Jesus' Teaching on Hell
Samuel G. Dawson
Most of what we believe about hell comes from Catholicism and ignorance of the Old Testament, not the Bible. This study will cause you to re-examine current teaching on hell and urge you to further study on what happens to the wicked after death.
"Don't you know that hell is just something the Catholic Church invented to scare people into obedience?"I was properly righteously indignant when, a number of years ago, a caller uttered these words on a call-in radio show I was conducting. Perturbed by his haphazard use of Scripture, I pointed out to him and the audience, that hell couldn't possibly be something invented by Catholic theologians because Jesus talked about it. I forcefully read some of the passages where Jesus did, and concluded that hell couldn't possibly be the invention of an apostate church.
That's true—hell is not the invention of Roman Catholicism, but just perhaps our concepts of hell are! Catholics didn't invent the concept of hell, but you may be surprised to learn that most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), author of Dante's Inferno, and the English poet John Milton (1608-1674), author ofParadise Lost. None of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! You know how indignant we get at the mention of purgatory—we know that's not in the Bible. You may also find out that our popular concepts of hell came from the same place that purgatory did—Roman Catholicism. The purpose of this study is to briefly analyze Jesus' teaching on hell, to see whether these popular concepts are grounded therein.
A Plea for Open-Mindedness as We Begin
If we strive for open-mindedness and truly want to know what the Bible teaches, the following quotation will help us in our search:We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books and established patterns of church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. . . . It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be "catholic" tradition, or "critical" tradition, or "ecumenical" tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures. (J. I. Packer, "Fundamentalism" and the Word of God [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958], pp. 69-70.)Of course, Packer just reminds us of Biblical injunctions to test everything proposed for our belief. For example, in II Cor. 13.5, Paul told the Corinthians:Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves.Likewise, in Eph. 5.8-10, Paul commanded the Ephesian Christians to be involved in such testing:. . . for ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord, walk as children of light . . . walk as children of light . . . proving what is well-pleasing unto the Lord.In New Testament times, one was only a disciple of Christ when he was willing to examine himself, his beliefs, and everything proposed for his belief as a child of light. Nothing less is required now.
Hell vs. Sheol and Hades
We first begin by eliminating the problem the King James Version of the Bible introduced to this study by indiscriminately translating three different words in the Bible as hell: sheol, hades, and gehenna.
Sheol Used of Unseen
In the Old Testament, the word for which hell is given in the King James Version is sheol, a word whose root meaning is "unseen." The King James Version translates sheol as "hell" 31 times, "the grave" 31 times (since someone in the grave is unseen), and "the pit" three times.Yet in the Old Testament sheol was not exclusively a place of punishment, for faithful Jacob was there (Gen. 37.35, 42.38, 44.29, 31). Righteous Job also longed for it in Job 14.13. David spoke of going to sheol in Ps. 49.15 and Jesus went there, Ps. 16.10, Acts 2.24-31. In all these cases, these men were "unseen" because they were dead.
Sheol Used of National Judgments
Many times the Bible uses the word sheol of national judgments, i.e., the vanishing of a nation. In Isa. 14.13, 15, Isaiah said Babylon would go to sheol, and she vanished. In Ezek. 26.19-21, Tyre so vanished in sheol. Likewise, in the New Testament, in Mt. 11.23, 12.41, Lk. 10.15, and 11.29-32, Jesus said that Capernaum would so disappear. These nations and cities didn't go to a particular location, but they were going to disappear, and so they did. They were destroyed. Thus, sheol is used commonly of national judgments in both the Old and New Testaments.
Hades Used of Anything Unseen
The New Testament equivalent of sheol is hades, which occurs only eleven times. Like its synonym sheol, the King James Version translates the word "hell." However, the correct translation is hades, or the unseen. The Bible doesn't use hades exclusively for a place of punishment. Luke 16 pictures righteous Lazarus there. Acts 2.27, 31 says Jesus went there. In I Cor. 15.15, Paul used the same word when he said, "Death, where is thy sting?" In Rev. 1.18, Jesus said he had the controlling keys of death and hades, the unseen, and in Rev. 6.8, death and hades followed the pale horse. Finally, in Rev. 20.13, 14, death and hades gave up the dead that were in them, and were then cast into the lake of fire. These verses illustrate that hades refers to anything that is unseen.
