The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What did Jesus mean by Hell

You’re welcome Bob and thanks for continuing to promote the historical view. You might recall that when I first started posting on this forum a couple of years ago, it was my conviction that Jesus likely spoke of Hinnom Valley from the Pharisees’ perspective, affirming more of a purgatorial view of punishment in the afterlife. Your posts and others challenged me to rethink that, and Aaron (who doesn’t post here very much now, so sad) challenged me to rethink the concept that Jesus would be endorsing the doctrine of the Pharisees on this topic. And then when I noticed that it was Matthew who predominatly quoted Jesus warning of Hinnom Valley, and knowing Matthew’s attitude towards the Pharisees, I soon came to see that the historical perspective was much richer and fit the context of Matthew much better than the immediate cultural context of the Pharisees. In my research I also had a difficult time finding specific references in the writings of the Pharisees using Hinnom Valley as a metaphor for post-mortem punishment, whether that be remedial, annihilation, or indefinately long.

I’ve come to believe that Jesus used Hinnom Valley metaphorically speaking because of its ambiguity. He did not mean to teach specifics about the devestation that sin brings to a person, but pictorially! And Hinnom Valley certainly spoke pictorially of death, destruction to the whole of one’s family and nation!

Understanding Hinnom Valley from this perspective moved those passages from being a warning to others (unbelievers), to being a very real warning to everyone, especially believers, especially ME!

Just to review, for the sake of anyone new to this thread, I see Hinnom Valley from at least 3 possible perspectives:

  1. Historically - speaks of the destruction of Jersualem, the dead being piled in HV, burnt and eaten by maggots, destruction and doom, idolatry so perverse that one will sacrifice his own children and future to it.
  2. Geographically - possibly a dump, having a trashed life full of destruction, death and decay (fire and maggots).
  3. Culturally - the doctrine of the Pharisees which Jesus denounced in general (and was really a bee in Matthew’s bonnet). They taught of remedial punishment in the afterlife for most, and possibly annihilation or indefinitely long punishment for the most evil of humanity (like Herod). There was no specific “Jewish” perspective for the Sadducees didn’t even believe in the afterlife.

I think it is significant to note also that the most evangelistic of the Gospels, the Gospel of John does not once quote Jesus warning of Hinnom Valley! The traditional evangelic infernalist message of “turn of burn forever” (the Modern view of Hinnom Valley) seems more misquided to me more every day!

Hi Sherman… I agree entirely with your last sentence, so true. I’m also inclined to go along with your numbers 1 & 2. It is interesting to note also that Jesus is in the main when referencing “gehenna” addressing “Israel” alone, i.e., the covenant people at that time. As for the apostle John’s gospel, you’re right he has no what is called ‘mini apocalypse’ but that is because he devotes an entire book to it - that’s how important “the end of the world” was - speaking NOT of our time-space universe BUT rather THEIR “the end of the world” of the Old Covenant age, i.e., the Mosaic age of law righteousness.

Dear friends,

Thanks so much for your use of my book, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, in your thoughts and on this site. What I would caution against is reducing Jesus’ use of gehenna to a too straightforward identification with AD 70 after the pattern of Jeremiah. I hope we can nuance this line of thought further.

The approach I would take is (1.) to affirm that we have recovered a definite link between Jeremiah and Jesus – they both use Hinnom/Gehenna to refer to the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem. And we should take that as a baseline … AND then (2.) proceed from there to notice ways that Jesus also personalizes and internalizes these warnings to an individual experience of destruction or perishing. But this perishing need not refer at all to eternal conscious torment (indeed, perhaps CANNOT), nor need it imply that perishing is the last word. But in context, it IS a real warning of the perils of sin and a call to repentance. So AD70? Sure … that’s ONE fulfillment and maybe the GRAND corporate fulfillment that brings about the end of Judaism as they knew it. So too, we each face the prospect of our OWN gehenna if we persist towards the self-destructive trajectory of rebellion. Sin kills; God doesn’t.

Moreover, Christian universalists might also ponder the possibility that in Jesus’ mind, the gehenna judgment might also extend into the afterlife where it may be transformed into the refiners fire (of Malachi 3 and 1 Cor. 3), just as Jeremiah predicts (symbolically?) that hinnom itself will be restored into a lush garden under the New Covenant.

In other words, I don’t think we’re quite done with the ways Jesus incorporates Jeremiah’s language but also extends it, and perhaps even uses it to subvert Enoch and other rabbinical traditions. He would have certainly known 1 Enoch, including ‘The Watchers,’ and may in fact co-opt them at times in order to turn it inside out. I think that’s worth checking, given that Jude provides an example of the influence on early Christian theo-mythology.

Rev. Dr. Bradley Jersak
Faculty, WTC
Assoc. Ed., CWR/PTM

Hi everyone!

