Digression 6: Gehenna: The Valley Of Hinnom
It is a ground rule of Bible study that its words must
be taken at face value unless there is reason not to from other parts
of Scripture. One example of this is in the use of the word 'Gehenna',
which we understand to have been a place of literal fire outside Jerusalem
where material rejected by the city was burnt. We normally interpret
this as representing the total destruction of the rejected at judgement;
but why cannot the Lord's descriptions of the wicked being thrown into
a Gehenna of age-lasting (A.V. "everlasting") fire refer to their destruction
by literal fire in the literal locality of Gehenna, the Valley of the
Son of Hinnom? This would chime in well with the copious hints that
the judgement will be at Jerusalem; the rejected refuse from the spiritual
Jerusalem will be taken out of the literal city to be destroyed by fire.
Christ is coming with "flaming fire" to punish two groups
- Those who "know not God"
- Those "that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus
Christ", i.e. the responsible who have consciously rejected the Gospel's
demands (2 Thess.1:8). Those responsible for Christ6s crucifixion
will be at the day of judgement, and will be punished with fire and
burning in the vicinity of where they crucified Christ (2 Sam.23:7),
i.e. just outside Jerusalem.
In the same way as the world of Noah's time was destroyed
by water, sot he Godless set up ("Heavens and earth") of modern man
will be ended by fire (2 Pet.3:6,7). The water was literal- why not
the fire too? Is.66:15,16 is in similar vein: "The Lord, will come with
fire...to render...his rebuke with flames of fire", before new Heavens
and earth are established (Is.66:22). The punishment on Jerusalem in
AD70 involved literal fire- as it did in the Babylonian destruction.
The parable of the tares has reference to both the judgement of AD70
and that to come. The unworthy then were burned up in the blazing ruins
of Jerusalem; and literal fire is probably intended too when "the tares
are gathered and burned in the fire...in the end of the world" (Matt.13:40).
Mal.4:1 and Ps.21:9 describe the punishment of the wicked as being in
an oven, which had a literal relevance to the fiery furnace of Jerusalem
in AD70. Jesus likens "the days of the (coming of the) Son of man" to
when Sodom (representing Jerusalem, Is.1:10) was destroyed by literal
fire. Jude 7 interprets Sodom's destruction by fire as a type of the
fate of the unworthy. It would seem likely in view of these precedents
that the holocaust to come upon Israel will be with literal fire. Thus
Malachi's description of the Jews being refined by fire in the last
days to bring about their repentance (Mal.3:2,3) may have a literal
aspect to it (cp. the description of Jerusalem as a furnace in Is.31:9).
Two thirds of the Jews in the land will be "cut off" in this tribulation,
but God will "bring the third part through the fire" (Zech.13:8,9).
The language of coming through the fire must connect with the experience
of Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace- which was literal fire.
However, there are also references to the nations being
punished with fire (e.g. Is.66:15; 2 Thess.1:8). The most notable is
that in Ezek.39 of Gog and those who surround Jerusalem being consumed
with fire for seven years, perhaps in the same way as her prototype
Assyria was destroyed by an Angel as "a flame of fire" in Hezekiah's
time, outside Jerusalem. There being a seven year period of Gog's burning
would exemplify the idea of 'age-lasting' fire. Rev.14:10,11 describes
the beast's followers being tormented in fire and brimstone so that
they had no rest during the 'aion of the aions', and their (literal?)
smoke rose up as a witness. A lot of expositional problems are solved
(e.g. the consistently literal application of "fire and brimstone" in
Scripture) if this is taken to describe the literal punishment by fire
of these people throughout the Millennium. Rev.14:18-20 describes how
the rejected are trodden in the winepress "without the city" implying
a specific location. Thus we have seen that there will be a use of literal
fire in the Jerusalem area in the day of judgement to achieve the destruction
of three groups:
- The armies of Gog and her rebellious followers
- Wicked Jews in the land
- Unworthy saints
This fire will last for a period, varying in length for
each individual involved. This would solve the problem of there being
varying degrees of punishment at the judgement (Lk.12:47,48)- which
is hard (though not impossible) to fit into a concept of the judgement
as being an instant punishment of all the rejected with death. A period
of punishment is implied.
This understanding of 'Gehenna' throws light on other
passages- e.g. feeding your enemy is heaping coals of fire on his head
(Rom.12:20)- i.e. 'your love to him will result in a more severe punishment
at judgement'. Note that it will be the responsible who will be punished
in the fire of Gehenna; the "enemy" is thus within the ecclesia. What
does Rom.12:20 mean if it does not have a reference to literal fire?
James 3:6 describes the tongue as a fire which is to be set on fire
of Gehenna- i.e. those who don't restrain their tongue will be set on
fire in Gehenna, as figuratively their tongue has set their spiritual
lives aflame. In 1 Cor.3 Paul describes how his converts are the foundation
stones of the spiritual temple of God, the ecclesia. He advises the
elders to build up these converts, warning them that they will only
receive a reward for this work if their work- i.e. the converts they
have made- is not burnt up. If it is- i.e. if their work is shoddy so
that these converts are rejected and burnt in Gehenna- then they personally
will just about be saved (v.10-15).
Thus we have seen that it is a vital principle that "Our
God is a consuming fire" (Heb.12:29). Any day now "The Lord whom (we
Christians) seek, shall suddenly come to His (spiritual) temple...But
who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appeareth?
For he is like a refiner's fire" (Mal.3:1,2).