“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 in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 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.”
(Matthew 11:21-24 ESV)
One question many Bible skeptics ask is “What happens to people who never hear about Jesus?”. This is a valid question. I don’t know the specifics but I do know that God is just and He will do the right thing [Genesis 18:25].
But there are actually very few people who have not heard of Jesus. So there is a far more relevant question that no one ever asks: “What happens to people who hear about Jesus but reject Him?”. The answer to this question is given by Jesus Himself in today’s passage.
Jesus addresses three cities in which He had demonstrated God’s love, compassion, and mercy (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum). Notice that these are cities in Israel – the home of God’s chosen people. But Israel rejected Jesus as their savior.
Jesus goes on to say that if the same love, compassion, and mercy had been demonstrated in the Gentile cities of Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, the people in those cities would have repented. That is saying something considering how wicked Sodom was.
Notice that these three Gentile cities were Old Testament cities that were destroyed by God long before Jesus spoke these words. This tells us that God knows what we would have done given a different set of circumstances. God knows the future. But He also knows what the past could have been. Isn’t that interesting?
But the point of this passage should not be missed. Those people who have heard about Jesus and who have experienced His blessing and who reject Him will have a more difficult time in hell than others. God makes it clear: there are degrees of punishment in hell.
All six of the cities mentioned by Jesus rejected God. All three faced judgment. But those cities who had less information will find hell to be more bearable and more tolerable than the other three. This makes sense. We don’t expect the same level of behavior from a child, who has less life experience, than an adult. The adult has more knowledge and should behave more maturely.
God will hold those who had more information about Jesus and opportunity to know Jesus to a higher standard than those that didn’t. Those of us living today will be held more accountable than those who lived during Jesus’ time because we have more information than they did in the form of the New Testament and Holy Spirit. In a parable Jesus explained this truth: those to whom more is given, more is expected [Luke 12:47-48].
The question of how God will treat someone in a far off land who never hears of Jesus is irrelevant. It’s an excuse not to believe. What is relevant is what happens to someone who hears but refuses to believe. Today Jesus told us. And it isn’t pretty.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.