The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What did Jesus mean by Hell

I am attaching my evaluation of what Jesus meant by “being thrown into hell” (Gehenna), which reflects Jersak’s preterist take on these central damnation passages. In all candor, I am a bit blown away by the O.T. background that my training did not seem to take very seriously. I welcome any critiques or reflections on this question.Does Jesus think of 1.doc (38 KB)

This paper has been tremendously helpful.


I will be spending the bulk of my time over the next few weeks rereading Jeremiah and every verse that jesus talks about Hell in order to let it sink in. But you have summarized it well for a reader to see the undeniable truth of what Jesus was refering to.

The Fig Tree, The turning of tables the quotes he makes of Jeremiah. The historical notes from Josephus. More than coincidence. Good stuff.

Then we compare how Jesus spoke to the Gentiles compared to his “message of Hell” to the Jews and things become clear.

This is very good: it begins to shake our long-held beliefs about what Jesus meant in many of His sayings and helps everything cohere together. Thank you for putting the time into this (I know it can take a while to actually get round to doing something properly!) :smiley:

Very interesting Bob. I can see I’ll have to re-read Jeremiah! It’s been a while…

What a fascinating article! I have known about Gehenna for quite some time and have rejected all notions regarding an eternal hell in the afterlife (much less any proclaimed by Jesus); however, I was not familiar with the Jeremiah connections. I will definitely do some cross-referencing, attempting to connect Jesus’s proclamations regarding Gehenna (the Valley of Hinnom) with Jeremiah.


Thanks! I’m glad the article was stimulating. I too was amazed that my training had offered no exposure to Jeremiah as background for Jesus’ approach. Blessings on your study.

Welcome to the board,

Thanks Bob- downloaded and printed and just finished reading on the train and look forward to following up the references. Certainly seems pretty convincing to me.
Cheers S

Thank you! Being here is rather surreal. I feel like Charlie in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!


Thank you for that doc. i just now read it. :slight_smile: Very interesting. Its certainly nothing I’ve ever heard before. Interesting tho how the ECT crowd sees it as Jesus making references to their version of the Lake of Fire. :confused:

Thank you very much, Bob. This is such an interesting and helpful piece of the puzzle! And one so obvious that it’s a wonder that it has never really been covered before! Oh how foolish we mortals are for not seeing the truth right in front of our eyes…

Thank you Bob. That is a very thought provoking piece, proving to me that I need to spend more time in the old testament. I had no idea that Jesus’ teaching was so closely related to Jeremiah. Real food for thought.

It also reminded me of how dangerous a lack of knowledge could be. You mentioned the cursing of the fig tree as figurative of Israel’s destruction. I have seen people with no knowledge of Israel and her symbols, complain of the unjust, unreasonable treatment of the fig tree. It all tells me that we all, especially myself, need to be careful when forming definite conclusions about subjects we know little about. Better to be humble and learn first. Particularly when you’re so sure you’ve got the eternal destruction of your neighbour all figured out.

And you’re right. Heaven forbid we start to talk as if our God were Molech.

Seriously, amen!

Caroleem, Stellar, & JS, I appreciate you in letting me know that you too found Jersak’s reading of Gehenna stimulating!

I like this. Do you mind if I throw this at one of my evangelical friends?

Thanks for asking. I would be glad to see anyone use a copy of my articles in any way that seems useful to them!

Your document does not appear to have your name in it. I’d mention it separately but still.

Just a question … With regards Jesus’ use of Gehenna as applying ONLY to Jews and to AD 70 I see problems. Matthew 18 is problematic. Jesus discusses church discipline in this chapter … what to do when 2 folk do not get on in the CHURCH! In this CHURCH context he talks about Gehenna! He is clearly not talking to Jews and there is no indication here that AD 70 is being discussed. Chapter 18 seems to be a whole and discusses relationships of those in the kingdom of God. He speaks about humility in the kingdom as a little child. Jesus then picks up the child langauge and continues it on in reference to “the least in the kingdom” and talks about causing one of the least to sin. Then he continues to talk about the least in vv. 10ff. Then this is linked to vv15ff by the word “moreover” and launches into what to do if we sin against one another IN THE CHURCH and then he finishes up with a parable.

