Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “gehenna

Where’s hell?

Hell - image of 1180. 400pxThe Town of Paradise is in Newfoundland, Canada and there is an area near Boston, Ohio, called Hell Town. Place names arouse particular connotations, connections and feelings. The Old Testament prophets and Jesus used such associations in their teaching. For example, when Jesus spoke about what we call hell, He used the Greek word Gehenna. But what did the word “Gehenna” mean to those living in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD?

Hinnom valley

The ancient city of Jerusalem was bounded by Kidron valley on the east and Hinnom valley on the south and west. The boundary between the Israelite tribes of Judah & Benjamin was along Hinnom valley (Josh. 15:8; 18:16). The Greek word for this valley was Gehenna (Strongs #1067). Today it is called Wadi er-Rababi. The valley was probably named after a Jebusite named Hinnom. The southern part of Hinnom (#2011) valley is also lowest point near the ancient city. This area, named Topheth, was where there was child sacrifice to the god Molech in the 7th and 8th centuries BC and after this it was a garbage dump.

Child sacrifice

Topheth in the valley of Hinnom was a place of idol worship. The wicked kings Ahaz and Manassah of Judah practiced child sacrifice here (2 Ki. 16:3; 21:6; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). Parents would sacrifice their children in the fire on shrines to Molech, the god of the Ammonites (1 Ki. 11:5; 2 Ki. 23:10), which was prohibited by the law of Moses (Lev. 18:21; 20:2). It was a place of burning (Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Child sacrifices were also made to Baal (Jer. 19:5; 32:35).

During king Josiah’s reforms in the 7th century BC he demolished the pagan shrines and made them ceremonially unclean by covering the sites with human bones (Num. 19:16; 2 Ki. 23:10-14).

So in the first instance Gehenna was the site of horrendous fiery idolatry, which was destroyed by a godly king.

Garbage dump

After this we time read that one of the southern gates of Jerusalem was called the Potsherd gate (Jer.19:2). Potsherd is broken pottery. This gate led to the valley of Hinnom where potsherds were thrown (Jer. 19:10-11). It was later known as the Dung gate (Neh. 2:13; 3:13-14; 12:31). The Potsherd/Dung gate overlooked the valley, which was the main dump for broken pottery and other garbage.

The sacrificial laws God gave Israel required that the dung and certain portions of sacrificial animals were to the taken outside the camp (beyond the city walls in temple times) and burned (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:11-12; 8:17; 16:27).

So in the second instance Gehenna was a garbage dump for the disposal and burning of refuse.

Symbol of God’s judgment on Judah

Jeremiah used a clay jar in a dramatic message to the people of Jerusalem (Jer. 19:1-15). It was delivered at the Potsherd gate overlooking Topheth. After he smashed the jar, he claimed that God says “I will smash this nation and this city” and “I will make this city like Topheth” (Jer. 19:11-13NIV). He also predicted that the valley of Hinnom would be a vast cemetery (Jer. 7:30-34; 19:6). Just as the jar was smashed, the city will be destroyed and the people buried in the valley of Hinnom. Jerusalem will become a waste land devoid of life and littered with corpses and fires like Topheth. This was fulfilled when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in 586 BC.

So in the third instance Gehenna was a symbol of God’s judgment on Jerusalem when they were invaded by the Babylonians.

Symbol of hell

In the 7th century BC Isaiah used “Topheth” as a metaphor for hell when he says its burning fires are ready to welcome the wicked king of Assyria (Is. 30:33). Elsewhere the Bible says that God’s enemies are judged by fire (Isa. 31:9; Zech. 12:6; Rev. 20:9-10). The image of everlasting punishment of God’s enemies in Isaiah 66:24 is also associated with Gehenna. It describes people looking at the valley of Hinnom, which was a picture of hell.

Jesus used the Greek word Gehenna 11 times in the New Testament. In four of these instances it is associated with fire (Mt. 5:22; 18:9; Mk. 9:43, 45). A person goes there after death; they are sent there by God: “Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell” (Lk. 12:5). Both body and soul are destroyed there: “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). And it is eternal: “the fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:43). It is clear that this is a figure of speech and that Jesus wasn’t referring to going to the valley of Hinnom.

In this context, Gehenna is used to describe the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12); “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:42, 50); and “this place of torment” (Lk. 16:28). It’s a place of eternal punishment for unbelievers in contrast to the eternal life of believers (Mt. 25:46). Elsewhere it is called “everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Th. 1:9); “blackest darkness” (2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13); “the second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8); “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” and “the lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). It’s the final destiny of sinners who refuse God’s revelation and Christ’s offer of forgiveness.

