THE UNSEEN WORLD...GEHENNA
Biblical Research Monthly, July 1943
By Dr. David L. Cooper
LAST MONTH we studied the subject of Sheol and found that that is a place to which both the righteous and unrighteous went upon death prior to the death, burial, and triumph of our Lord. There were two apartments to this underworld which were separated by a vast gulf. Since the conquest of the Lord Jesus and His bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel, the righteous no longer go there but rather go into the immediate presence of God. The wicked, however, continue to go there where they await the judgment of the great white throne, which will occur at the conclusion of the Millennial Age.
In the present installment we are to study the subject of Gehenna or the "hell of fire." This is not a very pleasant subject; nevertheless, since it is one that is treated in the Scriptures, we must come with open minds to see what God says about it. Unfortunately in the King James Version both Sheol and Hades are translated by the English word hell. Gehenna is also translated by this same word. These loose translations have caused endless confusion. The Revised Version, however, has removed the difficulty and presents the facts as they are embedded in the Scriptures. For instance, in the Old Testament Sheol appears as the place of departed spirits. This word is simply the Hebrew term spelled in English letters. In the New Testament the same place is called Hades. This word is the Greek term transliterated spelled with English letters. The word hell is reserved for conveying the idea that is expressed by the Greek word Gehenna. We must keep these facts clearly in mind as we proceed in our study.
Do the Scriptures teach the existence of a place which is designated by the English word hell? In Matthew 5:22 Jesus declared, "... 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 (the Gehenna of fire)." In the twenty ninth verse of this same chapter, Jesus declared that it would be more profitable for one to suffer the loss of an eye, and not thy whole body be cast into hell. A similar threat and warning occurs in verse 30. Jesus encouraged His disciples not to fear those who can kill the body but are not able to kill the soul. He concluded His statement by saying, "... rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). A similar exhortation is found in Matthew 18:9. The Pharisees were very eager to make proselytes to their peculiar views. Concerning such converts Jesus said, "When he is become so, ye make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves" (Matt. 23:15). In upbraiding the Pharisees, scribes, and hypocrites, Jesus addressed them in this language, "Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?" (Matt. 23:33). In Mark 9:43 Jesus said that it was better for one to suffer the loss of one member of his body than having "thy two hands to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire." This statement is repeated in verses 45 and 47 of this same chapter. According to Luke 12:5, Jesus warned His disciples saying, "Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." In each of these passages the word Gehenna is used and is translated hell.
What is the meaning of Gehenna? It simply means the valley of Hinnom. In the latter period of Jewish history, there was a fire burning perpetually in this valley where the garbage and refuse of the city was dumped. This continuous fire furnished the imagery of such passages as the ones which we have just studied. As we have already seen in Mark 9:43, Jesus, in speaking of hell, called it "the unquenchable fire." The fire in the valley of Hinnom certainly was not unquenchable. But this fire concerning which Jesus warned people was one into which certain ones will go after death. It is not a fire that is connected with the present life and activity as was the one in the valley of Hinnom, which furnished the imagery used in these passages.
Having seen from the above discussion that there is a place which is called "the Gehenna of fire", or hell, where the fire is unquenchable, we now wish to look at certain passages which give us a little glimpse of this place of horror. First let us look at an Old Testament passage. In Isaiah 66:22-24 we catch a view of the Millennial Era of our Lord's reign after the heavens above and the earth beneath have been created anew in fulfillment of Isaiah 65:17. People from all corners of the globe will flow in a constant stream to Jerusalem to worship Jehovah of hosts, King Messiah, the Great King. After having enjoyed the marvelous blessings of a visit to Jerusalem, "they shall go forth, and look upon the dead bodies of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh" (Isa. 66:24). From this passage we learn that there will be a place outside of Jerusalem (but we do not know the exact locality) which might be called a miniature hell into which those who have transgressed against God will be cast and will suffer punishment. Here the worm shall not die nor the fire be quenched. This scene will prove an object lesson to those who are living at that time and are enjoying the blessings of the great Kingdom Age.
Let us now turn to the New Testament. John the Baptist, upon seeing the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, spoke to them saying, "Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Then he urged them to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance and not to rely upon the fact that they were descendants of Abraham. Following this warning, he sternly stated that the ax was lying at the root of the tree and that every tree that did not bring forth good fruit would be hewn down and cast into the fire. Remember that this language was spoken to the carping, criticizing Pharisees and Sadducees. Continuing his admonition to them he declared, "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" (Matt. 3:11-12). In this question John explained the purpose of his ministry, namely, that he was the forerunner of Messiah who was, by his preaching and his baptism, preparing them for Him who was coming after him and who would baptize them in the Holy Spirit and in fire. This statement he explained by speaking of a separation that this coming one would make. This idea he expressed in terms of the separation of the chaff from the wheat. In view of this prediction it is evident that one of these classes would be baptized in the Holy Spirit and the other in fire. In other words, those who would accept the Messiah would be saved, and those who would reject Him would be lost and cast into the fire. Speaking of the people in terms of the wheat and the chaff John declared that the Messiah would gather the wheat (the saved ones) into His garner, but the chaff (the lost ones) He would burn up with unquenchable fire. This passage indicates the doom of the lost as well as the blessedness of the saved.
We see another picture of Gehenna in the scene of separation found in Matthew 25:31-46. Let us remember that this is the judgment of the nations, which occurs when Jesus returns to the earth at the end of the Tribulation. Then will be gathered before Him those nations which survive that period of wrath and who are alive upon the earth at that time. In this connection it is well for us to remember that there is nothing said in this passage about a resurrection. There is nothing said about a general judgment. To see any such ideas in this passage is to read into it something that Jesus never intended. Those nations that survive unto the coming of the Lord will be separated into two classes by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Those who have been good to His brethren (because of their love for Him) will be permitted to enter the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. On the other hand, those who have been unkind, uncharitable, and inconsiderate of His brethren (and their actions and feelings toward the least of Jesus' disciples are an index of their attitude toward Him) will be put on the left side and will be sent off into everlasting punishment. The righteous at that time, as we see, go into the kingdom, entering into everlasting life; whereas the lost go into everlasting punishment. They immediately go into "the fire, the eternal, that is prepared for the devil and his angels" where they will be forever and ever.
This teaching is in harmony with what we find in Revelation 19 and 20. In the last part of Revelation 19 we see the false prophet and the beast (the Antichrist) cast alive into the lake of fire. At the end of the Millennium the devil is cast into the lake of fire "where are also the beast and the false prophet." The Matthew passage taken together with the one in Revelation shows us that the lost who survive to the coming of Christ are all cast into the lake of fire when the Lord Jesus comes, but the rest of the dead are not cast into the lake of fire until after the Millennium is over (Rev. 20:11-15). Hell is an awful place. It is a reality. My friend, if you have not already done so, make your peace with God and be ready for the coming of the Lord for His saints to take you to bliss and to glory.
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