Hades Used of National Judgment
Like its companion word in the Old Testament, hades was also plainly used of national judgments in the New Testament. In Mt. 11.23 and Lk. 10.15, Jesus said Capernaum would go down into hades, i.e., it was going to vanish. In Mt. 12.41 and Lk. 11.29-32, Jesus said his generation of Jews was going to fall.About hades in Greek mythology, Edward Fudge said:
In Greek mythology Hades was the god of the underworld, then the name of the nether world itself. Charon ferried the souls of the dead across the rivers Styx or Acheron into this abode, where the watchdog Cerberus guarded the gate so none might escape. The pagan myth contained all the elements for medieval eschatology: there was the pleasant Elyusium, the gloomy and miserable Tartarus, and even the Plains of Asphodel, where ghosts could wander who were suited for neither of the above . . . The wordhades came into biblical usage when the Septuagint translators chose it to represent the Hebrew sheol, an Old Testament concept vastly different from the pagan Greek notions just outlined. Sheol, too, received all the dead . . . but the Old Testament has no specific division there involving either punishment or reward. (Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press, 1982], p. 205.)We need to make sure that our ideas concerning hades come from the Bible and not Greek mythology. We have no problem using sheol the way the Old Testament used it, or hades, as the New Testament used it. Both refer to the dead who are unseen, and to national judgments.
The First Biblical Use of "Hell"
Although hades and sheol are not translated accuratedly with the word "hell," one Greek word, gehenna, is properly translated "hell." Notice the first occurrence of this word in the Bible in Mt. 5.21-22. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus said:Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.When Jesus used the term "hell of fire" in these verses, he used the Greek word gehenna for the first time in inspired writing. The word had never occurred in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. When we read the word hell, all kinds of sermon outlines, illustrations, and ideas come to our minds. To most of us, hell is the abode of condemned souls and the devil; it's the place of eternal punishment for the wicked after death, presided over by Satan. It is a place of fire and brimstone, where the damned undergo physical torment eternally. However, none of these ideas came to the minds of Jesus' listeners, for they had never heard the word before in inspired speech.As Jesus did not define the word "hell," we want to begin with this first occurrence of "hell" and, then study all of its occurrences in the New Testament. In this way, we can determine the totality of the Bible's teaching on hell.
The Message of John the Baptist and Jesus
To understand Jesus' first use of "hell" in the sermon on the mount, we must first put his ministry, and that of his contemporary, John the Baptist, in their proper contexts. To do so, we begin with a prophecy of both John and Jesus found in the closing pages of the Old Testament. In Mal. 3.1-5, we read a prophecy, quoted in Mt. 11.10 by Jesus, and applied to John the Baptist:Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts.The first messenger in this prophecy is John the Baptist; "the Lord" is the Messiah. The Christ would use fire to refine and purify the nation of Israel from their corrupt character.In Mal. 4.1-6, the Old Testament closed with this prophecy of John the Baptist:
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts. Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.John fulfilled these verses in Lk. 1.17, where the angel Gabriel prophesied to Zacharias, the father of John, that John would go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah. Again, in Mt. 11.14, Jesus said about John:And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, that is to come.Likewise, in Mt. 17.9-12, Jesus told his apostles coming down from the mount of transfiguration:And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And he answered and said, Elijah indeed cometh, and shall restore all things: but I say unto you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would. Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them. Then understood the disciples that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, for both were austere reformers at times when the nation of Israel was degenerate and corrupt. When John came in fulfillment of these passages, his preaching announced fiery judgement on Israel, as Malachi had prophesied of him. In Mt. 3.7-10, John said:But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit if hewn down, and cast into the fire.Notice that John announced an imminent (the axe lieth at the root of the tree) fiery judgment on Israel if she didn't repent. This was the same fiery judgment of which Malachi had spoken, and said that John would announce. With this idea of imminent fiery judgment in the context, John continued in Mt. 3.11-12:I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.Remember this "unquenchable fire." It will figure in our study throughout. It is the fire spoken of by Malachi, John, and Jesus.
