Thursday, April 10, 2014

Unveiling the Myth of Hell and Eternal Torment, Part 5

Part 5– Gehenna: Its Purpose in the Past and Future

Prior parts to this series about hell are as follows:

In this part of the series, I will cover the following points:

--In the past, Gehenna was a place of death and burial
--What did the apostle Paul say about Gehenna?
--Was Gehenna ever a garbage dump?
--In the future, Gehenna will be a place of death and burial
--What does Gehenna look like today?

What did God’s chosen people, the Israelites, understand about Gehenna that seems totally neglected in Christian teachings today?  Let’s look at the Israeli prophets for answers and their revelation to us that Gehenna has been a place of swift judgment in the past and will also be again the future.

In the past, Gehenna (hell?) was a place of death and burial

Jeremiah, a prophet of Israel, was the son of the priest Hilkiah, the same priest who found the scrolls of the law and gave them to King Josiah.  (Hilkiah and King Josiah were mentioned in Part 4 of this “Myth of Hell” series.)  Through the prophet Jeremiah, God warned of the impending destruction to come upon Jerusalem and of the impending death and/or captivity and dispersion of the people for all the evils they had committed and for their unfaithfulness.   

In Jeremiah 7, 19, and 32 God specifically foretold that at the location of Topheth, in the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna), people would be buried and that their dead bodies would be food for the birds and animals.  Such a judgment would come upon the people of Israel because of what they had done in worshipping false gods, offering child sacrifices to those gods, forsaking the one true God, and being unfaithful to Him.  Ending up dead in the Valley of Hinnom represented an extremely shameful destination for an Israelite.  Gehenna was known as a place of desecration, and it would be considered an utter disgrace to end up there dead due to God’s judgment.  

God said:  They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom [Gehenna], to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.  “Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place.  The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.  (Jeremiah 7:31-33, NAS)

Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the senior priests. Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom [Gehenna], which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom [Gehenna], but rather the valley of Slaughter.
I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth...
’Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth [in Gehenna] because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,” declares the Lord, “so as to make this city like Topheth. 13 The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods.”’”  14 Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord’s house and said to all the people: 15 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words.’”  (Jeremiah 19:1-15, NAS)

26 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” 28 Therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will take it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city will enter and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses where people have offered incense to Baal on their roofs and poured out drink offerings to other gods to provoke Me to anger. 30 Indeed the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have been doing only evil in My sight from their youth; for the sons of Israel have been only provoking Me to anger by the work of their hands,” declares the Lord.
31 “Indeed this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My wrath from the day that they built it, even to this day, so that it should be removed from before My face, 32 because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. 34 But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. 35 They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom [Gehenna] to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.  36 “Now therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning this city of which you say, ‘It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine and by pestilence.’   (Jeremiah 32:26-36, NAS)

It is clearly stated in multiple verses that the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) would hold dead bodies, not conscious people writhing in torment and burning for eternity.  Could God be any clearer?  He found it absolutely repulsive that His chosen and beloved people would take their live children and sacrifice them to false gods by throwing them into the fire.  He said it was something which had not even entered in His mind to do!  Due to the detestable behaviors of the people of Israel, God planned on bringing a severe, and swift, judgment upon them.  The judgment would not be throwing them into a valley of never ending fire and burning them for eternity while they are in a conscious state.  His judgment would be to give them into the hand of the king of Babylon and have them face death by the sword, famine, and pestilence.  So many would be killed that their dead bodies would be thrown into Gehenna and eaten by birds and animals.

The judgment and destruction foretold in Jeremiah came upon Jerusalem when it was besieged by King Nebuchadnezzar (from Babylon, modern day Iraq).  Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  The people of Israel were killed and/or taken into captivity.

In spite of the repeated warnings of impending judgment, God also promised His people a future restoration (see Jeremiah 162330313233).

          Behold, I shall convene them from all the lands where I have driven them away in My anger and in My fury and in great wrath, and I will restore them to this place and make them to dwell in serenity…For thus says YHWH: Just as I brought on this people all this great evil, so I shall bring on them all the good which I am speaking concerning them…For I shall reverse their captivity, averring is YHWH. (Jeremiah 32:37-42, CVOT)

Many years later after Nebuchadnezzar's siege and their dispersion, they were allowed to return to their homeland to rebuild.  Even after that, they were unfaithful to God again and behaved in more detestable ways, and by 70 A.D., Jerusalem was besieged again and taken over by the Romans.


