If Jesus suffered the death of the sinner, why did fire not consume him as described in Revelation 20? Why did He say nothing of the pain of the cross? Instead, He cried out in anguish of alienation, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?!” (Matthew 27:46)
He didn’t cry because He felt God was squeezing the life out of Him or that God was attacking Him. It was the mental anguish of alienation from God that killed Christ. From eternity to that point, He’d been with the Father. John’s first chapter tells of the Word that was with God but became flesh to shine light in the darkness. At the temple, He was still His Father’s Son (as He reminded Mary and Joseph). At the Jordan, God excitedly announced Him as His Son. For the next three years, the air around Palestine was filled with Christ’s parables about the love of The Father.
Alas, at Gethsemane, we find Jesus clutching the ground begging for a way out yet surrendering to the Father’s will. His anguish paints every scene until He is nailed to a cross. His distraught mother is at the scene, his disciples watch from afar and around Him, the very people He is dying to save jeer and gamble for His clothes. All this he doesn’t mourn, He actually breathes forgiveness, for He is too busy yearning for the Father’s presence. A presence He cannot feel. It is this sense of alienation that causes the fatal anguish. These are the bitter wages of sin.
Vengeance and retribution are absent from Calvary and if this is the final destination of the sinner, Revelation 20 has no retribution. It is in no way, punitive. Sin brings alienation from God and nobody can live apart from Him. This is part of the message of the cross. The most important part of the message is the revelation of a God who loved us so much that He snatched the cup of wrath from our hands and drained it Himself in order to demonstrate that the sin we love to play with so much, is dangerous. After observing the death of the sinner, we are to turn away from sin to the life that Christ offers. Life He puts in us by the same power that resurrected Him. Far from a legal transaction, the cross offers relationship. God isn’t seeking blind obedience but relationships with us.
What then of the Flood and destruction of Sodom? The wages of sin are earned individually. The Flood and Sodom’s destruction were corporate events. To my knowledge, nowhere did God say that all who were drowned and burned were lost for eternity neither did He say that all in the Ark or outside Sodom were guaranteed heaven! If the Flood was meant to do away with sin, it was a resounding failure because there were sinners in the Ark. If Sodom’s burning was retributive then God’s justice was selective for there were lots of sinful communities in existence at that time. I believe God directly brought on the Flood and burned Sodom, I just don’t believe it was retributive judgement (just a long way of saying, vengeance, in my book).
Vengeance is ultimately useless because inflicting pain on somebody else can never reduce your own. God’s justice, if it is to be effective, must be about making things right… Restoration. Retribution simply adds to the pain. The threat of retribution may deter those who seek to do evil but its weakness is that it must be actively maintained i.e. God must constantly wave his baton stick and use it when we become desensitised. This would cause any relationship to deteriorate. No love would be possible.
If God is to have a loving relationship, He must have us obey not out of fear but because, like Jesus, we long for His presence.