Glad to see that Brad has joined in on the conversation of “hell”. I must admit that I am facing a huge problem in accepting the common idea of hell as corrective in the afterlife. I have no problems with an exit to hell. I totally am convinced on this point. I also believe that all will exit hell; hence universalism. My problem is what I read from some universalist writers … that believers CAN ENTER INTO the lake of fire for some kind of PURIFICATION and eradication of sin BEFORE they can enter the New Jerusalem. I am of the belief that the lake of fire is ONLY for those who refuse to accept the everlasting Gospel of Revelation 14:6-11. It seems clear to me that those who refuse to accept the everlasting Gospel and worship the creator and instead worship the creature end up in the lake of fire. This is how I read Rev 14:6-11. Given the fact the it is only those who REJECT THE GOSPEL that end up in the lake of fire how can we conclude that any folk that accepted the Gospel enter into it for some kind of post-mortem purification? Also Paul is so clear that ALL SIN WAS CLEANSED at the Cross. Heb 1:3; 9:26, 28. As a result of the death of Jesus believers are PERFECTED AND HOLY FOREVER. Heb 10:10-14. 2 Cor 5:9-21 etc.

I find it hard then to even consider that believers will spend any time in hell whatsoever to eradicate evil from their lives. They are already in Christ who is our righteousness. Isnt the blood of Jesus and the resurrection enough? I do recognise that even believers will need to understand some more about the consequences that their actions had on planet earth. I agree that they may have been stumbling blocks for others and so the others end up for a period in the lake of fire. I can see this. But when I read Rev 22:1-5 I see that IN THE NEW JERUSALEM and during the eternal blessed state that the “leaves of the trees are for the HEALING OF THE NATIONS!” SO yes! Healing still needs to take place after death BUT IT IS IN THE NEW JERUSALEM that this happens NOT THE LAKE OF FIRE - especially as it relates to believers. Believers can receive this restoration INSIDE THE NEW JERUSALEM - not in the lake of fire. If they enter the lake of fire for eradication of sin then this would mean that they would be totally cleansed and would not NEED the leaves of the tree for healing in the New Jerusalem. When unbelievers wash their robes in the blood of the lamb in the lake of fire they are ready to walk through the open gates. I believe that the sole purpose of the lake of fire is for unbelievers to come to faith by washing their robes. To be sure they may have been at odds with others in this life and so the leaves of the trees will be there in the New Jerusalem for them as well for the healing process to come to an end.

I see it that Revelation describes that ONLY those who reject the Gospel end up in the lake of fire and the only condition of entrance is to have one’s name written in the book of life by washing their robes in the blood of the lamb.

In nearly all Christian Universalism literature that I have read I see that believers need some further purification of sins in the eschatological fire as a prerequisite of entering the New Jerusalem.

Interested in your responses. I find Christian Universalist literature LEGALISTIC I think on this point. I may have misunderstood them …


To Bradley Jersak,

I really appreciate your clarification of a broader implication of ‘Gehenna,’ than AD 70 alone. AD70 fits terribly well with the Gospel’s obvious wider apprehension of a violent military destruction of Jerusalem, but I agree that Jesus’ words also fit applying those principles to other experiences of destruction. “Her Gates Will Never Shut” (and “Stricken by God”) stimulated much of my thought. Thank you for your rich contribution to these topics.

Grace be with you,
Bob Wilson


You are rasising common concerns, and my views may not be representative. You say that in “nearly all U. lit, further purification” is needed in the Lake of Fire. I’m not aware that even Parry or Talbott asserted that. Are you?

You conclude “any folk that accepted the Gospel… are Perfected and Holy forever.” I see that Jesus died to set us apart for God, and to take away the world’s sins, but where does it say that once “accepting” this removes any need for a process of purification**?** That he “has made perfect forever” (Heb. 10:14) does not seem to assure this. For it continues by saying that we are still “being made holy,” and warns believers to persevere, for “if we deliberately keep on sinning… there will be fearful judgment and raging fire” (26f). Is “accepting the Gospel” Biblical terminology?

You cite Rev. 14, but I don’t see language of “accepting” the Gospel," or assurance that we get a pass, here either. I see, “Fear God… this calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.” Indeed, I find Paul also often affirms this condition of continuing in faith and obedience. As you know, “Everyone will be salted by fire” (Mk 9:49), and some “will be saved as one escaping through flames,” describing a believer’s future pain of “suffering loss,” if their works are seriously lacking (1 Cor. 3:15). Couldn’t such fiery judgment represent a purifying experience?

I personally suspect that trusting in the forgiving Lover revealed at the cross can include trusting that if this Father should see that we need further growth or purification such as ‘fire’ may symbolize, we can trust that we are in loving hands.


