We begin by talking about Gehenna and what it represents. Then we move onto a brief teaching on hell, looking at scenes in the gospels that have key insights and speak to the message of James as well. The episode wraps up with a look at how we are tested by trials and refined with fire.
Last episode we did James 3, and during that time we talked about the tongue and what you think, what you say is kind of a gear shift knob that connects you with one of two different power trains. One’s the world and demons, and the other’s God and the resurrected power of Jesus and that’s the power train. There’s really not a mixer that gives you part of each. It’s one or the other. We talked about this last week.
And this whole book, James, is about winning at life. You win at life by walking in faith in the wisdom of God. And the way you choose God’s wisdom instead of the world’s wisdom is believe, think, do. You can believe the world, think the world, and then do the world; or you can believe God, think God, and do things of God. That’s kind of the deal we did last episode.
And during the course of that, we talked about this verse that said the tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and is set on fire by hell.
What does Gehenna represent?
This hell word is the word Gehenna, and we talked about how it is an actual, literal valley in the Jerusalem area and that’s where the refuse heap and the sewage and the burning carcasses are—that we would see worms and smoke and fire. And the children of Israel even went down there and sacrificed their children when they went into paganism.
So it’s a picture of evil. And the question you have to ask yourself when you give a metaphorical picture like that is, what does that represent? What does that stand for?
I’ve told you I’d give you some more color on that today as a starter. So let’s look at a couple of things there. If you would, look at Matthew 10:28 with me, and I’m going to show you something that I think will hopefully cement in the idea that this picture of death, destruction, worms, nastiness and so forth is not necessarily hades or the lake of fire in the sense of a permanent place forever. That’s usually understood.
Do physical bodies go to hell?
Verse 28 says, And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. That word hell there, as typically is the case, is Gehenna.
So let me ask you a question. How many of you think that physical bodies go to hades, what we would think of, normally, as hell? Physical bodies?
Has anybody gone to a funeral and they say, “Obviously this was a wicked guy because his body just kind of disappeared. We presume it’s in hell.” Anybody ever have that experience? Anybody ever read about that experience?
So we’re all pretty confident, aren’t we, that bodies don’t go into the next world. We know there’s three exceptions to that: Enoch and Elijah were in their bodies, and they went to the next world, and a lot of people think the two witnesses in Revelation might be them because it’s appointed unto man once to die.
And Jesus, who had already died and had a resurrected body, so he’s the firstfruits of resurrection. We know we will have bodies in the new earth, but it’s going to be a new kind of body, a spiritual body. It’s not going to be this body. This one turns back into dust. Dust to dust, right?
Bodies can go into the Valley of Hinnom
Bodies don’t go to hell in the traditional sense of the way we think about it. So this is obviously talking about something else, right? Gehenna. So, let me ask you this. Can a physical body go into the literal Valley of Hinnom where the norm is for there to be carcasses burning? Well, absolutely it can. And in fact, in the history of Israel, it did.
This Valley of Tophet, if you read in Jeremiah, Jeremiah says they’re going to have so many deaths when the Babylonians come in, they’re not going to even be able to bury them. They’re just going to put them in the Valley of Tophet, the Hinnom Valley, Gehenna, and just burn them because there are going to be so many people die.
And then pretty much right after that he says that Jeremiah 29:11 verse: I know the plans I have for you, plans for blessing and not cursing, and all that sort of thing. Everybody loves that bumper sticker. Everybody wants that on their t-shirt. It usually doesn’t say, “Most of you are going to hell, but I have plans for you,” you know, for blessing and not cursing.
But if you translate Gehenna into hell all the time, then that’s what Jeremiah would be saying. It’s a wonderful thing that so many of you are going to hell.
Well, you know, that doesn’t work for us, right? And that’s because this picture of Gehenna, normally, I would say, is not necessarily intended to mean the place you go when you die.
The disciples dispute among themselves
Let’s look at another situation where this, I think, comes clear, and that’s in Mark 9. I love this passage. I love it so much. Bear in mind this is Peter’s gospel. And so Peter is writing this sort of biographical information about himself and his friends, and it’s so amazing to me that these guys had the humility to write something about what idiots they were in Jesus’ presence. What a fantastic testimony this is.
Here we go. Then He came to Capernaum—his headquarter city on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. 9:33. Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?”
