Monday, August 18, 2008

Hell - What does Scripture Say?

continued from Hell - Is it a literal place?

What can we gather from these twelve verses?

Geenna is described as a place of, or that has, fire. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that fire in the New Testament often denotes judgment; something which the Jews would have understood sense fire is used of God’s judicial wrath in the Old Testament. One must use imagery that is familiar to those he is communicating with in order for them to understand what he is trying to communicate. Jesus was using the image of Gehenna of his day (a place literally filled with filth and eternal fire; a place of finality) to convey the idea that the future geenna is an undesirable place, an eschatological place, and a place of judgment as seen in Matthew 23:33, Matt 5:22 and 18:9.

Hebrew parallelism concerning geenna is found in Matthew 18:8-9. When speaking of the final judgment Jesus uses the phrase “eternal fire” in verse 8 and then “fire of geenna” in verse 9. Jesus used these two phrases interchangeably. By doing so he not only depicts geenna as being a place of fire but a place of eternal fire.

Such imagery of geenna makes the jump from "eternal fire" to "lake of fire" not very big. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 25:41, when speaking of the goats and sheep, “depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is then in Revelation that the connection is made between eternal fire and lake of fire. Being in the same context Jesus says “eternal fire” where Revelation says “lake of fire” (Rev 19:20; 20:10-11). Not only is this lake of fire a place for Satan and his demons but Rev 20:14-15 confirms what Jesus said in Matthew 25:41. People will be cast into this lake as well. It says that anyone who has a name not found in the Book of Life will find themselves being thrown into the lake as well. (If one will notice there are two judgments taking place here. This passage says “books” were opened and people’s works were judged, but it was those whose names were not written in the Book of Life that were cast into the lake of fire.)

In Mark 9:43 Jesus says that the “fires” of geenna cannot be extinguished. This would have brought to mind the common belief that something was always burning in Gehenna. A question arises from this passage. Does “cannot be extinguished” denote eternity? One can come up with three possible meanings. The fire is too hot to extinguish symbolizing the torment and impossible escape from it; the fire lasts forever because it cannot be extinguished; or the other alternative is that both meanings are implied. Mark 9:47-48 further explains and leads one to the third option by adding the phrase “the worm does not die” to the fact that the fire cannot be extinguished. So we can conjecture that geenna is a place of eternal torment without the chance for escape.

Jesus depicts geenna as being a place where the soul can go or be “thrown" (Matt 5:29, 30; Mark 9:45, 47). Matthew 10:28 speaks of the one who has the power to destroy both soul and body in geenna. God is the only one who has the right to condem a person to hell. Once again, we also see that the imagery is similar to that of Revelation 20:15 where the soul is “thrown” into the Lake of Fire. (It must be noted that the emphasis needs to be placed on the word "can" in Matthew 10:28. This verse is not saying that God destroys both soul and body in geenna but he can.)

In Matthew 23:15 Jesus uses the phrase “son of geenna.” This can denote two things; if you are a Calvanist, people are destined for geenna, or if you are an Armenianist, that some people, in their present situation, are headed for hell. It also infers that these people can contribute to others being in the same situation as their own.

Clearly these passages, spoken by Jesus, denote an actual literal place of final judgment that will last forever. Is it a place of fire? As has been shown, fire is often used to convey an image of final judgment. Jesus used the image of fire (images familiar to those he spoke to) to show that hell it is a literal place of judgment/condemnation and not necessarily flames.

James says that our tongue can be set on fire by geenna. Jesus said that there are “sons of hell.” Not only can the tongue be “set on fire” but so can a person’s entire life if they are not following Jesus. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” If the only way to God is through Jesus, then what happens to those who don’t accept Jesus? They have to go somewhere else!!! Whether one believes in a fiery place called hell or not there is definitely a place of final judgment and separation from God.

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