What did the Apostle Paul say about Gehenna (hell?)?

After the resurrected Jesus Christ gave His commission to the disciples and ascended into heaven, there came along an insertion in the work of proclaiming the good news of Christ—that insertion was Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was an Israelite and a Pharisee of Pharisees (such a one whom Jesus would have called all the bad names he used for the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23).  Saul’s name appropriately meant “desired” in Hebrew since he was desired and chosen by God for a very important task.  God chose Saul to be the apostle to the nations outside of Israel. The people of the nations are also referred to as Gentiles, and they consist of everyone who is not an Israelite.  One day, as Saul traveled along the road to Damascus on his way to persecute those who believed in Christ, he was suddenly blinded and humbled by the appearance and voice of the risen Christ.

And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;  rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,  to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’  (Paul giving account of his experience to King Agrippa in Acts 26:15-18, NAS)

At the time Jesus Christ gave His commission to the disciples in Matthew 28:16-20, it had not yet been revealed to anyone that the disciples of Jesus were actually chosen to eventually proclaim to and evangelize the Israelites (those of the Circumcision) and that Saul/Paul was chosen to proclaim to and evangelize the nations/Gentiles (those of the Uncircumcison).  There was a commission given to the disciples and there was a commission given to Saul/Paul.  Those two commissions were not exactly alike because God deals differently with Israel, His chosen people, than He does with the nations/Gentiles.

[In Acts 13:8, Saul has a name change and becomes known by the name of Paul (a name of Latin origin meaning “small” or “humble”).]

Since Paul was chosen as a spokesperson for God and Christ and instructed to proclaim the good news of Christ to the majority of the world, it would seem totally logical that his ministry would include warning people about the eternal torment and judgment of hell.  So, what did the apostle have to say about Gehenna? 

NOTHING!  Seriously.  He says nothing.  The apostle Paul never speaks or warns anyone of the horrific, eternal doom of Gehenna.  Was he being negligent or irresponsible with the commission he received from Christ?  Absolutely not!

For I am making known to you, brethren, as to the evangel which is being brought by me, that it is not in accord with man.  For neither did I accept it from a man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ...Now, when it delights God, Who severs me from my mother’s womb and calls me through His grace, to unveil His Son in me that I may be evangelizing Him among the nations, I did not immediately submit it to flesh and blood…  (Galatians 1:10-12, CLNT)

…I have been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision, according as Peter of the Circumcision (for He Who operates in Peter for the apostleship of the Circumcision operates in me also for the nations), and, knowing the grace which is being given to me, James and Cephas [Peter] and John, who are supposed to be pillars, give to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we, indeed are to be for the nations, yet they for the Circumcision…  (Galatians 2:7-10, CLNT)

The apostle Paul was not irresponsible or negligent with the instructions and truths he received directly from Christ.  In fact, he took very seriously the evangel (good news) that Christ had commissioned him to proclaim. 

“I am marveling that thus, swiftly, you are transferred from that which calls you in the grace of Christ, to a different evangel…some who are disturbing you want also to distort the evangel of Christ.  But if ever we also, or a messenger out of heaven, should be bringing an evangel to you beside that which we bring to you, let him be anathema!” (Galatians 1:6-9, CLNT) 

As a Pharisee, Paul was well aware of the past and future judgment of Gehenna, and what he knew had nothing to do with what is commonly taught about hell today.  If Gehenna is truly a hell of eternal, conscious torment, then God must really want over 90% of humanity to end up there because He didn’t reveal much about it in the Scriptures (only 12 references in the entire New Testament), and He did not have the disciples or Paul repeatedly warn the people that it would be their future destination if they behaved badly and did not accept Christ as their savior.


Was Gehenna (hell?) ever a garbage dump?

In the past, I have been taught that not only was Gehenna the location of child sacrifices in the history of Israel, but also that it had been turned into a garbage dump for Jerusalem.  In my research for writing this post, I looked for those facts.  I discovered that there is actually no substantial historical or archeological evidence that the Valley of Hinnom was ever a garbage dump. 

The idea that Gehenna was a garbage dump came from one man, Rabbi David Kimhi (or Kimchi) (1160-1235 AD).  The rabbi, who was born and lived in Europe, wrote a number of commentaries on the books of the prophets, Genesis, Psalms, and Chronicles.  In his commentary on Psalm 27, he stated the following:

“Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna’.”

