Degrees of Punishment in HellThe Bible does not expressly state that a person's punishment in hell is based on the seriousness of his or her sins. The idea, however, is implied in several places.
Greater Punishment for Rejecting JesusThese verses (the first three spoken by Jesus) seem to imply less tolerance and worse punishment for the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ than for the vilest sins committed in the Old Testament:
"Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." (ESV)
"And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." (ESV)
"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you." (ESV)
How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (ESV)
Worse Punishment for Those Entrusted With Knowledge and ResponsibilityThe following verses seem to indicate that people who are given greater knowledge of the truth have greater responsibility, and likewise, more severe punishment than those who are ignorant or uninformed:
As he taught, Jesus said, "Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely." (NIV)
"And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." (NLT)
"Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished." (NLT)
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (ESV)
Greater SinsJesus called Judas Iscariot's sin greater:
Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." (NIV)
Punishment According to DeedsThe book of Revelation speaks of the unsaved being judged "according to what they had done."
In Revelation 20:12-13
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (NIV)
The idea of levels of punishment in hell is further reinforced by the distinctions and different types of penalties for varying levels of criminal acts in the Old Testament Law.
But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (NIV)
If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves... (NIV)
Lingering Questions About Punishment in HellBelievers struggling with questions about hell might be tempted to think it's unfair, unjust, and even unloving for God to allow any degree of eternal punishment for sinners or those who reject salvation. Many Christians forsake belief in hell altogether because they cannot reconcile a loving, merciful God with the concept of eternal damnation.
Scripture does affirm God's nature as merciful, kind, and loving, but it's important to remember, above all, God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15). He does not tolerate sin. Furthermore, God knows every person's heart (Psalm 139:23; Luke 16:15; John 2:25; Hebrews 4:12) and he gives every individual an opportunity to repent and be saved (Acts 17:26-27; Romans 1:20).
Taking into consideration that bit of uncomplicated truth, it's reasonable and biblical to hold to the position that God will justly and rightly assign both eternal rewards in heaven and punishments in hell.