then, it is in God’s hand that the “unbelievers” are in their predicament. Bluntly stated, it’s God’s fault they’re “lost.” However, it is in His power also to reveal Himself, His love, His mercy, and kindness to all at the resurrection.
The acronym for this is PRA.
Post Resurrection Amazement!
Some come to believe in the risen Savior by faith, others by sight.
For eight days, the disciple Thomas stubbornly refused to believe the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. His close friends told him they had seen Jesus alive, yet he refused to believe. He had no faith even though it was his companions who saw and talked with the risen Jesus.
When Jesus appeared to Thomas, Jesus told him to see and touch. Thomas came to believe, not by faith - but by sight.
Those who do not know Jesus in this life won’t need faith to believe. They will see and they’ll be invited to touch His wounds.
“It’s not about inviting Jesus into our hearts.
It’s about us seeing that He’s already included us in His.”
Here are some passages of Scripture to consider as you contemplate the subject of God’s relentless love and unconditional mercy . . .
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ ALL will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:22
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2
You do not stay angry forever but DELIGHT to show mercy.
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD.
1 John 4:14
For God has consigned ALL to disobedience - that He may have mercy on ALL.
Because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of ALL men, especially those who believe.
1 Timothy 4:10
And I, if I am lifted up, I will draw ALL men to Myself.
God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world.
If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved.
1 Corinthians 3:15
The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.
Jesus was made a little lower than the angels, but we see Him crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death. Through God’s kindness He died on behalf of EVERYONE.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the WORLD.”
The Lord is gracious and merciful. Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to ALL. His mercies are over ALL His works.
For then will I restore to the people a pure language, that they may ALL call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one accord.
First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, more were You pleased with them; though they are required by the law of Moses.” The He said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for ALL.