In previous installments, we showed that in the Great White Throne Judgment, it will be “more tolerable” for some than for others. We explained that the implication is that some will be “punished” more severely than others–that their punishment will be greater than the punishment of others. We also showed that even in case of forgiveness of sins, there might still be a certain penalty which the sinner has to pay… and that this is of course even more true for those who did not repent of their sins.
Christ gives a remarkable parable in the book of Luke, explaining that punishment will differ, depending on the circumstances and individuals involved. He said in Luke 12:42-44:
“And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has.”
It is obvious that Christ addresses true and “blessed” Christians in these verses who remain faithful. They will be “blessed and holy” and rule with Christ for a thousand years (Revelation 20:4, 6), and, ultimately, they will rule and reign forever and ever over all things (Revelation 21:7; 22:5; Hebrews 2:5-8).
Christ continues in Luke 12:45-46 to address true Christians who did not remain faithful, but fell away from God and lost the Holy Spirit. They will end up in the third resurrection to be destroyed:
“But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.”
Those who commit the unpardonable sin will be burnt up with the “unbelievers” in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15; 21:8). Christ, in this parable, equates this with “cutting them in two.” The Authorized Version says that “he will cut him in sunder.” The NIV says that he will “cut him to pieces.” The New Jerusalem Bible says: “The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the unfaithful.”
Christ uses this terminology to show that their fate will be one of utter destruction. In the parallel account in Matthew 24:51, we read that the master of that servant “will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This last sentence is used many times in reference to the third resurrection of unprofitable servants (compare Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Their fate will be “outer darkness”; that is, they will never see again the Light of God. Before they will be burnt up, they will weep and gnash their teeth in hate and utter defiance of God and His Way of Life.
In Luke 12:47-48, Christ proceeds to talk about those who will be in the Second Resurrection of the Great White Throne Judgment period. He now addresses a new category of servants and is not speaking any longer of the servant in verses 45 and 46:
“And that servant who KNEW his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did NOT KNOW, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”
We don’t read that any of these servants in verses 47 and 48 will be cut in pieces and end up in the lake of fire. Rather, they are those who are raised in the Judgment, and they will be punished with “stripes.” But their punishment is not the same. For some, it will be more tolerable than for others. On some, a more severe punishment will be inflicted than on others. It has much to do with what a person understood. Paul says in Romans 2:14-15 that “Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.”
Many, although not converted Christians in this life, do understand that it is wrong to murder or to commit adultery or to steal or to lie. If they live by these standards, they will receive a much more merciful sentence than those who also knew this but did not care to live by it. There will be an accounting in any case “in the day when God will judge the secrets of man by Jesus Christ” (verse 16), but the more serious sins will weigh much heavier. One does not need to be a converted Christian to know that killing millions of innocent people is wrong and unjustifiable. Hard-core criminals, terrorists, mass murderers, torturers and sexual perverts might have seared their conscience willingly (1 Timothy 4:2), “being past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19), and so they will have to receive many stripes to bring them to true repentance.
The Greek word for “stripe” is “plégé.” Many times, it is used to describe beatings (Acts 16:23, 33; 2 Corinthians 6:5; 11:23). In other places, it refers to a wound or a stroke (Revelation 13:3, 12, 14). But the word can also mean, “plague.” Revelation 22:18-19 uses this word in this context, stating:
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the PLAGUES that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” When we read about the plagues which God will pour out on rebellious mankind (note especially Revelation 11:6; 15:1; 16:3, 4, 10, 18), we might get a clearer picture as to what kind of “stripes” Christ might be referring to.
For instance, we read that the two witnesses will have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy, continuing that they have power to strike the earth with all plagues (see again Revelation 11:6). This connection between lack of rain and plagues reminds us of Zechariah 14, when God will withhold rain from those in the Millennium who refuse to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. Zechariah 14:18-19 describes it this way:
“And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, on them there shall be no rain. If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the PLAGUE with which the LORD strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. This shall be the PUNISHMENT of Egypt and the PUNISHMENT of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (verses 17-19).
We explained before that the conditions in the Millennium will be very similar to the conditions during the Great White Throne Judgment. And God will use the same kind of “stripes” or “plagues” or individual punishment during both time periods. They describe punishment for wrong conduct throughout the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment, but they also relate to punishment for their prior conduct in this day and age. Christ’s parable in Luke 12 does not relate merely to conduct AFTER His return; the emphasis is on conduct PRIOR to His Second Coming.