According to the English dictionary, the word “hell” means “a place or state of existence where the wicked are punished after death”. So in the New Testament the Greek word Gehenna is used as a metaphor for hell. This isn’t evident to most readers because it is translated “hell” in modern English Bibles.

So in the fourth instance Gehenna was a symbol of God’s judgment of unbelievers in hell.

Symbol of Satan

James also uses the word Gehenna in his letter to Jewish Christians. In the context of a series of metaphors for uncontrolled speech, he writes “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6). Uncontrolled speech destroys our life like a wildfire destroys everything in its pathway. Then it says that hell (Gehenna) is the source of this evil. Because hell matches the characteristics and destiny of Satan, this is a figurative way of saying that Satan is the source of this evil.

So in the fourth instance Gehenna was a symbol of Satan.

Summary

The Bible doesn’t say where hell is. But the valley near Jerusalem called “Gehenna”, was a symbol of hell. People living in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD would have associated this valley with the wickedness of child sacrifice, the desolation of a garbage dump, the invasion of Judah by the Babylonians, the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell and Satan the source of all evil.

The only way to avoid hell is to listen to the message of Scripture (Lk. 16:27-31). Let’s believe that Jesus died so that we don’t have to endure its eternal suffering (Jn. 3:16).

Written, February 2016

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho
Rebellion and deception at Samaria
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
Worshipping God and idols at Bethel


Heaven and Hell: What is hell like?

The Bible teaches that our ultimate destiny is either heaven or hell. In the previous article in this series, we saw that heaven is God’s home and the home of all who trust in Him. It’s a place of great beauty where they will be no sin and we will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord Jesus. This article looks at what the Bible says about hell.

The Greek word “Gehenna” (Strongs #1067) meant “the Valley of Hinnom”, which was near Jerusalem. This place was known for its burning fires (Is. 30:33); it was where children were sacrificed by fire to the heathen gods of Baal and Molech (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6; 32:35). After the practice of child sacrifice was outlawed by King Josiah (2 Ki. 23:10), it was the city waste dump (Jer. 19:2) and anything deemed unclean (including the bodies of executed criminals) was incinerated and a fire was constantly burning there. It also became their cemetery when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem (Jer. 7:32-33; 19:6-13). By the time of Jesus Christ, the deep, constantly-burning Valley of Gehenna, was thought of as the place “down there” where the wicked would eventually be cast into the flames for destruction. So in Scripture, the word “Gehenna” became a metaphor and synonym for hell, the place of eternal punishment.

God’s final judgement

The book of Revelation was the last to be written in the Bible and the one that says the most about the future. After the church has been raptured to heaven, Revelation describes a period of great judgement on earth called the tribulation, which is followed by Jesus returning to establish His kingdom on earth for 1,000 years, and then Satan will lead a final rebellion against God, which will be judged by fire from heaven.

Then we read, And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:10NIV). The fate of the trinity of evil (Satan, the beast, and the false prophet) is called the “lake of burning sulphur” where they will be tormented forever. So, hell is a place of eternal torment.

The next scene is a court with the accused before the judge, who is on a throne. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from His presence, and there was no place for them (Rev. 20:11). Here we see Jesus Christ on a great white throne about to judge mankind. This is after the end of the world as we know it (2 Pt. 3:10). Jesus is the judge because “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). It’s a great throne because of the issues involved and white because of His perfection holiness and purity. God’s greatest attribute is His holiness – the word is repeated “holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

Then John saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done (Rev. 20:12-13). Here we see two kinds of records: the book of life and records of people’s lives. The book of life lists all those who have received Christ as their personal Saviour and who will inherit eternal life. They are raised to life in what the Bible calls the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5). Jesus told His followers not to rejoice in what they had done, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20). The most important thing in life is: “Is my name written in the book of life?”.

Others will be raised in the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5) and judged according to what they had done in life (Rom. 2:6). It is all preserved in God’s great library, like the YouTube website. Books are used as symbols here; we would probably use videos. Just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15), so there will be degrees of punishment in hell (Mt. 11:22; Lk. 12:47-48). The depth of suffering in hell is conditional on the opportunities rejected and the sins indulged.

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The judgement is to be thrown into the lake of fire, which is also called “the second death”. As death involves the separation of the body from the spirit and soul, and Hades is where the spirit and soul are after death, hell involves the body, spirit and soul.

So hell is the judgement for sinners who refuse or ignore God’s free gift of eternal life. The Bible is full of references of the punishment of the wicked (Rom. 2:5-12; Gal. 6:7-8; Heb. 10:29-31; Rev. 20:11-15). In fact it has more references to hell than it does to heaven.