The reference to Gehenna is in this context - in the setting of people within the kingdom or the church … I see no reference to AD70 at all. And in this chapter Jesus refers to gehenna and says that if we cause any of the least, the little ones to sin, that we will be cast “into everlasting fire” cf. “cast into hell fire”. V. 8-9 are set in parallel which means that gehenna fire means the same as everlasting fire! Then Matthew and Jesus use the exact same phrase “everlasting fire” in Matt 25:41 with reference to the FINAL JUDGMENT. I understand that Preterists would like to see references to the Second Coming as describing the national destruction of Jerusalem in 70Ad here but simply I dont see it. Matt 25 v. 32 explicitly refers to a gathering of all nations of the whole world and all of them being judged by Jesus. This transcends something local to Jerusalem in 70AD. I can see that Matt 24 uses the end of the temple as a model for the end of the world. It doesnt have to be either/or.

Putting that aside … Matt 18 speaks about Gehenna in the setting of people hurting each other in the church and in the kingdom … and then describes Gehenna as eternal fire which is the same term used in Matt 25 re the goats [nations]. I find it hard to see how Matt 18 with its references to children as models of those who are in the kingdom [least in society] and sinning against them and then references that follow that clearly describe the church can mean that AD 70 is in view. And then in this setting gehenna is connected to “eternal fire” which is the exact same phrase used elsewhere in Matthew to refer to the judgment of all the nations. So based on this how can we conclude that Matt 18 refers either to AD70 or simply to making a personal mess in our lives when “eternal fire” is being described? The passage doesnt seem to be talking at all about AD70 or just a private hell we create [given it calls gehenna eternal fire]. I dont think that the Gehenna issue in Matthew is that simple. Just seeking discussion bro … I respect you a heap! BTW I am not ECT and I used to be an annhilationist but am now a universalist. But it really seems to me that Matt 18 speaks about the gehenna of eternal fire for believers. I understand that aionios can mean the age to come and so maybe Jesus is saying that believers may experience some cleansing by the fires of salt as he does in Mark - which also seems to be talking to believers and is a parallel passage.

In this view I believe that Jesus is talking about the age to come Gehenna since he refers to it as “eternal fire” and its purpose is remedial and cleansing. What do you think Bob? This view harmonises with universalism. Just my opinion Bob and would really like your critique. Santo


I appreciate your grappling with my minority view that the Jesus of history would understand ‘Gehenna’ in terms of Jeremiah’s language that he so closely follows, where it literally refers to bodies being historically burned in Hinnom Valley as a result of actions that hurt others. As I said privately, I think it’s possible that Jeremiah’s concept was later re-shaped to image other realms of future judgment. But again, my bias is that those arguing it can’t bear its’ classic Biblical meaning, known to Jesus’ hearers, have the burden of proving Jesus changed it into an extra-terrestial fiery chamber beyond time that is now the penalty for not believing in him. For when Jesus describes his understanding of Israel’s judgment in his plainest language, it is clearly pagan armies in their generation destroying Jerusalem for its’ unfaithfulness, and throwing bodies into its’ Hinnom Valley, just as Jeremiah’s clear language about Gehenna describes.

Thus, arguing that Matthew 18 on “God’s Kingdom” & Gehenna is “clearly” a “CHURCH chapter” remains questionable to me. When Jesus says "the kingdom’s subjects will be thrown into darkness, I think he means unfaithful Israel. For I see Jesus’ consistent focus is addressing Israel (not the non-Jewish entity we later understand as “Church”). I see no reason to reject his statement,“I am sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15:24). Thus 18:17’s “ecclesia” can be the the regular Hebrew term for their local assemblies, and treating a stubborn sinner as a “pagan” (lit: a ‘non’-Jew’) fits my contention that Jesus is assuming a Jewish gathering.