Hi Bob
Thanks for your comments. Fully agree that sanctification is both punctiliar and also a process. I definitely see that becoming more and more like Jesus and growing in grace is a definite part of the Christian life. What I dont see is that this is a prerequisite to salvation and entrance in the New Jerusalem. I do believe that we will even continue to grow in the afterlife. But I dont see this as taking place in the lake of fire.

“Once you were alientated from God … but NOW he has reconciled [past] you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you HOLY in his sight without blemish and free from accusation if you continue in your faith”. Col 1:21-22. Paul speaks about believers here and contrasts two periods of time: the past “once you were alienated from God”; and the present “but now”. We know he speaks to believers since he says “if you continue in your faith”. It is inescapable that Paul asserts that the purpose of Jesus death and the result of his death that we ARE ALREADY HOLY IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. He qualifies this by emphasising that in Gods sight I am already “without blemish and free from accusation”. I am totally secure IN GODS SIGHT about my standing and relationship with him. Of course this doesnt mean that we dont grow during our period on earth. He has made this clear in 1:9ff and in 3:1-9 where he calls believers to behave in harmony with this blessed connection they already have in his sight.

So yes I do see purification and ongoing growth and discipline insofar as our earthly existence goes but this never jeopardises that we are already holy and without blemish IN HIS SIGHT through the death of Christ.

I see no evidence at all in the NT that believers need to be salted by fire IN THE NEXT LIFE. The passage in Mark 9 refers to the gehenna of our current earthly existence. It talks about what we experience now - not the afterlife. So yes there is a gehenna of fire and salt for “everyone” and in this passage he is talking specifically to his followers. See v.41 where Jesus refers to those “who belong to Christ”.

Given your comments about Parry and Talbott I assume that you maintain that they dont believe that believers will experience purification in the Lake of Fire. Is this right?

Do you believe that Christians will enter the lake of fire if they remain faithful to Jesus?

I dont believe in once saved always saved but I do believe that when I put faith in Jesus that I am holy and blameless in the sight of God. I also believe that a Christian can apostacize and deny the Christian faith - which is what Hebrews 10:26 is talking about. There is nothing in this particular passage that says that this fire refers to the afterlife. This has to be read into the passage. I cant see one unambiguous passage that indicates that the fire of the parousia which destroys applies to Christians. Paul says that the blazing fire at the time of the Parousia is for those who reject God and dont obey the Gospel of our Lord and demonstrate it through persecuting Christians. 2 Thes 1:6-10. Paul says that those who believe the Gospel, those who are justified by faith are saved from wrath to come. “Since we have NOW BEEN JUSTIFIED by his blood how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him.” Romans 5:9. Those who have put faith in Jesus will be “rescued from the coming wrath”. 2 Thes 1:10.

The 7 last plagues are referred to as the eschatological “wrath of God” and these culminate with the lake of fire. Rev 15:1. Believers shall be saved from this wrath through justification by faith in the Christ event. Their obedience is never the root and cause of their salvation but it is their fruit. In the book of Revelation “obedience” to the commandments is directly linked to remaining faithful to the lamb in the presence of idolatry.

1 Cor 3:15 I believe has been greatly misapplied. The chapter addresses Christian leaders in particular. Sectarianism had infiltrated Corinth. Some were following Paul and others Apollos. 3:4. Paul speaks specifically of Christian leaders and THEIR WORK in the body of Christ. “The Lord assigned to each his task I PLANTED APOLLOS WATERED”. 3:6. “The man who plants [paul] and the man who waters [apollos] … each will be rewarded.” 3:8. Paul is specifically addressing Christian leaders in this chapter. He makes this clear in 3:9 where he says that “we” are fellow workers [Paul and Apollos] and then contrasts leadership with the membership “you are God’s field” where seeds and watering takes place through leaders. 3:9. Paul then continues to describe his apostolic role as a builder in the kingdom. He moves believers away from focussing on leaders to the foundation who is Jesus. 3:10-11. He continues to speak about leadership, builders like himself and Apollos and says that THEIR WORK will be tested by fire. He then says that the temple that the church leaders are buidling are the church members. 3:16 and here he says that if leadership destroys Gods temple. 3:16-17. e [the membership] that they will experience “destruction”. 3:17. Paul is not refering to ordinary church members in this passage. All his remarks apply directly to leadership. He nails this point in 3:21-22 where he says “enough boasting about men! whether Paul apollos or Cephas.” He says in 4:6 that “I have applied these things to MYSELF AND APOLLOS for your benefit … so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying 'do not go beyond what is written. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” Sadly many have done exactly what Paul tells us not to do. He has said that he has only refered to Christian leadership and their role in the future testing by fire … but then we go beyond what is actually written and try and make this passage apply to non-leaders. So many have tried to use this passage and apply it to a future cleansing by fire of believers’ work when Paul specifically addresses the work of Leadership.

