Do you ever look at travel or entertainment brochures? Sometimes they are found in a big rack in a rest stop or the lobby of a hotel. Some of the brochures are for places or events to which you would never go in a million years. This series is, in a way, a brochure for a place written with a goal that you would not go. It is the Bible’s description of Hell.
I covered two passages from Matthew 25 in the last installment. There are others right out of the mouth of Jesus. Why should anyone read about such a place? Primarily, it is because Jesus talked about it. It is better to know than to not know.
And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell (Gehenna). Matthew 18:9
Please don’t take this passage as a literal instruction. Gouging out your eye or cutting off your foot won’t stop you from sinning, but Jesus uses this gruesome scenario to emphasize how much you don’t want to go to Hell. Can you imagine this? Here the classic description of Hell as fire is used. The other descriptor found here is the word “thrown”. “Gehenna” is a reference to the Valley of Hinnom right outside of Jerusalem. In the day, it was the city’s garbage dump where fires continually burned. It is also where pagan worshippers of Molech sacrificed their children on fiery altars. The damned, who have rejected God’s love and the sacrifice that Jesus made for them, are thrown out. They are trash at this point to God.
The fact that Hell is fiery, that you are cast there and that it is eternal is substance of many of references to Gehenna in the New Testament. An additional insight worth discussing is found in Matthew 10:28:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both body and soul in (Gehenna).
Why would the body end up in Hell and how does one kill the soul? Hell is a post-Judgement Day destination. So consequently, it is also a post-resurrection destination. The Bible says everyone, saved or not, will be raised imperishable. It would seem here that the imperishable bodies of the damned will be cast into a physical fire. Their souls “die” because they are forsaken by God. Hell is a total being experience. The word “destroy”, unfortunately, does not give hope that the person is consumed then the experience is over. The Greek word translated here does not necessarily have that connotation.
What is the nature of the “fear” that Jesus speaks of in this passage? It is not a hopeless, consuming fear. Fear of God is made relative to the fear of others. People will deny Jesus or withhold information about Him because they fear other people. This, Jesus says, is having your priorities messed up. God is the ultimate power and the ultimate judge. If you are going to fear, fear Him. Don’t lose sight, however, to the fact that God is trying to spare people from Hell. God loves people. That is why Jesus was sent.
Some argue that the love of God and the concept of Hell are incompatible. That will be the topic of the next entry in the afterdeathsite.