Matthew 18:8-9 (Eternal Fire and the Fiery Hell, Part 2)

How is Gehenna or “the fiery hell” different from Hades or Sheol, the place of the dead?  Note: 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), as well as those angels and authorities and powers over whom He had triumphed and that had been subjected to Him (cf. 2Co 2:14-16, Col 2:15).  Peter also writes that when angels sinned He “cast them into hell and committed them to pits (or chains) of darkness, reserved for judgment” (2Pe 2:4, cf. Luk 8:31, Jude 1:6-7, Rev 9:11, 20:1-3).  Hell here is literally 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).  Interestingly, this rare word occurs 2 out of 3 times in the LXX in Job 40 and 41 in the descriptions of the beast Behemoth and the dragon Leviathan.  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”).

Recall now the context of Jesus’ words in Mat 18:8-9 about eternal fire and the Gehenna of fire; to whom were they spoken: Religious or non-religious? Believers or unbelievers?  Disciples or non-disciples?  In what circumstances were they spoken?  See especially Mat 18:6-7.  On what other occasion had Jesus already taught about stumbling blocks being gathered up and cast into a “furnace of fire”?  See Mat 13:41-42.  By what name did Jesus in that context refer to religious pretenders who are sown among the true disciples, but are born of a different seed and do not bear the fruit of righteousness?  See Mat 13:24-26.  What would be a good name for the furnace of fire into which the tares are cast?  Think Tar-tar-us.  What is another name for religious pretenders that Matthew records Jesus as repeatedly calling the scribes and Pharisees?  See Mat 6:2,5,16, 15:7, 23:13-15,23,25,27-29.  In spite of their religious pretense, what did Jesus say would be the sentence (condemnation, punishment, damnation, KJV) of such pretenders?  See Mat 23:33, and observe that hell here is Gehenna.  Is it only those unbelieving religious pretenders whom Jesus “never knew” (Mat 7:23), who will be sentenced to hell, or perhaps also some believers whom He did know and were even His servants whom He had put in charge of His household to “give them their food at the proper time”?  See Mat 24:45-51, and cf. the parallel passage in Luke 12:42-46; cf. also Heb 6:4-6, 10:26-31, 2Pe 2:20-22.

In light of Jesus’ words in Mat 18:6-9 and their context of exalting oneself over others, how serious does God consider causing “little ones” to stumble?  In the words of Matthew Henry, should we ever say, “Though they be offended, and grieved, and stumble, what is that to us?”  With what seriousness does Jesus say we should avoid stumbling ourselves or causing others to stumble?  See again Mat 18:8-9.  Christ is of course using hyperbole in these verses, but in what ways did Abraham in a manner of speaking “cut off a hand” in order to avoid stumbling?  See Gen 14:21-23.  In what way did Moses “pluck out an eye” in order to avoid stumbling?  See Heb 11:24-26.  In what way did David mortify his flesh to avoid stumbling?  See 2Sa 23:13-17.  What did Paul say he would do to avoid causing others to stumble?  See 1Co 8:13.  Should we consider anything too dear to part with in order to avoid stumbling ourselves or causing others to stumble?

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