We will now look at what else the Bible tells us about hell. As we are looking at eternity which we haven’t experienced, the Bible uses metaphors to express what it is like. A metaphor is figurative language which says that one thing is like another thing in certain ways.

Characteristics of hell

Eternal

In at least 9 verses, hell is described as being “eternal” or “everlasting” or “for ever” or “for ever and ever”, which means that it is endless (Mt. 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 3:29; 2 Th. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; Jude 7, Rev. 14:11; 20:10). After all we are looking at eternity. For example, it is referred to as “eternal judgement” (Heb. 6:2). This is the only characteristic of hell that is like heaven; they are both eternal.

Made for Satan and demons

God made hell for Satan and his angels (demons), but unfortunately many people have chosen to go there as well: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). In contrast, heaven is the home of God and His angels and all true Christians. The sin that sends people to hell is the refusal to submit to Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (Jn. 3:36).

Like a fire

In at least 18 verses, hell is described as involving “fire” or “being burned” or a “blazing furnace” or a “lake of fire” or a “fiery lake of burning sulphur” (Mt. 3:12; 5:22; 13:30,40,42,50; 18:8, 9; 25:41; Mk. 9:44,48; Lk.3:17; Jude 7; Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8). The fire symbolises God’s judgement: the process of judgement is likened to the action of fire. Fire is said to test the believer’s work or service at the Judgement Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). In heaven the judgement is for rewards, while in hell it is an eternal reminder of one’s sin.

Like a second death

In at least 3 verses hell is described as being a “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Death involves separation and a change of state. In hell people are separated from God and all that is good. This is the opposite of heaven, where instead of eternal death there will be eternal life with God and all that is good.

Like destruction

In at least 6 verses hell is described as being “destroyed” or suffering “destruction” or to “destroy both body and soul” or to “perish” (Mt. 7:13; 10:28; Jn. 3:16; Phil. 3:19; 1 Th. 1:9; Heb. 10:39). “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:9-10). It means separation from the Lord, never to see the glory of His power, and “everlasting destruction”, which means loss of well-being, or ruin as far as the purpose of existence is concerned (Lk. 5:37), not the end of existence. Although some people believe that unbelievers cease to exist before God sets up the new heaven and the new earth, the Bible calls hell “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46).

Torment

In at least 2 verses hell is described as involving “torment” or being “tormented” (Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example the rich man was in torment and agony when he was in Hades, which is a precursor to hell (Lk. 16:23). This is the result of being eternally reminded of one’s sin, and contrasted by the joy of heaven.

There is no relief

In at least 5 verses the suffering in hell is described as being “unquenchable” or the “fire never goes out” or it continues “day and night” or there is “no rest day or night” or “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mt. 3:12;  Mk. 9:44, 48; Lk.3:17; Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example, Abraham told the rich man in Hades “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Lk. 16:26). Like water in a lake, there is no way out or means of escape. There is no relief. This means that the torment is continual, whereas there is always joy in heaven .

Weeping and gnashing of teeth

In at least 6 verses hell is described as involving “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Here we have weeping and strong emotions where one’s teeth are clenched and grinding together (either due to anger or pain). This is opposite to heaven, where there will be no more sorrow or crying or pain.

Like darkness

In at least 4 verses hell is described as involving “darkness” or “blackest darkness” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13). This means it is away from God who is the source of light. This is opposite to heaven, where people are with God.

Like being outside

In at least 4 verses hell is described as being “outside” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Rev. 22:15). This means it is outside heaven and away from God, which is the opposite of heaven.

What will people be doing?

From the above we can see that people in hell will be being reminded of their sins, separated from God and all that is good, which will lead to being continually tormented, without relief, crying, and angry. This is opposite to those in heaven who will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord.

How soon?

Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in His millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur, but it could be soon. Although John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet, our eternal destiny is set the moment we die, which could be very soon. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.

Lessons for us

The Bible has given us a glimpse into what hell is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?

First, don’t use the word “hell” as a swear word. It’s a place of eternal suffering, not a word to use when you are frustrated. The Bible warns about using “unwholesome talk” (Eph. 4:29).

Second, let’s fear God, because hell is a real place. Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Lk 12:4-5).

Third, you don’t want to be there. The only way to avoid hell is to have your name written in the book of life. There are two possible destinies. If your name is written in the book of life, you enter into eternal life. If you refuse God’s offer, then your ultimate fate is the lake of fire.

The Bible says, that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16). Also, the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). That’s why we should reach out to people with the gospel message. Like Paul and Apollos, we can plant and water the seed of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can make it grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

Written, July 2010

See the other article in this series:
What is heaven like?