Q. I always thought Hell was forever, but I recently read another view called the conditional view. It teaches that the unrighteous will be resurrected, judged, punished in Hell for a period of time proportional to their sins, and then suffer destruction (both body and soul). The author mentions several points against eternal punishment but he states “the most convincing of all arguments against the traditional viewpoint relates to what Jesus Himself suffered on the cross. What was that punishment? It was extreme punishment followed by death. If Jesus did not suffer the full penalty for our sin, our debt has not been paid. But the Scriptures say that He paid the full debt and it was not eternal torment.” What do you think of that argument?
A. One of the main lessons the Old testament teaches us is that the shedding of innocent blood is required for the remission of sin. The animals sacrificed as sin offerings were innocent but even their blood wasn’t sufficient for us. It has to be like for like, a man for mankind. Those innocent animals only allowed man’s sin to be set aside until the world’s only innocent man could die for them. Just like the innocent animals didn’t have to suffer eternally, neither did the innocent man. His suffering and death were sufficient because He didn’t have any sins of His own to pay for.
So His punishment can’t be used as a model for ours. No amount of suffering on our part can redeem us, because we’re not innocent. That’s why Jesus had to die in our place. Please understand that people don’t go to hell because of their sins. They go to hell because they rejected God’s sole remedy for their sins. That means they have only themselves to offer as payment and not even eternal punishment can redeem them.
The so-called conditional view of hell is actually the mirror image of works based salvation in that it supposes the absence of bad works merits lighter punishment. But the only work God requires of us is to believe in the one He sent. (John 6:28-29) If that’s all He requires, then that’s all He can judge us on. And there are no degrees of belief. Either we do or we don’t. So the choices are eternal bliss or eternal punishment and both are based on belief.