It’s crazy to realize that from one man’s commentary came the teaching that Gehenna served as a garbage dump, even though there is no current archeological evidence proving such an idea.


In the future, Gehenna (hell?) will be a place of death and burial

In the future, Gehenna will once again become a place of death and corpses.  And again, it will serve as swift judgment for the people of Israel during an upcoming era (not for eternity).  

Isaiah, another prophet of Israel, foretold what would happen in the future in Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom.  Isaiah prophesied about the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem during the reigning days of the kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.  Isaiah predicted near-at-hand future events and distant future events.

In Isaiah 60-66, we are given various glimpses of distant future events that coincide with some of the events detailed in Revelation by the apostle John.  If you take the time to read through those chapters in Isaiah along with Revelation the similarities will be evident.  (For some examples, see Isaiah 65:17-19 alongside Revelation 21:1-4, Isaiah 62:2-5 alongside Revelation 21:9-14, Isaiah 60:10-14 and 60:19-22 alongside Revelation 21:22-27)

Where does Gehenna fit into Isaiah’s prophecies about the future?  Notice in the following verses that God’s impending judgment upon Israel will be with fire and the sword and many will be slain by those means:

15 For behold, the Lord will come in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire.  16 For the Lord will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by the Lord will be many…

  22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,” declares the Lord, “So your offspring and your name will endure.  23 “And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord24 “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me.  For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”  (Isaiah 66:15:16, 22-24, NAS)

Isaiah’s prophetic words above sound very similar to something Jesus said to his disciples during his earthly ministry:

“And if your hand should ever be snaring you, strike it off.  It is ideal for you to be entering into life maimed, rather than, having two hands, to come away into Gehenna, into the unextinguished fire where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not going out.  And if your foot should be snaring you, strike it off.  For it is ideal for you to be entering into life maimed or lame, rather than, having two feet, to be cast into Gehenna, into the unextinguished fire, where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not going out.  And if your eye should be snaring you, cast it out.  It is ideal for you to be entering into the kingdom of God one-eyed, rather than, having two eyes, to be cast into the Gehenna of fire, where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not going out.”  (Mark 9:43-38, CLNT)

When Jesus spoke of entering into the kingdom, he was not speaking of eternity in heaven.  He spoke of eonian life—a life to be lived and enjoyed for a particular period of time during the upcoming kingdom era (or eon).  There will be those who enjoy life during this era and others who do not.  The ones who do not will simply be dead; they miss out on that time period.  To an Israelite, it would be a complete disgrace to miss out on the first resurrection and the upcoming kingdom era (Revelation 20:4-6) and instead be lying dead in Gehenna with the birds and worms feeding on his corpse.

In this context, I want to take a brief moment to make it clear that the kingdom era will take place before everything and everyone is ultimately subjected to Christ, death is completely abolished, Christ hands all over to God, Christ also subjects Himself unto God, and God ultimately becomes all in all (see 1Corinthians 15:20-28).   I also want to state that Revelation 22 is not the end of the story just because it is the last chapter of the Bible. The closest facts we have been given to knowing the “end of the story” are more appropriately found in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

Why do Isaiah and Jesus both state that the worm will not be dying and the fire not going out in Gehenna?  Simple explanation: as long as there are dead bodies (corpses) in Gehenna for the worm and the fire to feed upon, they will continue to feed and thrive.  When the corpses have all been consumed and are all gone, the worms and the fire will also cease to exist. 

In the future, there will not be agonizing and tormented people crying out from Gehenna.  There will simply be corpses decaying, destroyed by fire or being eaten by worms and birds.


What does Gehenna (hell?) look like today?

Here is a picture of what the Valley of Hinnom/Gehenna looks like today.  Anyone can take a trip to the land of Israel and go have a picnic in “hell” where there is grass to lay on and trees to give you shade.  Don't forget to take a picnic blanket.

I must now propose this very important question: 

If hell is real, where are all the people who have already died and are supposedly burning there right now? 

I don’t see them in the picture.  Do you?

In the present, there are no dead, consciously suffering, and tormented people crying out from Gehenna.  There is grass, trees, and probably some garbage cans for people to properly dispose of their picnic remnants.

In a following post, I will expound on one more location which has been translated as “hell” in mainstream Bible translations and also on the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation.

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