Old Testament Background of Gehenna
Gehenna, the word for hell in the New Testament, is rooted in an Old Testament location. It is generally regarded as derived from a valley nearby Jerusalem that originally belonged to Hinnom. Scholars say the word is a transliteration of the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, a valley that had a long history in the Old Testament, all of it bad.We first find Hinnom in Josh. 1.8 and 18.16, where it is mentioned in Joshua's layout of the lands of Judah and Benjamin. In II Kings 23.10, we find that righteous King Josiah "defiled Topheth in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech." Josiah, in his purification of the land of Judah, violated the idolatrous worship to the idol Molech by tearing down the shrines. Topheth (also spelled Tophet) was a word meaning literally, "a place of burning." In II Chron. 28.3, idolatrous King Ahaz burnt incense and his children in the fire there, as did idolatrous King Manasseh in II Chron. 33.6. In Neh. 11.30, we find some settling in Topheth after the restoration of the Jewish captives from Babylon. In Jer. 19.2, 6, Jeremiah prophesied calamity coming upon the idolatrous Jews there, calling it the valley of slaughter, because God was going to slaughter the Jews there, using Nebuchadnzzar, King of Babylon. In Jer. 7.32, Jeremiah prophesied destruction coming upon the idolatrous Jews of his day with these words:
Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter; for they shall burn in Tophet, till there be no peace.Notice the mention of Topheth, "the place of burning" again. Isaiah also spoke of Topheth this way in Isa. 30.33, when he warned the pro-Egypt party among the Jews (i.e., those trusting in Egypt for their salvation from Babylon rather than God) of a fiery judgment coming on them. In Jer. 19.11-14, Jeremiah gave this pronouncement of judgment by Babylon on Jerusalem at the valley of Hinnom:And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods.From these passages we can see that, to the Jews, the valley of Hinnom, or Topheth, from which the New Testament concept of gehennaarose, came to mean a place of burning, a valley of slaughter, and a place of calamitous fiery judgment. Thus, Thayer in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, said, concerning gehenna:Gehenna, the name of a valley on the S. and E. of Jerusalem . . . which was so called from the cries of the little children who were thrown into the fiery arms of Moloch, i.e., of an idol having the form of a bull. The Jews so abhorred the place after these horrible sacrifices had been abolished by king Josiah (2 Kings xxiii.10), that they cast into it not only all manner of refuse, but even the dead bodies of animals and of unburied criminals who had been executed. And since fires were always needed to consume the dead bodies, that the air might not become tainted by the putrefaction, it came to pass that the place was called gehenna.Fudge said concerning the history of the valley of Hinnom:The valley bore this name at least as early as the writing of Joshua (Josh. 15:8; 18:16), though nothing is known of its origin. It was the site of child-sacrifices to Moloch in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh (apparently in 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6). This earned it the name "Topheth," a place to be spit on or abhorred. This "Topheth" may have become a gigantic pyre for burning corpses in the days of Hezekiah after God slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in a night and saved Jerusalem (Isa. 30:31-33; 37:26). Jeremiah predicted that it would be filled to overflowing with Israelite corpses when God judged them for their sins (Jer., 7:31-33; 19:2-13). Josephus indicates that the same valley was heaped with dead bodies of the Jews following the Roman siege of Jerusalem about A.D. 69-70 . . . Josiah desecrated the repugnant valley as part of his godly reform (2 Kings 23:10). Long before the time of Jesus, the Valley of Hinnom had become crusted over with connotations of whatever is "condemned, useless, corrupt, and forever discarded." (Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press, 1982], p. 160.)We need to keep this place in mind as we read Jesus' teaching using a word referring back to this location in the Old Testament.
