Even a scant reading of the parable of the kingdom net leaves us with this understanding: an eventual “sorting” is inevitable. In a phrase, judgment is coming. And in a few simple verses, Jesus described the judgment of the wicked in terrible, horrible terms – “fiery place,” “weeping”, and “gnashing of teeth.” (Listen to the message here)
It was this textually-based yet culturally-scorned theme that occupied our attention last Sunday and provoked some very good questions. Let’s dig right in and try and tackle some tough and sensitive issues (especially the last question!).
1. What is gnashing of teeth?
When used in Scripture, this phrase refers not only to anguish and pain (like gritting your teeth when something hurts badly), but anger exhibited by a grinding of the teeth that perhaps is even heard verbally. For instance, when the religious leaders reacted to Stephen as he preached to them, they rushed him while gnashing/grinding their teeth (Acts 7). So I take this phrase to indicate that hell is a place of angry anguish, where unrepentant people still “voice” their disapproval of God and his just sovereignty.
2. The passage in Revelation 20, which you say is a more descriptive understanding of Jesus’ reference to eternal punishment in the parables, seems to say hell will come for those who were swallowed up by the sea. Does that mean no one has yet experienced hell?
When Rev. 20:13 says the “sea gave up the dead who were in them,” it’s more than likely a reference to the sea of humanity as opposed to actual waters. However, some believe it may refer to the world that died in the flood. Regardless, this “sea,” as well as Death and Hades, give up all the unbelieving dead for judgment, indicating accountability is inescapable. How the sea, Death, and Hades do this, and what they precisely refer to, isn’t crystal clear from the text.
What is rather clear is that the Lake of Fire is the eventual destination of all of these unbelieving dead, and it is where Death and Hades are cast as well. So I would say that the Lake of Fire, not hell, is what hasn’t been experienced yet. In fact, Luke 16 records that, once the rich man died, it was “in hell that he lifted up his eyes.” So hell is the initial place of judgment for those who reject Jesus, and the Lake of Fire will be the final place of judgment. It is more correct to say unbelievers haven’t experienced the Lake of Fire yet.
3. Can you explain why Revelation 20:13 says all will be judged “according to their works”? Aren’t we judged by our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
Just as believers’ service (i.e., works) is judged/discerned and then rewarded (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10), so I believe this judgment of unbelievers’ works (Rev. 20:11-15) is a place where their destination is confirmed (by the books) and their severity of punishment will be determined (by their works). I support this from Jesus’ prediction about cities with more blatant unbelief (Matt. 10:13-15), as well as his comments about the greater severity of punishment for those who offend a little one (Matthew 18:6).
4. Does the judgment seat of Christ happen immediately upon death? Or is it a judgement that happens at the end of time? If at the end of time, what happens between death and the end of time?
Frankly, we don’t know. People hold to both ideas you mentioned in your question. My personal opinion is that it happens sometime prior to the return of the Lord to set up the Millennial kingdom, possibly just before the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19. Why? I see a bit of judgment language used in the latter half of verse 5 that may be indicating some type of “answering.” Of course, your position on the timing of the rapture will affect this as well. Regardless, the most correct answer to your question is that we simply do not know when it will occur, only that it will.
5. What is the difference between my daily sin and homosexuality as a sin? Can a homosexual still be a Christian? Will they go to Heaven? I love Jesus. I have accepted Him as my Savior, but am I still a sinner as any other gay person?
To be quite honest, I’m not sure how this question arose from this parable unless your question stems from the fact that you’re concerned about the ultimate end of sin, which is judgment. And from the question, it appears you think homosexuality may be more “judged” or “condemnable” than other sins. Let me assure you that all sin has the same divine result — we’re left guilty before God (James 2:10). While our culture often has a pecking order of sin, God sees them all as wicked and does not decide our eternal destination based upon the type of sin. Instead, the fact of sin is what condemns us (John 3:36). From that biblical angle, we all fall equally short (Romans 3:23).
Which means, fortunately, homosexuality doesn’t send people to hell any more than greed or adultery or gossip. So from God’s perspective, there is no difference in your “daily sin” and “homosexuality as a sin,” a wording you used that I sense means you don’t commit it as much as you do other sins. Yet you seem worried this certain sin — “homosexuality” — might tip the scale, so to speak. The good news is all sin, though condemnable, is forgiveable through Jesus. No matter what it is, our hope is in Christ’s justifying work on our behalf (1 Cor. 6:9-11). This is fantastic for all who believe!
However, though sin has an equal condemning effect, its human consequences are often different and varied. And there are some sins that take a greater toll on us and those around us. Sexual sin of any type is one of those, and Paul even calls this to our attention in 1 Cor. 6:18. So it is to our advantage to guard against, yes, all sin, and especially sexual sin.
Does that mean, then, that those who commit sexual sin aren’t believers? As you asked, can someone be a “homosexual and still be a Christian?” At this point, definitions become very important. What do you mean by “homosexual” – tempted or practicing? I’d suggest rewording your question with another sin to test your theology. For instance, ask yourself, “Can an adulterer go to heaven?” Or, “Can a murderer go to heaven?” Or, to use a ‘smaller’ sin, “Can a liar go to heaven?” My stance is that it’s the unrepentant practice of, not the natural temptation to, sin that indicates we may not really be born from above.
The straight answer is this: if we hold on to our sin and refuse to repent, regardless of what it is, we will not enter heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10). But if we turn from it and confess Christ as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), God will save us as we “call on his name” (Romans 10:13). The question is not, “Can homosexuals go to heaven?” but rather, “How do sinners go to heaven?” The answer? Through Jesus and his forgiving and finished work on the cross. That’s the only way any of us will enter God’s kingdom.
The subsequent conclusion, then, is that when Christ saves us from sin, we are dead to it and discover victory over it (Romans 6). Not perfectly, but no doubt increasingly. And not because of our own external energy, but rather due to Christ’s power in us (i.e., the Holy Spirit). This really is the thrust of John’s first epistle — true believers don’t consistently walk in darkness, but are instead marked by a sacrificial love for other Christians and submissive obedience to God’s commands, all because of a new birth. It is biblically incoherent to say that we can embrace and practice sin blatantly over a long period of time and still claim to know God (1 John 3).
So if you’re wondering if someone can be a genuine Christian and approvingly embrace and engage, long term, in unrepentant homosexuality, or lying, or murder, or adultery, or gossip, the answer, I believe, is no. Of course, sometimes we assume too quickly someone who is unrepentant is lost when, in reality, they are truly redeemed but currently dealing with a closely-clinging sin (Heb. 12:1-2), silently and slowly growing sick of it even though they have yet to turn from it. Remember the sexually immoral man in 1 Corinthians 5? He was apparently unrepentant at the time Paul wrote the first letter, but by the second letter he had repented (so glad for church discipline!) and was to be welcomed back into the church (2 Cor. 5). So be careful about prematurely “writing off” those brothers and sisters caught in sin (Gal. 6).
Furthermore, can someone become a Christian in the middle of those sins? You bet! After all, those are exactly the things God saves us from! And are we still tempted with those sins? For sure! But there is no sin in the struggle; we don’t consider ourselves as having committed a sin because we were tempted by it. It’s in the lustful pursuit and unrepentant practice of sin or in the humble repentance and confession of it that our spiritual DNA is revealed: we are either in Christ or of the devil.