You only need to burn yourself once to know that you don’t want it to happen again. This familiar experience is used by Jesus to describe the experience of those who are cast into Sheol (Hebrew)/Hades (Greek), which is the place of the unforgiven dead prior to Judgment Day; and also to describe part of the experience of Gehenna (Greek), which is the place of the damned after Judgment Day. He says,
And if anyone causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone around his neck. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands go into hell (Gehenna), where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell (Gehenna). And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell(Gehenna) where
“their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”
Jesus is making a point about the seriousness of sin and damnation. Unfortunately, maiming yourself will not keep you from sin, but you get the idea. We all need a solution for our sinfulness. Jesus is that solution. He is the difference between being in Heaven and the New Heaven and Earth versus Sheol and Gehenna.
The passage continues,
Everyone will be salted with fire.
Is that everyone is Gehenna, or everyone everywhere? I find most study bible explanations of this unsatisfactory. It is a bit cryptic because Jesus goes from describing something negative to describing something positive, which in this case is salt as a metaphor for godliness. The godly will not cause one another to sin, but will encourage each other to righteous living. But what does it mean to be salted by fire?
Some want to make the word “fire” in this sentence into another metaphor, that for persecution or trial. I think that this use of fire correlates with what John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:11:
He (Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
And also what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 3:12-14:
If any man builds on this foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through flames.
Jesus will put all through a Judgment Day trial by fire. Those who are connected to Jesus will be saved. Those who are connected to Jesus and have built on the foundation of Jesus in a worthy, Holy Spirit driven, fashion will be rewarded. Those who have squandered their lifetime but remain in Jesus will be saved but without reward.
Through all the confusing metaphorical and literal language, the message is this. You can’t save yourself. If you could, it would be worth any cost. But you are saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus. You can build on the foundation of Jesus in a worthwhile way, however. You can live salty. Righteous living will have its reward and that is worth it as well.