“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The “punishment of eternal destruction” referenced here in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is associated with the Biblical concept of hell. In the original language of the New Testament, “hell” is translated from the word Gehenna, the Greek form of a Hebrew word that means “the valley of Hinnom.” In Israel, the Hinnom Valley served as the place where the ancient Israelites once sacrificed their infant children to a pagan deity named Molech.
Molech was the pagan god of the Ammonites, a people group who co-existed along with the nation of Israel during the Old Testament period. Molech was represented as a hollow brass statue with a calf’s head and outstretched arms. A person who sought to bring a sacrifice to Molech would begin by loading the brass statue with hot coals. He or she would then place an infant child on the outstretched arms of the statue where the child would be seared to death. (1) This horrific practice continued until Israel’s King Josiah tore these altars down around 620 BCE. (2)
In the New Testament era, the Hinnom Valley served as something of a centralized garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. All the waste and refuse generated by the city eventually found its way there. The Valley of Hinnom was the place of disposal for dead animals and the bodies of executed criminals. It also accommodated the human refuse generated by the residents of the city. In order to consume this tremendous amount of daily waste, fires burned continuously within the valley.
These elements made the Hinnom Valley suitable for use as an illustration to describe the concept of hell. In addition, “hell” is also described within the Scriptures as a lake of fire (Revelation 20:10), as well as a place of outer darkness (Matthew 25:30), weeping (Matthew 8:12), and torment (Revelation 14:11).
In remarking on these horrific images, one source offers a disturbing analysis: “If men object to the concept of hell fire, they must realize that, if these fires are not to be taken literally, it is because the reality which they represent is so terrible that it can only be visualized as everlasting fire, where ‘the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever’ (Revelation 14:11).” (3)
With these things in mind, it becomes easier to understand why 2 Thessalonians 1:9 uses the term eternal destruction to describe such a fate.
(2) See 2 Kings 23:10
(3) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes James 3:6