What do you hear when someone mentions judgement and punishment where God is concerned? What is your opinion of Him afterward? Why? Because most of the time, the righteousness and justice of God is left out! Often the conversation makes God seem cruel and unloving. The opposite is true. And I believe many more would come to Christ if they knew the true nature of God.
Why Will God Punish Man?
This is a great question. I mean, if we have free will, why punish us for doing what we choose? Many times the answer misses the point. The point is not about punishing man. It's not that God seeks to spank man for making a wrong choice. It's about God destroying sin and restoring His original creation.
Punishing vs Punishment
Punishment is a way or method of punishing someone. Punishing is carrying out the punishment. Let's look at examples of these in scripture.
When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth. And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. Genesis 4:12-14
In the example of Cain, his punishment is multi-faceted and for life. But the actual punishing only lasts until the sentence was satisfied. as long as Cain lived, he was punished for his sin. But once Cain died, the punishment, in part in this case, ended.
Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 1:7
When God sentenced Sodom and Gomorrah, fire and brimstone rained down, destroying the cities and it's inhabitants. Eternal punishing would have the cities burning in the flames to this day and without end. Is that true? Of course not! The cities are gone. When the punishing, the fire, consumed everything. Then the flames went out and the smoke ceased. And the punishment, destruction, is eternal. See the difference? So the punishing ended at some point, yet the punishment will last forever! And by the way, eternal fire in scripture is fire that cannot be put out and burns as long as there is something left to burn. Jude proves this!
How Long is Everlasting Punishment?
I hope I answered this question in the last section. Now let's relate it to something Jesus said:
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Matthew 25:46
Most people reading this verse thinks of being punished or the punishing lasting forever. Right? But Jesus said punishment, not punishing. It's the punishment, not punishing, never ends. It's also important to know what that punishment is. It's the answer to this question. “What is the opposite of life eternal?”
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23
The punishment for sin is death! And according to Jesus, this punishment is everlasting! Go figure how we are ready to believe in everlasting life. But when it comes down to everlasting death, we have an issue. Yet God in His mercy has not sentenced those who reject Christ to everlasting punishing. That would be cruel and unloving. Yet since some choose to pay the price for sin themselves, once they die the second time, they will never exist again. This is everlasting punishment, everlasting death.
God's Love Is Everlasting!
The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee. Jeremiah 31:3
God is talking to Israel through Jeremiah. God's love is everlasting. Everything He does is predicated by His love. Even when sin is destroyed, God is not being vengeful. God is being loving. He is destroying the enemy of the human race, the bringer of death, sin. Those who choose not accept Christ's atonement for sin will atone for their own sins. Sin must be done away with in all of it's forms for this world to be fully cleansed and restored. But even then, God made no provision for the eternal punishing of sinners. They will not suffer forever. They, along with Satan and all of his works will be consumed by fire and never exist again.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21:4