The Twelve Gehenna Passages in Chronological Order
In Mt. 5.21-22, Jesus used gehenna for the first time in inspired speech:Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment, and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.As we mentioned earlier in this study, when Jesus used the term "hell of fire" in these verses, he used the Greek word gehenna for the first time in inspired writing. The word had never occurred in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint. When we read the word hell, all kinds of sermon outlines, illustrations, and ideas come to the fore of our minds. None of these came to the minds of Jesus' listeners, for the word had never occurred to them in inspired speech before. It is very significant that the word did not occur even once in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament quoted by Jesus and his apostles.I suggest that to the Jews in Jesus' audience, Jesus' words meant what the valley of Hinnom or Topheth represented in their Old Testament background: gehenna meant a burning; it recalled a valley of slaughter of the Jews for rebellion against God; it was a calamitous fiery judgment. Jesus was warning them that if they did not repent, they were going headlong into the imminent fiery judgement announced by Malachi and John the Baptist. It was the first announcement of fiery judgment by the Messiah as Malachi had prophesied in Mal. 4.1-6.
Let's notice the other gehenna passages to ascertain more about Jesus' idea of gehenna. As we do so, let's analyze each passage thus: Does the passage teach things we don't believe about an unending fiery hell, but which fit national judgment? If the passage does not say what gehennais, does it fit a national judgment? In this first passage, Jesus didn't say what gehenna is, but his teaching was at least consistent with the national judgment announced by Malachi and John the Baptist. The closest fire in the context is Mt. 3.10-12, where John announced imminent fiery judgment on the nation of Israel.
The next passage is Mt. 5.29-30, where Jesus used gehenna twice when he said:And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell. And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell.Jesus didn't define hell here. However, in our traditional idea of hell, unending fire after the end of time, we normally don't think of anyone having their physical limbs at that time. This is not an argument, but just the realization that we don't think in terms of some people being in heaven with missing eyes and limbs, and some in hell with all of theirs. However, these words do fit a national judgment. It would be better to go into the kingdom of the Messiah missing some members, than to go into an imminent national judgment of unquenchable fire with all their members. This was equivalent to John's demand that his Jewish audience bring forth fruits worthy of repentance or receive imminent unquenchable fire. The whole body of a Jew could be cast into the fiery judgment of which John spoke.
The fourth time Jesus used gehenna was when he said:And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.Again, Jesus did not define hell, but he did speak of it consistently with imminent national judgment on Israel. The whole body of a Jew would be cast into the imminent fiery national judgment of which John spoke.
This is the fifth time Jesus used hell, when he said:And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him.Although Jesus didn't define hell here either, he taught the same thing John taught in Mt. 3.10-12, that only a divine being has the power to cast someone into unquenchable fire. A human can kill you. A divine being can imminently bring an unstoppable national judgment in which a divinely ordained religion would be brought to an end. Notice also in verse 49 that Jesus said:I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled?The fiery judgment of which Jesus spoke was not far off in time and place, but imminent and earthly. In verse 56, Jesus noted that the judgment of which he spoke was imminent, for he said:Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time?The word for earth in both these verses is gen, the standard word for land or ground, not necessarily the planet, which we might think. Thayer defined the word as:1. arable land, 2. the ground, the earth as a standing place, 3. land, as opposed to sea or water, 4. the earth as a whole, the world. (p. 114)This is the word used in Mt. 2.6 (the land of Judea), Mt. 2.20 (the land of Israel), Mt. 10.15 (the land of Sodom and Gomorrah), Mt. 11.24 (the land of Sodom), Mt. 14.34 (the land of Gennesaret), Jn. 3.22 (the land of Judea), Acts 7.3 (into the land which I shall show thee), Acts 7.6 (seed should sojourn in a strange land), Acts 7.11 (a dearth over all the land of Egypt), etc. Thus, Jesus again spoke of imminent fiery destruction on the land of Israel, just as Malachi and John the Baptist said he would announce.
