Four perspectives on future punishment

Posted: April 24, 2005 in Thoughts on Getting Ready for Christ's Return

When I joined a forum thread which addressed Purgatory, I found the posters taking one of four positions. The passage in mind was from Matt. 18:21-35. In this passage, a king (master) was angry at a servant who would not forgive a second servant although the king had forgiven the first servant a greater debt. It ends with “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Here are the four positions I found. Which one represents your view, if any?

1. If you’re Catholic, the passage on being tortured if we do not forgive our brother supports the Catholic Purgatory. However, the passage does not mention cleansing of our sinfulness or perfecting us for the kingdom, which is what Purgatory is all about. Instead, the master is rendering to the servant what the servant rendered. The servant showed no mercy though he was forgiven all; will God show mercy if we do not forgive?

2. The passage on being tortured refers to present-day, not future, punishment. In other words, the torture refers to feelings of self-condemnation (a bad conscience). However, I think most people would not be thus tortured–because they justify themselves. “He deserves it.” “She started the trouble, so she should repent–it’s not my problem.” This is hardly a torture! When we spiritualize the warnings of future judgment, we tend to water down the severity of the Lord’s words. Torture is pretty severe (so is weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth). If our Lord merely meant that we would get a bad conscience, He could have said that “your consciences will be wounded if you don’t forgive….” Jesus specifically attributes the torture to something God will command, not to our consciences. So I’m uncomfortable with this approach.

3. You argue based on general principles and simply ignore this and many other warning passages. For instance, you say a variation of “Jesus loves me and died for me, so He would never judge me” and make Scripture to contradict itself. Too many passages strongly warn us of the judgment to come. Rather than base our convictions on general principles, we need to study the words God gave us about Himself and life.

4. The passage seems to show that if believers don’t deal with sins now, God will deal with them at the judgment. If we confess our sins and repent, He will forgive and forget. First John 1 teaches that if we continue in the Spirit, then even the small sins we commit without our knowledge will be under the blood. But if they come to mind, and we confess and get right with God, we will be forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness. God will not bring them to remembrance at the judgment because we dealt with them.

Because this passage of the Father sending people to the torturers sounds so much like Catholic Purgatory to the non-Catholic, it is usually dismissed out of hand. But it is in the Bible. We must deal with the passage. It can’t be ignored or spiritualized away. There are real consequences for our sins in this life and at the judgment to come. HOwever, walking with Jesus as Lord grants glorious consequences in this life and the future. Let us choose wisely.

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