Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
As a kid I noted that Jesus talked more about “hell” than he did heaven. That made quite an impression on me, that Jesus felt he must teach so much about it. But a closer look at what Jesus taught will demonstrate that he didn’t teach about “hell” at all! There is a lake of fire mentioned in the book of Revelation, but Jesus didn’t teach about it. There are three words mistranslated “hell” in the New Testament. “Tartarus” is the designation for the dwelling place of fallen angels in the underworld. “Hades” means place of the dead or the grave. The third word translated as hell is “Gehenna”. “Gehenna” does not mean hell either, yet this is the word Jesus frequently used.
Over the last two days we’ve heard Jesus pronounce that a person with a heart of anger and a person with an adulteress heart are worthy of being cast into Gehenna. Then in his blasting of the religious leadership in Matthew 23, Jesus says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
What did his audience think he was referring to, when he used the word, “Gehenna”? Gehenna is literally “the Valley of Hinnom”, the Jerusalem’s city dump, where children were sacrificed to Molech. Judean Kings, Ahaz and Manasseh, engaged in idolatrous worship there, which included human sacrifices by fire. King Josiah pronounced this horrible, fiery, garbage pit accursed! The prophet Jeremiah also cursed the place. When Jesus used this term, Gehenna, those who were listening certainly didn’t think he was talking about a future destination called hell. Instead, they believed he was referring to that wretched, accursed, useless place—the fiery garbage pit—always burning. He was saying to the angry, the lustful, the religious leaders who were leading others astray and those who are fearful of the wrong things: “You deserve to be thrown into the pit of destruction, because you are useless and worthless because of these actions.” “You are worthy of the Valley of Hinnom; you are worthy of Gehenna.” Jesus was not talking about a future location, but a place of worthlessness and uselessness right here, right now. He wasn’t speaking of a lake of fire, but a place defiled and was used as the city’s garbage dump; a place of rotting flesh, maggots, stench and fire. This may be one of the most powerful Christian rumors ever and should be a strong reminder to pay attention to what Jesus is really saying. This is certainly one of those times when the traditions and commands of men have made the commands and teachings of God ineffective and