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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, September 10 2020

To hell and back for a popsicle

Many are firmly convinced the Bible teaches the concept of hell as an ever-burning place of torment and punishment for the souls of wicked people, even though this teaching was not part of Christian doctrine until nearly two centuries after Christ!

by Randy Stiver
Pastor Randy Stiver was on an archaeological dig at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the sizzling summer of 1973. In search of something to quench his thirst, he and some companions made their way down into the Valley of Hinnom --- into Gehenna, the very ‘hell’ spoken of by Jesus ---- to reach a small grocery store selling pineapple popsicles.

Unfortunately, what the Bible teaches about hell and gehenna is misunderstood by nearly every religion of the world—especially traditional Christianity. Meanwhile, those who have doubts about the popular concepts of hell can’t conceive of a loving God who would administer heinous torture in flames for all eternity.

The truth is, there are actually three “hells” mentioned in the Bible commonly translated as ‘hell’ into English—and not one of them teaches eternal agony and torture for those who reject God’s ways.

Hell #1: ‘Hades’ or ‘Sheol’

‘Hades’ is the Greek word often rendered as “hell” in the New Testament, and ‘sheol’ is the corresponding Hebrew word used in the Old Testament. Both words simply mean “the grave.”

Acts 2:27 (King James Version) is an example of this: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” The word translated “hell” here is the Greek ‘hades’. This verse is a direct quotation from King David’s psalms in the Old Testament—Psalms 16:10. There the Hebrew word translated as “hell” is ‘sheol’. Both passages refer to the fact that Jesus, our Messiah, would not remain in the grave, but would be resurrected.

We will all go to this kind of “hell,” for it is appointed for all men to die once (Hebrews 9:27). But the grave is not a place of constant conscious torture and torment!

Hell #2: ‘Tartaroo’

This Greek word, found and translated only once in the New Testament as “hell,” has a specific application: “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

Fallen or sinning angels do exist and are called demons. ‘Tartaroo’ is a justly prepared condition of spiritual restraint or imprisonment for them. Human beings will not experience the hell of ‘tartaroo’.

Hell #3: ‘Gehenna’

The few human beings who persist in rebelling against their Creator and refuse to change their ways will die in the true hell of the Bible. God means what He says when we are told: “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), not never-ending life in eternal flames.

Contrary to the hellfire of many religions, the hell of the Bible simply ends the life of the wicked—it does not torture and torment them. This reflects God’s justice, by enforcing His divine laws of life, and His mercy, by swiftly ending the existence of the unrepentant few (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 21:8).

Gehenna is a Greek word meaning “valley of Hinnom.” Jesus used the word to describe the true hell which He also called the lake of fire, the place of destruction of the wicked referred to in the prophetic book of Revelation (20:15).

This site in ancient Jerusalem, then and today, is marked by two deep valleys, running along the eastern and southern sides of the city. The valley to the south of Jerusalem is the Valley of Hinnom or ‘gehenna’. In ancient Israel’s past it was the site where child sacrifice was practiced. By the time of Christ it had become Jerusalem’s city dump, where refuse was always being burned. Jesus chose this ‘gehenna’ (Luke 12:4-5) as a fitting reference for the lake of fire.

The great teachings of the Bible show that life has consequences and, if we choose to reject the loving God who made us, then our fate will be death in the lake of fire, the true hell of the Bible - not torture in eternal flames.