A lot of people know that “The Gospel” refers to the “good news” that Jesus sacrificed Himself on our behalf. It’s through that sacrifice that people can find friendship with God and forgiveness for the things they’ve done wrong. This really is good news for those who have accepted Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for their sins.
However, for those people who have ‘their own way” to get right with God or those who think they can get to heaven by being good enough, The Doctor has some bad news- and the diagnosis isn’t very pretty. You see, Jesus once had a discussion with His disciples that’s recorded for us in Mark 9:43-46. During this discussion, Jesus made the following statement…
That’s pretty strong stuff from the Man who was hailed as “The Lamb of God,” wouldn’t you say? What exactly is Jesus teaching here? Is Jesus really in favor of dismemberment for people who do wrong?
Well, when you check it out a little more closely you find that the word “Hell” used here by Jesus is translated from the Greek word “Gehenna.” “Gehenna” is the Greek form of a Hebrew word that means “the valley of Hinnom.” In Israel, this Hinnom Valley lies south and west of the city of Jerusalem. It was in this valley that the people of Israel once sacrificed their infant children to the false god Molech. Molech was the pagan god of the Ammonites, a group of people who lived around the same time as Israel during the days of the Old Testament. “Molech” was represented as a hollow brass statue with a calf’s head and outstretched arms.
People who brought sacrifices to Molech would load the statue up with hot coals and then place their infant children into the outstretched arms where they would be seared to death by the red-hot statue. This horrible practice continued until Israel’s King Josiah tore down these altars around 620 BC.
By Jesus’ day, the Valley of Hinnom had become something of a big dump for the city of Jerusalem and all the garbage of the city eventually found it’s way there. This is the place where dead animals and the bodies of executed criminals were disposed of. It also served as a kind of municipal cesspool handling the human waste from the entire city.
In order to consume this tremendous amount of daily waste, fires burned all day, every day. In the places that weren’t on fire, there were maggots, worms, and flies throughout the garbage. This whole place was so bad that when the wind blew over the city from that direction, you could smell the stench.
So this is the picture that Jesus used to represent Hell. Because of this, one writer has observed, “In effect (Jesus) said, ‘Do you want to know what hell is like? Look at the valley of Gehenna.’ So hell may be described as God’s ‘cosmic garbage dump.’ All that is unfit for heaven will be thrown into hell.” *
“Hell” is also described in the New Testament as…
* A lake of fire, burning with brimstone (Revelation 20:10)
* A place of outer darkness (Matthew 25:30)
* A place of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12)
* A place of torment (Revelation 14:11)
Now in the verse quoted at the top of the page, Jesus says, “…if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to hell…if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame, than having two feet, to be cast into hell…”
Is Jesus really teaching that you should remove a hand or foot if you sin with it? Well, The Doctor hardly thinks so. Actually, The Doctor believes that Jesus is saying that Hell is such a bad bad bad place that it would be better for you to cut off your hand or cut off your foot if that’s what it would take to avoid going there. The idea is that the loss of a hand or a foot would be a relatively small price to pay for the privilege of staying out of hell.
Now many people consider the existence of hell to be very inconsistent with their idea of a loving and compassionate God. This idea is often expressed by the question: “How can a loving God send people to an eternal hell?” Well, the short answer is that He doesn’t. This runs contrary to what many people believe so here’s a short explanation.
In Romans 3:23, The Apostle Paul writes one of the more well known lines in Scripture when he says…
The word “sin” used here is the Greek word “hamartano” which literally means “to miss the mark.” To illustrate the meaning of this word, you might imagine an archer shooting at a bull’s-eye. The archer takes aim, draws his bow and let’s the arrow fly- but in this case, the arrow falls short and lands in the ground in front of the target. In this instance the archer has missed the mark.
In the same way, we too have missed the mark. Like archer in our illustration we’ve missed the mark because God’s standard for His creation is perfection. God has every right to demand that we meet this standard, because that is how He originally created us (see Genesis 1:31).
But what human being could ever hope to meet this standard? Well, if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no one. There is no one who has not done something that they knew was wrong or made a mistake or said something in error. We have all fallen short of what God intended for us. We have all “missed the mark” so to speak. Some perhaps, may come closer than others, but everyone falls short of the glory of God.
Now to this, someone might well reply, “Hey I’m only human -I can’t be perfect.” That’s right!!! You can’t be perfect. That’s why Jesus Christ -who was perfect- died in your place. He took the punishment we deserved, thereby satisfying God’s penalty for failing to meet the standard for which He created us. Jesus’ sacrifice rescues us from an eternity of hell- an eternity of separation from God.
Does God send people to hell? Well, 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” God desires for everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). God does not send anyone to hell. People go to hell because they reject the only means by which they can avoid it- acceptance of Jesus’ sacrificial death on their behalf.
As it says in the Scriptures…
Listen, there are certainly many people who choose to deny the existence of hell. This is understandable because if someone believes that hell doesn’t exist, then they never have to worry about the possibility of ever going there. But just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t necessary mean that it doesn’t exist. Hell is a very real place, and you have been assured of it’s existence by no less an authority than Jesus Christ Himself.
So here’s the question: do you really want to take a chance on a belief that hell does not exist? Is it wise to gamble an eternity of pain on a opinion that Jesus didn’t tell the truth about hell even though He was never known to lie about anything else? Are you really willing to take the risk that the Bible is wrong?
* Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary ©1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers