About Punishment

This is a story about Godís view or use of punishment. Several insights from previous Game Start articles build a different picture to what we casually understand. But you need to see the big picture.

Created: 2011/03/05. Updated 2014/09/06.

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The summary

Godís desire is not to see us punished but to save us from eternal punishment into His heaven.

  1. Punishment was designed as a pre-sin deterrent, not a post-sin retribution.
  2. Punishment was used when God could no longer deal directly with man through His Spirit.
  3. More often than we imagine, things that we might view as punishment were simply God exhausting all other possibilities before sending Jesus.
  4. The Ďpunishmentí in the end time tribulation is a last chance to repent.

How this article started

I kept coming across this statement in some articles by popular authors that:

The punishment for sin is death.

This grieved me. It made it sound like God wanted or required us to be punished for our sin. But all of scripture is aimed at one thing, namely, Godís will and desire that we be saved from the Lake of Fire into His Heaven. (John 3:16-18, 1 Timothy 2:3-6.) God spared not even His own dear son that we might be forgiven and not have to go to the place of torment.

But in the Bible there is something similar:

For the wages of sin is death... (Romans 6:23)

It sounds a bit like the preceding punishment declaration. But I did not mind this scripture because it clearly shows that death is the consequence of our sin and it follows on immediately with...

... but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

But the concept of punishment seems to abound in the Old Testament and to a lesser extent in the New Testament. (Isaiah 26:21, Matthew 25:4.) It is described under various terms like vengeance, condemnation, judgement, correction, torment. I think there is some merit in differentiating these terms, but this article is not about the subtleties of words and meanings. In our fallen state we see something bad happen, either done by God or decreed by God as a result of sin or iniquity, and we see it as punishment. I read one commentary and it reminded you that God is not spiteful in His judgement or punishment. This helps a little but does not address the issue I want to raise.

Some essential scriptures

You have to take note of key scriptures like Ezekiel 18. In particular verse 23 where God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. Indeed in verse 32, He has no pleasure in anyoneís death, but rather desires us to turn to Him and live. This is a big hint of things to come ...Jesus did for us what Israel could not achieve by self righteousness. It was a major refocus for Israel who had simply read that God punishes even the third and fourth generation for sins of the parents (Exodus 34:7).

But you absolutely have to know that mercy triumphs over judgement (James 2:13). Even back in the Old Testament, Moses called upon Godís love to forgive Israelís sin in Numbers 14:17-20. I cannot explain everything. Israel was forgiven, which I assume meant that God was not going to wipe out the nation, but they had not turned their hearts to God and when you read on in Numbers 14:21, there are still consequences. When David sinned with Bathsheba, he was forgiven, (2 Samuel 12:13) but there were still terrible consequences. Yet out of this came Psalm 51 which was such a public revelation and confession before Israel, especially verse 17.

What I have learnt is that God just wants you to turn to Him. Jesus has paid the price, or, if you insist, Jesus has also taken our punishment. Actually, Jesus took the judgement that was on us. Now we turn to Jesus. It does not seem to matter how far down the road you are, it is the direction you are travelling that is all important to God.

But I still have not dealt with the heart of the issue that has bugged me. There are still all those scriptures that talk about punishment; God punishing Israel; the curses for disobedience; the punishments for various offences under the law, perhaps summarised as tooth for tooth, eye for eye, and life for life. So I will start a new section and look at the big picture.

By the way, there were all those sacrifices for sin. But these were not about punishment Ė it was about getting right with God and avoiding punishment.

From the beginning to the end

Look at this over-view where I stress some common factors about the extent or places that were affected by sin and its effect on the presence of God in our lives...

...The start:

...The Law:

...The Grace:

...The end:

OK, do you see the pattern? The real punishment is losing what God has prepared for us and losing His presence. Adam, Cain and the flood saw a loss of the places prepared by God and the progressive loss of the presence of God. Then, at the end, we either see the place and presence fully restored or eternally lost.

The bit in the middle

We have this part the middle; from after the flood where the spirit has been withdrawn, up until the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was again poured out, where we get this seeming focus on punishment appearing.

Well, itís this simple Ė once the spirit was withdrawn, God could no longer deal with us through His Spirit and so He must use punishment. The rules and the punishment were always declared in advance. Punishment is not there to punish the sinner but as a warning not to sin. God wanted us not to sin because we are always the ones that get hurt when we do sin. Punishment was established as a deterrent or warning. It was not designed to cause the sinner to repent because that can only be done by a work of His Spirit. However, even under the Law, it was recognised that God was merciful and in some measure, sacrifices could be made to restore the relationship. (Psalm 103, Psalm 130:4, Psalm 145:8)

Once the spirit was restored through faith in Jesus we talk about discipline. We no longer talk about God having vengeance but about His mercy. We personally do not seek revenge but instead forgive as He forgave us. All this has become possible because the presence of God has been restored to those who believe through His Holy Spirit.

A rare glimpse

Jeremiah 26:2-6 gives an insight into Godís heart that is all too often lost. God has told Jeremiah to pronounce a horrible calamity awaiting Israel because they have repeatedly not listened to God. First, God instructs Jeremiah to deliver this at the temple where people come to worship. This should be the place where He will get the attention of those most committed to God. So God really wants this message to be heard and received. But here is the comment God makes to Jeremiah:

Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds. (Jeremiah 26:3)

God knew that they would not listen yet He expressed His hope that they would. Had the people done evil that deserved punishment? Yes, but God is saying that He will repent of the calamity to come if they will repent and turn to Him Ė no punishment required!

Letís take it up a level

Some commentators justify the judgement and punishment by talking about Godís righteousness. They usually talk about the extreme wickedness of man in Genesis 6 to justify God flooding the world. This is a mistake because we are equally wicked today. You need to read Appendix B3, ďAbsence of goodĒ, in Page-1-God for more on this.

Commentators also talk about Godís love. I also contrast these two attributes of God in places. Itís important in understanding God, yet Godís ways remain above ours (Isaiah 55:9). Up until I started this article, Jan 2011, I would have seen these two attributes of God as like equal but opposite powers at work. His righteousness that demands judgement and His love that seeks to reconcile us. But they are not equal! They are absolutely real and God is bound by His righteousness, but they not equal:

Mercy triumphs over judgement (Matthew 6:12-16, James 2:13)

But get the best part. Just as God was bound by His righteousness to judge sin, so too He is bound by that same righteousness that declares our sins are forgiven by faith in Jesus (Isaiah 53:4-6,11-12, Hebrews 10:10). When Jesus paid the price for my sin on the cross, God by His own righteousness cannot again judge that same sin. His righteousness is working for those who believe.

Finally, He sent His son

Two things we need to know:

  1. The Father loves the Son.
  2. God would not send His son to suffer and die until all other options were exhausted.

Why do we need to know this?

Much of what we misunderstand in Old Testament punishment is simply God exhausting all other possibilities before He sent Jesus (Matthew 21:33-41, Mark 12:1-11, Luke 20:9-19). I first saw this as I wrote the ďAbsence of goodĒ appendix and I think there is something there in the way it unfolds about why we have missed this.

But here is a summary of the big points:

Spin or Your choice?

Now, I openly admit that I am putting a spin on scripture. For example, in Genesis 6 God was very grieved at what He saw. The flood did not serve to punish those guilty of evil but all life. It did not seem to succeed as an example to warn subsequent generations either. But God had to try the start again option with a clear demonstration of the importance of choosing Good rather than Evil now that man had that knowledge. God offered a demonstration of His Grace to those in the ark that would live in their memory, not just the warning ďdo not eatĒ. So I choose to see this event as a necessary option that God had to try. And if you are going to wipe out all life and start again, sooner rather than later. So this was the first option.

You too can spin the story like this. Look at the scattering at Babel in Genesis 11 and immediately followed by the call of Abram in Genesis 12 as another restart, with just one nation as His own. You can picture the destruction of Sodom in the same way. It was a warning.

Perhaps you, like me, have tried telling God that if only we could go around and do some big things, people would listen. ...Sorry, God has tried that in several places and it did not work. (By the way, He does and will try it again but with a different motive now that Jesus has opened the way.)

Please notice that things got pretty bad before the flood; and were headed in a very bad direction before Babel; and were very bad in Sodom. God did not use those options until the wickedness of man demanded it. God had to act to cauterize the wound. But I do not see it as punishment or vengeance for the wickedness then, which is equally prevalent today; but God just played the next card; getting man a step closer to receiving Jesus. God knew that it was not going to work, but we had to see that it was tried and that Jesus was the last option.

What I am saying is that you can see Godís higher purposes. I have tried spending innumerable words analysing each scripture and trying to prove some assertion. But it is really your choice. Do you see a vengeful, punitive God, or one who knew there was no hope except that He sent His son, but had to try all options before He would allow His son to suffer?

Perhaps you would like to defend God and say that His righteousness and manís wickedness demanded it. You can point out that He was slow to anger and all sorts of things like that. In some ways they are all true. But from the beginning, before Adam ate, God knew what it would cost Him. When God judged Adam in the Garden, all mankind was under the sentence of death Ė eternal separation from God. All of history, from the Garden to the Cross, was that we might see it also, and seeing it, grasp the immensity of what the Jesus achieved on the Cross.

So, itís your choice. You can see the image of God that I have chosen to understand scripture.