Mt. 18.9, Mk. 9.43-45
These verses contain the sixth, seventh, eight, and ninth times Jesus used the word hell. These are verses like Mt. 5.29-30, which speak of it being better to enter life or the kingdom without some members of one's body rather than going into hell with a whole body. However, we pay special attention to Mark's account, because in it, Jesus finally defined hell:And if thy hand cause thee to stumble, cut it off: it is good for thee to enter into life maimed, rather than having thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire [emphasis mine—SGD].Notice that Jesus specifically said what hell is—it's unquenchable fire. John the Baptist said he would baptize with unquenchable fire, not necessarily fire that would burn unendingly, but which would not be quenched. Unquenchable fire is unstoppable! It's fiery destruction brought about by a divine being. In Ezk. 20.47-48, God promised such a national judgment on Judah:Hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it shall consume every green tree in you, as well as every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched, and the whole surface from south to north will be burned by it. And all flesh will see that I, the Lord, have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.Of course, Babylon fulfilled these words in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The fire was not quenched, but Jerusalem didn't burn unendingly from 586 B.C. on.Likewise, in Amos 5.6, God had promised a similar judgment on the northern kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians, fulfilled in 722 B.C.:
Seek the Lord that you may live, lest He break forth like a fire, O house of Joseph, and it consume with none to quench it for Bethel.The unquenchable fire which consumed Israel was unstoppable, but no one believes it's still burning unendingly. Thus, when Jesus spoke of unquenchable fire in Mk. 9.43, he used language that his Jewish listeners would associate with the national judgments God had brought on nations in the Old Testament.In fact, they had never heard such language used any other way! Of course, we have, but not from the teaching of the Bible.
In the tenth time Jesus used hell, he said:Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves.By now Jesus had defined hell—it's unquenchable fire. He told these Jews that they were headed for it, and the people they taught were as well. It is the same national judgment he's been speaking of thus far.
Just eighteen verses later Jesus used hell for the eleventh time. Continuing in the same address, he said:Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?Just three verses later, Jesus said, in Mt. 23.36:Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.About these same things, Jesus said in Mt. 24.34:Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplishedThus Jesus gave the time element when this fiery destruction on the earth would be carried out: in that generation, i.e., in the time of his dealing with the then present generation of Jews. We can now define hell in the exact words of Jesus: Unquenchable fire (Mk. 9.43) upon his generation (Mt. 23.36) in his generation (Mt. 24.34). We cannot make it more precise! If hell is what Jesus said it was, hell is not a place, but an event—the unstoppable fiery destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.Jas. 3.6
There remains but one more occurrence of hell in the Bible. It's the only time the word occurs outside the gospels, where James, writing to Jews shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, said:And the tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell.While this is the only passage speaking of hell outside the gospels, it is consistent with how Jesus defined hell. James condemned misuse of the tongue, specifically in terms Jesus used the first time he used the word in Mt. 5.22, where he spoke of cursing one's brethren putting one in danger of the hell of fire. In Jas. 3.9, James said:Therewith bless we the Lord and Father; and therewith curse we men, who are made after the likeness of God: out of the same mouth cometh forth blessing and cursing.Thus, the last time hell occurred in the Bible, it taught the same thing it taught in the first. The Jew of Jesus' day who abused his brother with his tongue was in danger of imminent, fiery, national destruction. He was headed for unquenchable fire on his generation, in his generation.We see the same imminence of this judgment against Jesus' generation of Jews later in James. For example, in Jas. 5.5, James mentioned a day of slaughter coming. In Jas. 5.7, he mentioned the coming of the Lord. In Jas. 5.8, he said the coming of the Lord was "at hand." In Jas. 5.9, he said "the judge standeth before the door."