Most importantly even in reference to the testing fire it is the leaders WORK that is tested not the leader himself! 3:13. The work represents the leader. If his work fails the test in buidling the temple then he suffers loss - but this loss is not his salvation but his reward! There is no mention here anywhere of moral purification or eradication of sin in his. The text nowhere says that this man’s character is purified. “If what he has BUILT survives.” “If it is burned up” - that is what he has built! The passage is looking at the results of his labors in the kingdom of God not his personal development of character.



Bless you, Bob. I see it the same way, and so did George MacDonald.

Hi Santo,

Thanks for developing your approach. I’m not sure of Parry/Talbott’s view. I just don’t see that future purification is an important theme in theirs, and most U.R. writings.

My puzzle is that you ask what happens in New Jerusalem’s Lake of Fire. Since I see such terms in an apocalyptic book, I’m reluctant to literally build an assured grasp of the next world upon them. I don’t know what its’ mechanics will be, but I’d rest my sense of the principles more on the wider N.T. than on knowing what Revelation means.

On 1 Cor. 3: Though I doubt 12’s “any man” excludes most of us, I don’t see how applying it to leaders changes the issues we’re pursuing. Sure, it’s our supposed proud works ‘burning’ that will cause us to “suffer loss.” But you say this can’t mean “character” is purified. But what do you think real purification (in a “lake”) is actually about? Must judgment only include literal bodies on fire. I’m thinking this is typicallyly the way God does shape our character. And for universalists, his judgments are never to threaten our “salvation,” which is secure. It can only be about “developing character.”

You seem to interpret Col. 1:21f as (1) assuring that we are “already” securely holy before God, rather than (2) stating that God’s future purpose is to present us holy at the judgment. I don’t see how #1 can fit with the specified condition of “continuing in the faith.” So, yes, it seems to imply that those who “remain faithful” will not enter the ‘lake of fire,’ if that is understood as a means of securing greater needed holiness or purification. Thus, God’s intention is that those who keep trusting in Christ can have confidence that they will be genuinely found to be ‘righteous’ and declared so (justified) at the Day of Judgment. But It appears to me that none of this need for no further dealings by God is automatic, or without conditions. Yet to repeat, when we see God as love, I don’t think this view requires fear of whatever experiences God may deem that we need in the process of being made holy.

This was a great read, thank you Bob. Just a couple quick questions came to mind, if it’s no bother to you:

  1. Are there any particular sources you used substantially for your research? I’d love to check them out.

  2. I’m generally persuaded by preterist arguments, but I struggle with knowing (mainly in the epistles) what’s past and what’s future. Aside from the end of Revelation, Romans 8, Philippians 3, 1 Cor. 15, 1 Thes. 4, and the one in Peter about the world being ‘burned up,’ do you think there’s anything about the future explicitly? (Or, do you think some of those are actually referring to the past sometime?)


Thanks Chris, my main source, alongside a range of commentaries, was Brad Jersak’s book, “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Heaven, Hell, and the New Jerusalem.” What we ‘know’ about life beyond this world is a great question, and we’re headed to the airport to go overseas. In brief, I think the nature of Biblical language, and our lack of experience of any other existence, means we mostly know that we will be with God, and since his character is “good,” we can trust it will be good, and consistent with the triumph of love. I do sympathize with Wright, etc, that the predominant vision is life on a renewed earth, but the most explicit declarations seem to tell us which present woes won’t be in the future, more than the furniture of the new heaven and earth. Blessing to you, Bob

Hello Bob,

Perhaps this article will shed some more light on this excellent question:

Thanks for your article.

Well, I tired of waiting for the Kindle version to come out, so I went ahead and purchased a hard copy of Jersak’s book “Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.” I am enjoying it thoroughly. His approach is scholarly, documented and thought out well. I noted in a previous post on this thread:

Jersak notes that most scholars believe that John was written after the destruction of Jerusalem. This fits well with the fact that John did not once warn of Hinnom Valley. And when one considers that Matthew was written to the Jews before the destruction of Jerusalem, possibly even from Jerusalem, Matthews warnings of being cast into Hinnom Valley appear all that more relevant and urgent! Matthew could see the religous and moral decay within Jerusalem. He would have been very aware of the constant and increasing rebellion of the Jews against Rome. And knowing Jesus’ warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem, he made that a significant theme of his Gospel, urging the Jews to repent from their sin, their rebellion against God and against Rome. John was wrting a Gospel for all people, writing in a way that would appeal to Jew and Gentile alike, and does not have as a theme the destruction of Jerusalem because, well, it was already destroyed.