Let us note how the Bible uses the concept of stripes in other passages, showing that they describe just and righteous punishment, including for the purpose of betterment.
In Exodus 21:25 we read that the one who inflicts a stripe on another must receive a stripe himself… that is, he is to pay for the value of the stripe with which he beat another person.
Psalm 89:32 tells us that God will “PUNISH their transgression with a rod, And their iniquity with STRIPES,” while not forgetting His lovingkindness and His faithfulness (verse 33).
Proverbs 19:29 says that “JUDGMENTS are prepared for scoffers, And BEATINGS for the backs of fools.” The Authorized Version says: “… STRIPES for the back of fools.”
Proverbs 20:30 adds: “BLOWS that hurt CLEANSE AWAY evil, As do STRIPES the inner depths of the heart.” The NIV says: “Blows and wounds clean away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.” The interpretation of the Living Bible is quite interesting: “Punishment that hurts chases evil from the heart.”
In addition, when the people appearing before Christ’s throne hear that their sins have brought about the ETERNAL death penalty, since the wages of sin is eternal death, but that true and genuine repentance and believing in and accepting the Sacrifice of Christ will free them from that fate, it will be much more difficult for some than for others to truly repent and realize how evil their human nature has been, and that the death of Christ was necessary to atone for their sins.
The stripes might include the realization of how serious their sinful conduct has been, and that recognition will hit them “like a ton of bricks.” Some will have a very difficult time in dealing with that reality. That would also be true for those who think that they led pretty good lives, and that there was really no need for Christ to die for them. But we are told that everyone sins, and that there is no one who did not and does not sin (1 John 1:8, 10). Ecclesiastes 7:16 says: “Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself?” Verse 20 continues: “And there is not a single man in all the earth who is always good and never sins” (Living Bible).
Self-righteousness is one of the most difficult sins to recognize and acknowledge. Think of Job who had to go through many trials, until he recognized his true nature. God HAD to allow this, because that was the only way for Job to see and repent of his self-righteousness. Although he was not a wicked person by any means (rather, his conduct was extremely righteous), he still had to receive “many stripes” so that he could ultimately be in God’s Family (James 5:11).
We read Christ’s stern warning to the self-righteous chief priests and the elders in Matthew 21:31-32:
“Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God BEFORE you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.”
The Revised English Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version translate that the tax collectors and harlots will enter the Kingdom of God “ahead of” the chief priests and elders.
Christ is addressing the fact that some will be able to repent earlier and quicker than others. It will be easier for them to repent, realizing the enormity of their sinful conduct, than for the chief priests and elders who were proud of their positions and did not even acknowledge their terrible sin of self-righteousness. Christ might have referred to some “tax collectors and harlots” in this life who recognize their sins and repent and will be inheriting God’s Kingdom at the time of His return, while others will have to wait until they will be given their opportunity for salvation in the Millennium or the Great White Throne Judgment. Christ spoke to the Pharisees in this way: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘ We see.’ Therefore your sin remains” (John 9:41). They claimed to be able to see, but refused to repent. Without repentance there is no forgiveness, which means that their sin remained. (This is not to say that they committed the unpardonable sin, but they did not respond to Christ’s offer of repentance, and their refusal will lead to many stripes in the future.)
Some of the “tax collectors and harlots” repented and will enter the Kingdom of God when Christ returns. But this is of course not true for all harlots and tax collectors at the time of Christ, nor throughout the ages. Neither is it true that all harlots and tax collectors will enter the Kingdom before all chief priests and elders, because in the early Church, “a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
The point remains that the sin of self-righteousness is very difficult to detect and overcome. For those who recognize their sins and are truly sorry, the Kingdom of God won’t be that far away (Mark 12:34). Others might only recognize later that the Kingdom had come near them (Luke 10:9), but they had been unwilling to respond, because they still wanted to hang on for a while to their wrong standards, ideas and habits. As a consequence, they might have to receive many stripes—in this life as well as the life to come—so that they can finally recognize, confess and forsake their sinful ways (Proverbs 28:13).
In future installments, we will review additional questions as to whether and how the concept of “stripes” could refer to converted Christians who will become immortal God Beings in the First Resurrection; and we will examine in this context the importance of true and genuine repentance. We will also focus in more detail on “stripes” which people might perhaps receive in this life… prior to the time of Christ’s return.
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link