The judgment of Gehenna
Jerusalem and Gehenna are two key geographical locations in the promised land, crucial for understanding the Gospel, and the mysteries of present and future judgment. In a post on Gehenna and Eschatology, part of a series on Questioning Hell, Randy Olds wrote:
From a preterist or partial preterist view, a good bit of what Jesus had to say about judgment and fire and destruction an all of that had to do with the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus, including the warnings about Gehenna. In fact some hyper preterists will go so far as to say that the Lake of Fire in Revelation was in reference to Gehenna as well, with the judgment simply being on the unbelieving Israel (I think this view is far too extreme). Conversely, most dispensationalists and a good many historical premillenialists believe that the only significant prophecy fulfilled in 70 C.E. was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Why this matters to the discussion on Hell is this. If you read through the apocalyptic sayings as well as the stern warnings that Jesus uttered in the Gospels with a preterist worldview, it is very easy to assign nearly all of these sayings to the judgment on unrepentant Israel and see the fulfillment of these sayings in the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman army under Titus, which is what many biblical scholars and theologians assert. Moreover, those who hold to this viewpoint assert that those listening to Jesus would have known that, when He was talking about Judgment and Gehenna fire, He was addressing Israel as a nation, much like the Old Testament prophets before Him had done.
When we consider the context in which Jesus mentions Gehenna, the idea that it might be interpreted as applying to the Jews in a national sense seems an incredible stretch. Here is what Jesus said, quoting from the Weymouth New Testament:
“You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Thou shalt not commit murder’, and whoever commits murder will be answerable to the magistrate.
But I say to you that every one who becomes angry with his brother shall be answerable to the magistrate; that whoever says to his brother ‘Raca,’ shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and that whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the Gehenna of Fire.
If this applies to the Jewish nation, who was their brother? Similarly, in the same chapter:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’
But I tell you that whoever looks at a woman and cherishes lustful thoughts has already in his heart become guilty with regard to her.
If therefore your eye, even the right eye, is a snare to you, tear it out and away with it; it is better for you that one member should be destroyed rather than that your whole body should be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand is a snare to you, cut it off and away with it; it is better for you that one member should be destroyed rather than that your whole body should go into Gehenna.
The verses referring to Gehenna in chapter 18 are similar.
If your hand or your foot is causing you to fall into sin, cut it off and away with it. It is better for you to enter into Life crippled in hand or foot than to remain in possession of two sound hands or feet but be thrown into the fire of the Ages.
And if your eye is causing you to fall into sin, tear it out and away with it; it is better for you to enter into Life with only one eye, than to remain in possession of two eyes but be thrown into the Gehenna of fire.
How could the Jewish nation cut off its hand, or its foot?
Clearly these warnings about Gehenna apply to individual Christians, not to the Jewish nation. The references to Gehenna have to do with judgment, and they apply to the Church, not to the Jewish nation, as the preterists say, or to individual Jews who perished during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The valley of Hinnom is located outside the walls of Jerusalem, which Jesus called “the city of the great king.” [Matthew 5:35] To be cast into it represents the condition of those who are cast out of the city, being accounted unworthy to enter his kingdom. Jesus encouraged disciples of all ages to seek to enter the kingdom, which Jerusalem represents. His warnings about Gehenna apply especially to Christians, who have come to “Mount Zion, and the Heavenly Jerusalem.” [Hebrews 12:22] Gehenna is not threatened for people who have not been called, and who never heard the gospel, because one has to be in the holy city, to be cast out of it.
Jesus connected Gehenna with the right eye, and a hand, and a foot. James connected Gehenna with the tongue. In Revelation 20:4, those who are beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, reign with Christ. Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” [Romans 12:1]
In Jesus’ teaching about Gehenna, he compared losing body parts to gaining salvation, and preserving one’s soul. [Matthew 5:29-30; 18:8-9] The eye was given special notice.
There are several scriptures that refer to the eye in the New Testament. In some, the eye is related to understanding the gospel.
An “evil eye” is something that Jesus said defiles a man. [Mark 7:22]
Peter spoke of men whose eyes were “full of adultery.” [2 Peter 2:14]
Jesus spoke of the man whose eye contains a “beam,” yet he attempts to remove a “mote” from the eye of a brother. [Luke 6:41-42]
Jesus referred to the eye as the “light” of the body. This light must refer to understanding the gospel. He said, “The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.” [Luke 11:34]
John called Jesus the light of men, who “lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” [John 1:9-12]
Those who don’t believe his gospel, are said to be blinded. [John 12:39-41]
Paul was called to a ministry of opening the eyes of Gentiles, and turning them from darkness to light. [Acts 26:15-19]
The eye is also mentioned in Jesus’ message to the churches. To Laodicea he said:
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
He does not tell them to pluck out their eyes, but to anoint them.
The contrast between the messages Jesus gave to Philadelphia and Laodicea seem to correspond to the contrast between Jerusalem and Gehenna.
To the saints of Philadelphia he said: “and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God.” And he promised, “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” [Revelation 3:10]
What is the hour of trial? Most likely, I think, it refers to the great tribulation mentioned in Revelation 7:14. The first group in the chapter, those who are sealed, are exempt, as they are included in the heavenly Jerusalem. Those who miss out are among the great multitude in the second category. Of the Laodicean church Jesus said: “I will spue thee out of my mouth,” which fits the metaphor of being cast into Gehenna.
Of the great multitude, “which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” John said, “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” [Revelation 7:17]
This seems to refer to a time yet to come, after Christ’s return, when judgment begins. [Revelation 11:18]
- The Bishop, the Ghost, and Gehenna
- Jewish fables about Gehenna
- Gehenna applies to the church, not the world
- John Calvin on Gehenna
- Hope in Gehenna?