Summary of the Twelve Gehenna Passages
From these twelve gehenna passages, we learn that hell was an imminent fiery judgment coming on the Jews in the generation in which Jesus was crucified. It was unquenchable fire on that generation in that generation.It was a national judgment against the Jews. None of these hell passages say that anyone of our day can go to hell. None of them associate hell with Satan. None of them say that Satan's domain is hell.Contrast Jesus' use of hell with traditional preaching on the subject. For example, we quote a Rev. J. Furniss, who said:See on the middle of that red-hot floor stands a girl: she looks about sixteen years old. Her feet are bare. Listen; she speaks. "I have been standing on this red-hot floor for years! Look at my burnt and bleeding feet! Let me go off this burning floor for one moment!" The fifth dungeon is the red-hot oven. The little child is in the red-hot oven. Hear how it screams to come out; see how it turns and twists itself about in the fire. It beats its head against the roof of the oven. It stamps its little feet on the floor. God was very good to this little child. Very likely God saw it would get worse and worse, and would never repent, and so it would have to be punished more severely in hell. So God in His mercy called it out of the world in early childhood. (J. Furniss, The Sight of Hell, London and Dublin: Duffy, quoted by Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press, 1982], p. 416.)Charles H. Spurgeon, renowned Baptist preacher, said:When thou diest thy soul will be tormented alone—that will be a hell for it—but at the day of judgment thy body will join thy soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, body and soul shall be together, each brimfull of pain, thy soul sweating in its inmost pore drops of blood and thy body from head to foot suffused with agony; conscience, judgement, memory, all tortured. . . . Thine heart beating high with fever, thy pulse rattling at an enormous rate in agony, thy limbs cracking like the martyrs in the fire and yet unburnt, thyself put in a vessel of hot oil, pained yet coming out undestroyed, all thy veins becoming a road for the hot feet of pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the devil shall ever play his diabolical tune. . . . Fictions, sir! Again I say they are no fictions, but solid, stern truth. If God be true, and this Bible be true, what I have said is the truth, and you will find it one day to be so. (Charles H. Spurgeon, Sermon No. 66, New Park Street Pulpit, 2:105, quoted by Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press, 1982], p. 417.)Only conceive that poor wretch in the flames, who is saying, "O for one drop of water to cool my parched tongue!" See how his tongue hangs from between his blistered lips! How it excoriates and burns the roof of his mouth as if it were a firebrand! Behold him crying for a drop of water. I will not picture the scene. Suffice it for me to close up by saying, that the hell of hells will be to thee, poor sinner, the thought that it is to be for ever. Thou wilt look up there on the throne of God—and on it shall be written, "for ever!" When the damned jingle the burning irons of their torments, they shall say, "For ever!" When they howl, echo cries, "For ever!" "For ever" is written on their racks, "For ever" on their chains; "For ever" burneth in the fire, "For ever" ever reigns." (From a sermon preached in 1855, quoted by Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press], 1982, p. 417.)Jonathan Edwards, famous Calvinist preacher of an earlier century, said:So it will be with the soul in Hell; it will have no strength or power to deliver itself; and its torment and horror will be so great, so mighty, so vastly disproportioned to its strength, that having no strength in the least to support itself, although it be infinitely contrary to the nature and inclination of the soul utterly to sink; yet it will sink, it will utterly and totally sink, without the least degree of remaining comfort, or strength, or courage, or hope. And though it will never be annihilated, its being and perception will never be abolished: yet such will be the infinite depth of gloominess that it will sink into, that it will be in a state of death, eternal death. . . .To help your conception, imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, all of a glowing heat, or into the midst of a glowing brick-kiln, or of a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine also that you body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, as full within and without as a bright coal of fire, all the while full of quick sense; what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! And how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! . . . And how much greater would be the effect, if you knew you must endure it for a whole year, and how vastly greater still, if you knew you must endure it for a thousand years! O then, how would your heart sink, if you thought, if you knew, that you must bear it forever and ever! . . . That after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, than ever it was; and that you never, never should be delivered! But your torment in Hell will be immeasurably greater than this illustration represents. How then will the heart of a poor creature sink under it! How utterly inexpressible and inconceivable must the sinking of the soul be in such a case. (Jonathan Edwards, quoted by Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press, 1982], p. 417.)Do you think all that preaching came from the twelve gehenna passages we've just analyzed? Do you think any of it did? We can find none of this language of red-hot floors, dungeons, red-hot ovens, vessels of hot oil, being able to see the throne of God, brick-kilns, torture racks, chains, or great furnaces anywhere in these twelve passages that deal with the subject of gehenna in the Bible. However, they are easily found in Milton's Paradise Lost and Dante's Inferno.The reader may wonder, "Well, if Jesus didn't teach the wicked presently living finally go