He knew that they were having an argument, and he asked them, what were you arguing about?”
But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.
What they’re arguing about is when Jesus takes over as King of Israel, mashes all the Romans, they’re knocked out of the picture, they’re deported from Israel, and we are the guys who won, who’s going to get to be the vice president? Who’s going to be Secretary of State? “I’m going to be Secretary of State!” “You’re going to be secretary of garbage pick up. You’re going to be the bottom—I’m going to be the top.” “Nah! That’s not me! I’m going to be—”
This is their dispute. And they kind of know that Jesus wouldn’t approve, so they just don’t say anything.
Of course, Jesus knows what they were arguing about.
So they sat down, and he calls the twelve. This is the inner guys, his top circle, his main lieutenants, the guys he called to him because they’re zealots, and they’re willing to die (all but one).
And he says to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”
Now, if you’re sitting there and you’re one of those guys, what are you thinking right now? Are you thinking, “Oh, awesome. I’m getting straightened out”? Is that normal human behavior to think that?
Or are you thinking, “Uh, we’re going to find a way to work this around”? “This has got to fit into our paradigm somehow. We’re going to make this work,”
And he says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all—”
Greatness through kindness to children
Then He took a little child—and says, “Hey, little child here.” There’s 12 guys around him, and he says, “Hey little child, come over here.” Now, children were to be seen and not heard in adult company in most of the time of the world.
To my knowledge, we have the only society that has ever been where the children kind of rule things in modern times.
So, he took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms—He takes this little child, and he kind of puts his arms around him, and he says, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
Here’s how to be great: Hug children and minister to children. Serve people who cannot do a single thing for you. And then you’ll be great.
Do they feel chastised? No, they’re zealots. Of course they do not feel chastised.
The disciples chastise a teacher outside their group
John answered Him, saying—This was the disciple Jesus loved. This is the soft one. This is the touchy-feely one among this group. And he says—“Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name—
What did he just say? If you receive a little child, you’re receiving me, right? And he’s doing this in my name. That’s what he just said.
“Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
Now what’s John saying? So you’re saying minister to children. Who can do that? Women can do that. We mighty warriors? Do we zealots who are going to defeat the Romans, and then take over the world? And you’re telling us that we are great if we do women’s work? Seriously?
You must mean something else. Ah, I know what it is. You’re just saying this to us twelve. This could never apply just to anybody, right?
Isn’t that what you’re saying, Jesus? It has to be just us. Doesn’t it?
Jesus says don’t forbid him
But Jesus says, “No, it could be anyone, including somebody as big a knucklehead as you guys.
But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me.
There’s at least going to be some period of time when somebody does something right, where they’ve got some forward momentum. They may turn and put the gearshift in the other way, and do something idiotic shortly thereafter, that’s even counterproductive; but if they’re doing something positive, encourage them! They’re on our side! At least for this time.
For he who is not against us is on our side. There’s just two sides. There’s not a middle.
41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ—me, the Messiah—assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
So, first he says, no, you’re not special. Anybody who does stuff in my name, including the little children, is equally important as you.
What were they disputing on the road? How great they were. And Jesus comes in, first thing, and knocks them all the way down. There’s nothing special about you in the sense of your ability to serve.
Anyone can get the reward of service
And then he says, but I have chosen you, and I’ve chosen you to be a special ministry for me.
If anybody comes and helps you like you can help a child, I’m going to give them the same reward that I would give you.
Can anybody get this massive reward you’re after? Yes! And they can even get it by helping you knuckleheaded idiots that I’m towing around with me, and in spite of how dumb you are and how clueless you are, I’m going to give you the opportunity to minister to the world in my name.
Isn’t that encouraging? Can you believe the humility of these guys to write this down?
Don’t harm a child
But he’s not finished yet. And he goes on, to the twelve, the disciples.
But, let me give you a warning. You’re my ministers. If someone helps you, they’re helping me. But let me just tell you something: Whoever causes one of these little ones, like these children who believe in me, to stumble—so now he’s taking the metaphor of the child and applying it to any children of God who have believed in Jesus.
