20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “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. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 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. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”
Powerful words of Jesus Christ. Jesus had done many signs and wonders among the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Yet these people were unrepentant and they were not changed by Jesus Christ’s declaration of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus says to the people of these unrepentant cities that if the same mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, two pagan cities that they would have been well aware of, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
Jesus goes on by saying that it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgement for that reason. This is a mind blowing statement. This assumes two things:
- There are different degrees of punishment1
- God knows not only all things in the past, present, and future reality. But God also knows all things possible in the past, present, and future.
Let me begin with number one. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:22, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment. This infers that there are different degrees of punishment at the judgment. It seems to be linked to the amount of revelation revealed to and the response of the individual to what has been revealed unto him. So the more truth we have been exposed to the more we are held accountable in the eyes of Christ at the judgment. The ultimate destination is the same for all unbelievers, but the amount of punishment is seemingly determined by how much truth they were exposed to.
Along with this understanding comes with the understanding that God owes salvation to no one. Yes, Jesus Christ died for all mankind, but only those who humble themselves, repent, and believe who He is (the LORD and Savior of all mankind) are given gift of salvation. God owes this gift to no one. This is why missions is so important. The only way people will be exposed to the truth of the Gospel is if we tell them. As Paul put it in Romans, “How will they hear without a preacher? How shall they preach except they be sent?”2 Understanding this aspect helps us understand this whole discussion.
Jesus even goes on to tell them them that because they would not repent that is shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for them. It was well known that Sodom was a land and of people of gross sin and immorality. Yet, Jesus says that if Sodom had seen the mighty works that these unrepentant cities had seen, Sodom would still be around because even they would have repented. This to me seems very powerful.
This brings us to number two. Not only does God know all realities past, present, and future. He knows all possible realities past, present, and future. This to me is phenomenal. God knows that if Sodom would have had the same things preached and had the same mighty works done in it, they would have not been unrepentant as were Chorazin, Betsaida, and Capernaum. Does this mean that God does not judge Sodom? No. He still judges them based upon reality. But this passage does seem to infer that he keeps in account all possible realities. Sodom finds themselves utterly demolished here on earth, and its inhabitants in hell. But perhaps the degree of their punishment is influenced by the possible realities.
One again, this brings back to understanding that God owes salvation to no one. So God is not doing any kind of injustice by judging Sodom for their sin even in light of the reality of not having these mighty works done within it. He judges them fairly based upon their reality of living in sin and immorality.
This helps us understand the role of missions in the world. If we do not tell the lost world about God, they will die and go to hell because they are natural born sinners. Without the hearing of the Word, then there can be no faith in the Gospel. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. There cannot hear the word except it be preached, for God has chosen preaching as his method for spreading the Gospel across this world to all peoples of all cultures of all countries. It is the duty of mankind to tell the world of God’s Gospel. If we do not then the lost die without hope of the Gospel of Christ and go to an eternal hell. If we preach to them the gospel, then they are now accountable to Gospel and they are given the opportunity to accept God’s message and experience life and salvation from hell. They will be given the privilege of an eternal, personal relationship with the Creator of the universe. We must go out and tell those who have not heard!
It is not the responsibility of the preacher/missionary to make sure that everyone he proclaims the Gospel to believes. Jesus Himself did mighty works and preached His word, and yet people still were unrepentant. Those who reject the message will be held more accountable and therefore will be punished more severely. It is not the fault of the preacher. The preacher is to do all that he can to encourage them to repent and believe, but ultimately it is a decision that every individual in this world has to make for himself.
So to bring things back home, how does this relate to us? Well, I look around me and I look to our history (Anglo-Saxon) and I see the Gospel presented fairly consistently. There were some high points and some low points in our history, but overall the Gospel can be found. There are thousands upon thousands of recourses such as books and websites which explain the gospel. There are thousands upon thousands of churches which proclaim the Gospel every week. And perhaps you can hear God say, “
“Woe to you, Chicago! Woe to you, Los Angeles! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Calcutta and Beijing, 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 Lima and Beijing than for you. And you, New York, 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 Bangkok, 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 Bangkok than for you.”
1. I believe that it can also be assumed through other passages that there are differing degrees of reward as well. (Rev. 22:12; 2 Tim. 4:7-8; 1 Cor. 3:12).