Matthew 5:22 (The Fiery Hell: Two Questions)

“Whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”

1)     What is the fiery hell, and how is it different from Hades or Sheol?

“Fiery hell” is literally the “Gehenna of fire”; Gehenna is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “Valley of Hinnom”  (Gey-Hinnom,  valley of lamentation) that in times past had been polluted by pagan worship and human sacrifice (see Jer 7:31, 32:35).  Josiah in his reforms defiled it (2Ki 23:10) so that it became a place where animal carcasses and the dead bodies of criminals were disposed of along with the city garbage and human sewage.  The putrefying flesh bred a horrible stench and worms (maggots) that consumed the corpses of the wicked, so that fires were regularly kindled to assist in their disposal along with any consumable rubbish.  In the centuries before Christ, it came to be viewed symbolically as a picture of the place of eternal punishment for evildoers “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mar 9:48, quoting Isa 66:24).  Significantly, our understanding of the eternal torments of Gehenna comes almost exclusively from Jesus (see Mat 5:29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33, Mar 9:43-48, Luk 12:5, Jam 3:6 for the only other occurrences) who alone among men as God would have clear understanding of its reality.  Gehenna was understood to be in Hades (NT Greek) or Sheol (OT Hebrew), where the departed spirits of all men went when their physical bodies died (cf. Num 16:29-33, 1Sa 28:8-19, Isa 14:9-15, Mat 11:23, Act 2:27).  However, it was separated by a great chasm from “Abraham’s Bosom” or “Paradise” where the righteous went (Luke 16:22, 23:43).  Scripture indicates that Christ “descended into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph 4:9) and when He died He was “three days and three nights” in its heart (Mat 12:40).  Peter writes that Jesus was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (1Pe 3:18-19) and continues that He ascended to heaven “after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1Pe 3:22).  In this context Paul quotes Psa 66:18 saying “when He ascended on high, He led captive a host a captives” (Eph 4:8), perhaps to be understood as those saints in the “captivity” of Abraham’s bosom who ascended to be with Him in heaven (cf. Phil 1:21-23, 1Th 4:14, Heb 12:23), and/or perhaps those angels and authorities and powers that had been subjected to Him.  Peter also writes that when angels sinned He “cast them into hell (Tartarus, the Hellenist term for the Hebrew Gehenna, which “was thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out, and so regarded in Israelite apocalyptic as well”, BDAG Greek lexicon) and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2Pe 2:4, cf. Luk 8:31, Jude 1:6-7, Rev 9:11, 20:1-3).  In context, Peter mentions this to demonstrate that “the Lord knows how to … keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2Pe 2:9), indicating both an intermediate and final state of punishment for the wicked after they die (cf. the NIV “the Lord knows how to … hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment”).

2)     Are we to understand from Jesus’ words that the torments of a fiery hell will eventually cease, and that the wicked will just be annihilated and cease to exist?

See Mat 5:28-29 and consider: why would it be better for one to pluck out his eye or cut off his hand if one is simply to sleep in the grave upon death and then be annihilated? See Mat 25:46 and notice that eternal punishment parallels eternal life; if the punishment itself is not eternal but only the consequences or results, we would have to believe in the same way that the eternal life promised us by Christ is not literally eternal, but only its consequences or results.  See Mar 9:47-48 where the torments of hell are specifically contrasted with temporal punishments that are necessarily limited by our physical life.  See Luk 16:19-31 which clearly pictures conscious torment after death, as well as Rev 14:9-11, 20:10-15 which plainly indicate that the wicked “have no rest day and night” and will be “tormented day and night forever and ever.  This phrase forever and ever is used once of the righteous who shall “reign forever and ever”, Rev 22:5, and 16 times of God who “lives forever and ever”, Rev 15:7, whose throne is “forever and ever”, Heb 1:8, and “to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever”, 1Pe 4:11); are we to then suppose that when Scripture says that the wicked will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” it does not mean what it plainly says?  The doctrines of annihilationism and universalism that deny the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked in a literal hell must rank among the most dangerous and damnable of heresies because they dismiss the true and far-reaching consequences of sin and offer a hope to the wicked that they will not receive the just recompense their iniquities deserve.  See the devastating, cancerous, and multiplied effect of Adam’s one sin and the suffering and misery it has brought to all of God’s creation and the billions of human souls since born, and ask what punishment it justly deserves and if an eternity is too long to requite it; how much more then the sins that are piled up to heaven of those who add to them all by rejecting the infinite love of God who gave His only Son that they might not perish, by laying fully upon Him the just recompense due us!  Those who hold such doctrines must discount the plain meaning or completely ignore large portions of Scripture, and especially the greater revelation and clear teaching of our Savior; can such be said to have a love for the truth (2Th 2:11-12)?

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