The final punishment or the last chance

The Book of Revelation describes terrible plagues against mankind. Is this punishment? If God was interested in punishment, why not just jump straight to the final judgement and cast all unbelievers into the Lake of Fire? For sure, nothing we can suffer on this earth is worse than Hell or the Lake of Fire. But surprisingly, the Book of Revelation is a call to repentance. First it calls various churches in chapters 2 and 3 to repent or turn away from bad practices and attitudes. Then we get into all those chapters were we repeatedly see Godís wrath being poured out, but in Revelation 9:20-21 and Revelation 16:9-11 it talks about mankind refusing to repent.

It is not a final punishment but a last chance. Israel would turn back when God allowed their enemies to overwhelm them. During these last days, believers are protected from the plagues. In the same way, when plagues broke out against Egypt through Modes, the Israelites were untouched. Pharaoh was given a chance to repent and let the Israelites go.

So the plagues in Revelation are a last chance. Do you want to know the sad part? Even before it happens God has shown that it will not work. Man actually curses God, blaming Him rather than repenting. That few will take it up is sad but consistent with scripture. None the less, God will offer it so that no one will have an excuse.

In my opinion the tribulation will be preceded by the revealing of the sons of God. A glorious double outpouring of His Holy Spirit that will manifest His Glory and Mercy Ė a time of His favour. All who can be saved will believe because it wonít just be about words but a demonstration of the power of God that can be seen in miracles, signs, and wonders (John 10:38, John 14:11, John 20:29).

The tribulation will both test and refine those brought in during this revival, producing a pure spotless bride. It will leave the rest of the world with a last chance and no excuses. (No, I donít think we get beamed-up before the tribulation, but we can wait and see. Just be sure you get in now.)

Why is God angry?

I wrote the Rules of Paradise article to stress that Godís actions were not driven by anger even though we might have thought He was angry. Now we have this wrath word all over the place in the book of Revelation. The word in Greek is orgť and in Strongs 3709 it is defined as anger, wrath, passion, punishment, vengeance. You just have to say it, God is angry. But can I repeat an earlier posed question...

Well, God does get angry. He is slow to anger. It is generally brief and measured. He often arranges that someone is there to intercede; to turn Him from His fierce anger or provide a way out (Noah, Abraham, Moses and finally Jesus). But Godís heart is to forgive. He wants us to turn to Him and to avoid punishment. God uses punishment as a last resort when we do not listen and turn to Him.

So, have you worked out why He is angry and why there is this seeming punishment? Itís because the result of not turning to Him is unimaginably worse than the punishment. It is Hell, or worse, the Lake of Fire.

He is angry because the objects of his affection, mankind, are bringing horrible pain upon themselves. He is angry because mankind is bringing the death sentence upon themselves.

If they reject God then they will be eternally rejected from heaven and so be cast into the lake of fire Ė the second death (Revelation 20:11-15).

A personal note

Sometimes I must discipline my son. Usually I will repeat a request several times, changing it from a request to a warning, indicating undesirable consequences. He sees these consequences as punishment. Often the consequences involve the loss of access to things he values. At other times, especially when someone gets hurt, or could get hurt, as a result of his actions I feel pressured to make the consequences immediate Ė a smack on the bottom.

I am not perfect and I donít set this out as an example of the way to do it. But this I have discovered... That I love my son and give him repeated opportunities to avoid a punishment, (sometimes too many). In one recent instance where he was being particularly stubborn and emotions were running very high, I took him aside to a private place and showed him my hand ready to deliver the smack, and then I asked him if he thought I was serious. All the time I reminded him and waited for the apology (repentance) to tell me he is really sorry. Then I know that he wonít do it again Ė that he wonít embark on the course that will cause him and others pain. And in this particular instance something happened that surprised even me Ė he suddenly calmed down and figured it out. That he could avoid the punishment and just say sorry. Then we talked. This was a way better outcome than any punishment every delivered.

In the middle of my anger and my sonís stubbornness, I glimpsed the heart of God the Father. Just turn to God. Talk to Him. Know that Jesus has paid the price. That is what Dad is longing to hear.

Another view altogether

Exodus 12:12 and Numbers 33:4 say that God judged the gods of Egypt. So Egypt suffered the judgement that came upon their gods. This led me to see how we get what Satan gets. He is in Hell and unbelievers get sent there. And in the end, Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire and so too all who are not saved. You are a son of Satan or a son of God. There is nothing in between.  If you hate Jesus, you do the works of Satan. (Matthew 13:38, John 8:44.)

But Jesus has paid the price of sin. Man is not so much punished, because Jesus took that, but man is simply sent to the same place as his master. Your master is Satan or Jesus by your own choice and confession. You get what you choose. Itís not punishment but it sure is a good idea to choose Jesus. Itís no good as a post sin call to repent because there is no second chance once you die, but it sure is a good reason to acknowledge Jesus before you die.

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASBģ

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