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Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S., explains the future punishment that awaits those who reject Christ.
The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9:17 (ESV))
Today’s big question: what is the reward of the wicked?
The Bible presents a dichotomy between the wicked and the righteous. The Psalms greatly emphasize the difference between these two groups of people.
Before we examine the reward of the wicked, we must clarify what this difference means. What places a person into the category of the wicked or the righteous?
In one sense, we should all be counted among the wicked. The Bible makes it abundantly certain that all men are sinful. We are born with sin-cursed flesh into a sin-cursed world, and every one of us has deliberately chosen to sin.
So if we’re all wicked, who are the righteous?
We’re told by Paul, in his paraphrase of Psalm 14:1, that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). So all of us are wicked, and no one is righteous? That doesn’t seem to leave us with much hope or fit what Scripture says about the righteous.
Thankfully, Paul clarified further. It is when we are judged by the law that no one is righteous. But we are no longer under the law. Rather, we have “the righteousness of God apart from the law” (Romans 3:21). God’s righteousness is applied to all who place their faith in Jesus Christ, so that we are not judged by the law.
Because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we can be justified (declared righteous) through faith in Him. So those who trust in Christ are no longer counted among the wicked. Believers are righteous in God’s sight.
But those who reject God’s free gift will receive the reward of the wicked. What is their reward? “The wicked shall return to Sheol” (Psalm 9:17, (ESV)). Sheol is a Hebrew word that literally means “the grave” and is often used in the Old Testament as a euphemism for hell.
Eternal punishment is not a popular doctrine these days. Yet the Bible is unequivocal about the reality of such a future for the wicked. Jesus told us that “these will go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46).
Those who object to this doctrine usually do so because they do not believe a loving God would condemn anyone to such a fate. But the Bible reveals a different perspective. God does not desire “that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
However, as a just judge (Psalm 7:11), God must punish wickedness. “He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness” (Psalm 9:8). Their punishment is of their own making. “The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands” (Psalm 9:16).
Today’s big idea: eternal punishment is the reward of the wicked.
What to pray: praise God for making a way for us to be counted righteous through faith in Jesus Christ.