Anybody who causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
Now let me just ask you: If you take a millstone, which is a rock, you know, maybe three feet in diameter, typical, and a couple of feet thick. Let’s just say it weighs a thousand pounds. So, if you take a rock, and it has a hole in the middle where the grain pours down, right? And you tie a rope through the middle of the hole, and now you have like a washer on a string, except it weighs a thousand pounds; and you tie the other end to your neck, and you go to a cliff, and you throw the rock off, what’s going to happen?
You’re not going to live very much longer, right?
So, he says, there’s two scenarios you can have. One is, you go out and lead my children astray. The other is you get thrown in the ocean with a millstone around your neck. Which one would you pick? Well, the one you ought to pick is the millstone because that’s going to be way better for you than if you lead one of my children astray.
Do you think this is a stern warning? Now it’s hyperbole, of course; but the hyperbole is going to keep expanding.
Cut off your hand
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Who would want to be without a hand, on purpose? You want your hand, right? But, you’re better off to be without a hand than to sin. It’s better for you to enter into life maimed rather than having two hands go to hell.
Now, is he telling his disciples, his twelve, who have believed in him (let’s don’t talk about Judas, but the twelve who believed in him) is he telling them, if you want to go to heaven, you can’t sin? A lot of people take this to mean that because otherwise you go to hell. Is he saying that? Would that even make any sense whatsoever?
You’re disputing on the road among me, so you’re going to hell. You wouldn’t have to go through all this other stuff if it was that, right?
Gehenna, not hell
No. He said Gehenna. He’s talking about Gehenna. These Jewish guys, they know what Gehenna is. It’s child sacrifice. It’s burning worms. It’s sewage. It’s rot and destruction. It’s the opposite of life.
You want to live out there in the dump? There’s places in the world where people do live in the dump. It’s all they have. Is that something that people generally aspire to? To say, I wish I could go live in the dump? No.
But he says go to Gehenna, into the fire that will never be quenched, where the worm does not die and the fire’s not quenched.
See, out in Gehenna, there’s always rot and decay and destruction and worms. And there’s always smoldering fire out there because it’s never pleasant in Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom. It’s never pleasant. It’s not like there’s a season where you say, oh, this is the season when we should go picnic in the Valley of Hinnom.
No, that doesn’t exist! It’s always bad. There’s not a season of life where you say, oh. I’m 19. And everybody knows between 19 and 25 you should sow your wild oats because you can go and sin a ton during that time period, and there’ll be no negative consequences.
No. Your body can survive the abuse better, but there’s still negative consequences to sin. The fact that there’s a delay, often, in those consequences doesn’t mean that you’re not still giving yourself Gehenna.
“Oh gee, while I’m young, I could go live in the trash dump, and I probably wouldn’t catch pneumonia or tuberculosis, so why wouldn’t I do that?” Because nobody in their right mind wants to live in the trash dump. That’s why. You see, that’s the point.
Seasoned with fire
So, he goes on. He kind of says that two more times. You pluck out your eye and so forth. And then he ends with this. Remember, they started with trying to be great among themselves. So down to verse 49.
“For everyone—Jesus still talking now— For everyone will be seasoned with fire—
Who gets seasoned with fire? Everyone. And we’ve read that before. We shall all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. Who appears before the Judgment Seat of Christ? All.
He’s writing to believers, in 2 Corinthians 5. He’s writing to believers. He’s writing to a church. We shall all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ to receive rewards for the deeds done in the flesh, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the terror of the Lord, persuade men.
1 Corinthians 3. We’re all going to bring our works, our deeds, to the Lord. To see if we get in? No. Our entrance ticket is something Jesus bought for us already. We don’t have to have a ticket. He got a ticket. He’s already given the usher the tickets.
It’s for deeds done in the flesh, to reward, to see what we did. And we bring it all, and what’s it tested with? Fire. And if it’s wood, hay, and stubble, what happens? It burns. And if it’s gold, silver, precious stones, what happens? It gets purified, right?
So we’re all seasoned with fire. And we don’t have to wait till the judgment seat to be seasoned with fire, do we? Because this book started with consider it joy, brethren when you encounter various trials. Those are fiery trials. And that happens in this life.
And when we’re persecuted, or when we go through difficulties, whether—really, in many respects, whether we caused them or whether they happened, and we couldn’t do anything about it. Those are fiery trials.
And the question is, what are we going to do through those fiery trials? We’re being tested. We’re being refined.
The refining process is happening now. It just keeps on going.