You add that vs. 9’s threat of being (literally) “thrown into Hinnom Valley” for sinning against others can’t mean a historical consequence for Jews such as AD 70, since this “eternal fire” (more literally: fire of the coming age) parallels Matthew 25 which applies this to those who don’t care for rejected outcasts. But I see this standard for their judgment (in both references to facing ‘fire’) is actually quite consistent with Jesus’ regular indictment of Israel for not being a “light” to the Gentiles who peacefully love outsiders the way Jesus did.

Your best argument is that “the nations” parallel judgment by fire (Mt 25) sounds like Jesus is not addressing Israel’s current fate. But I see that he always uses the language of their own future expectation when he argues that it actually is being fulfilled in their generation in a way that reverses their assumptions. E.g., they will soon ‘see’ “God’s kingdom” restored, their enemies and the nations judged, and blessing brought to all the world, just as the prophets promised. But they expected this meant Israel would again be God’s trimphal kingdom, the nations would be judged in a deadly thrashing, followed by a great day of all bowing to Israel. But like all the prophets, Jesus’ reversal means Israel will in fact unwelcomely bear the brunt of God’s deadly judgment, and the ‘kingdom’ will come, but without Israel’s triumph. Thus, I’m not sure Jesus’ reference to the judgment of the nations is any more than another similar use by Jesus of the traditional language that means these events thought to be beyond history are being fulfilled by Jesus in their generation in an unexpected way. Thus, events foreseen in that generation (including the cross, resurrection, and the Temple’s AD 70 destruction) can be seen as fulfilling a judgment of the nations, a triumph of God’s kingdom, blessing to all the world, etc. If this makes no sense to you, I welcome further development of your own interpretation.

Grace be with you,

P.S. I’m sympathetic that “fire” sometimes has a “cleansing” purpose, and in fact am inclined to see some references to whatever future judgment remains as consistent with that very expectation of its’ purpose. Yet I don’t see enough indication of that function in Jesus’ references to Gehenna to overturn the bias that they should be assumed to be consistent with their Biblical background, and perhaps that AD 70 has purifying purposes and leads to the day when Jesus says they will see him again.

" He is clearly not talking to Jews"

It seems obvious to me that Jews are his only audience in Matt 18. None of his disciples were gentiles right? Perhaps you mean he was talking to Jews regarding the church and not Israel? But that’s very dubious, at least to me.

Thanks for that Bob. I made the point in my question that Jesus makes a direct parallel between “gehenna fire” and “eternal fire” in Matt 18 thus equating. You mentioned that it refers to the “fire of the age to come”. I fully agree with that realising that aionios can refer to the age to come - but not always. The issue is this: when does the fire of the “age to come” take place? I have a feeling that preterists are going to suggest that it was AD 70? Based on 2 Thes 1:6-10 and Rev 20:10ff it would seem to me to take place after the final judgment and final resurrection of every single person who has ever lived. It seems that 2 Thes is talking TO CHRISTIANS about the fate of the UNBELIEVING PERSECUTORS who will experience the flaming fire destruction - not saying that JEWS will experience destruction by Romans in AD 70. As we read 2 thes 1 into chapter 2 Paul seems to be talking about events transpiring surrounding the PAROUSIA. Please understand, I am a universalist - and I see references to “eternal” destruction, punishment, fire as purifying and redemptive and that all those who experience this will eventually turn in faith to Jesus - and in this way the fire comes to an end. Do you see 2 Thes and Rev 20 as referring to AD70 or do they refer to events surrounding the final eternal state still future? There is no doubt in my mind that at places Jesus has AD 70 in mind and can use gehenna language to describe it. But does this mean that 2 Thes 2 is not referring to a future FIRE FROM JESUS FOR UNBELIEVING PERSECUTORS OF THE CHURCH? Paul is clearly referring to CHRISTIANS about the FATE OF UNBELIEVERS WHO ARE PERSECUTING THEM. I see this as a cleansing fire IN THE PRESENCE OF JESUS. Also do you see Rev 20 and the lake of fire as AD70? I understand that neither of these passages uses the word Gehenna - this word is very HEBREW. Nonetheless as similar concept seems to be discussed. Interested in your response. Santo