Here’s another good one from Lee! -anita
I was reading in another commentary the other day about the lack of preaching/teaching in the modern church on the reality of Hell. The point being made was that Jesus Himself taught extensively on hell and the fact of eternal punishment of the impenitent.
I’ve been reading in Mark 9 where Jesus teaches that it’s better to mutilate yourself—cut off a body part such as a hand or eye that causes you to sin—than to sin and end up in hell. That would have been very difficult teaching for the disciples to hear since the Bible teaches in the law that cutting or mutilation of oneself is strictly forbidden (Deut 14:1, 23:1), but that also illustrates how seriously Jesus felt about sin and hell.
Jesus uses the word Gehenna in Mark 9 (see verses 45 and 47, for example) to refer to hell. Gehenna is interesting in itself and is a valley southwest of Jerusalem called the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna is derived from the Hebrew ge-hinnom meaning Valley of Hinnom). Gehenna is an awful and notorious place just outside the walls of the city. In the times before Christ appeared on earth, some of Israel’s kings, including the infamous king Ahaz, encouraged the people to follow the religious practices of the pagans who adhered to the teachings associated with Baal and Molech. One of the most abominable practices followed was child sacrifice—burning their children alive to appease their pagan god (II Kings 23:10). Ahaz actually burned his own sons at the Hinnom valley (Gehenna), according to II Chronicles 28:3. Thankfully, a later king, Josiah, destroyed the site and it eventually became a garbage dump where the fires never stopped burning. It was seen by First Century Jews as accursed and became a figure for the eternal place of punishment or hell, which was how Jesus was referring to it in the Mark passage.
In verses 44, 46 and 48 of Mark 9, the Bible also uses another unusual phrase (“their worm does not die”) along with the text describing the unquenchable fire discussed above. In Job 19:26, 21:26 and 24:20 there are allusions to the worms that feed on dead bodies. Jesus alludes to a similar reference made in Isaiah 66:24 (the Lord talks about the corpses of men who have rebelled against Him and says “…their worm shall not die.”) Jesus then applies that thought metaphorically to the torment of the guilty in the world of departed sinners’ spirits, i.e., their torment shall never end.
It seems to me that Christians often are quite willing to talk about the accepting love of God; that He has made us and loves us so much that He sent His own Son to die for us. All of which is the essence of the gospel, of course. But what about the other side of the coin? What if we refuse God’s offering of love and forgiveness? Shouldn’t we be acutely aware of the cost of that decision? Should we not fear God—and yes, fearing God in the Bible often means to revere Him. But there also is a sense in which we need to physically fear Him. In an article entitled “Fearing God” which appeared in Christianity Today, William Eisenhower noted: “…many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world.” Eisenhower states that, when we see the world as the greatest threat, we give it unwarranted power. Its threats are temporary at best. Significantly, Eisenhower gets to the point where he says, in his walk with God, he has discovered “that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so He may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless.” His conclusion: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.”
If we are able to attain the wisdom to understand what our all-powerful Lord could do to us but, who instead, sent His own Son to die for us out of love, maybe we can grasp the full equation. God could annihilate us but chose to die for us instead so we don’t have to die in spirit…ever! I think we need to have the good sense to be afraid of what He could do, which will make us appreciate even that much more what He did instead!
By: Lee Pierce