We saw last time that Jesus used the term ‘Hades’ when he described the fate of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31). Because he also used the term ‘Hades’ in one place and ‘Gehenna’ in another, it is likely this was intentional. This gives us a clue that there is a difference between the two even if some translate both as ‘hell.’ So what message was he trying to get across?
First, we need to understand how this term came about. We need to go back to the book of Joshua to find its first occurrence. We find that the border between Judah and Benjamin was the Valley of Ben Hinnom (Js 15:8), just south of Jerusalem. We don’t really know anything about who Hinnom was or his son, but the term became renowned. This valley also became the place where child sacrifice was practiced by Kings Ahaz (2Ch 28:3) and Manasseh (2Ch 33:6). King Josiah desecrated the place to prevent sacrifices from reoccurring (1Ki 23:10). Over time, this area became used as a refuse dump and a fire was continuously burning. The Hebrew word for ‘valley’ is ‘gei’ and the Hebrew term Ge-Hinnom when stated in Greek is Gehenna.
When Christ used the term Gehenna, he was admonishing people to avoid being cast into it at all costs and do whatever it would take to avoid it (Mt 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mk 9:43, 45, 47; Lk 12:5). It would seem he used people’s knowledge of the Gehenna of the day as a reference to what God would do at some point in the future.
This is not just a New Testament idea. The prophet Isaiah did present this concept (Is 66:22-14). The context of these versus is when the new heavens and new earth will be created. In Revelation 20, this same context talks about the Great White Throne judgment and those not found written in the Book of Life being cast into the Lake of Fire (Rv 20:11-15). From this, it would seem Gehenna and Lake of Fire are synonymous. Therefore, Christ’s warning about Gehenna is his warning about the final, and eternal, Lake of Fire. These verses also reveal that Hades and Gehenna are not the same as even Hades is cast into Gehenna (Rv 20:14). As stated in a previous post, Hades is an intermediate state. We see here that Gehenna is a final state (Mk 9:48; Is 66:24).
All of these scriptures show the Bible has a cohesive message and, therefore, we should pay special attention as it has everlasting relevance for each individual.
In our next post, we will look at another term that many times gets translated as hell, but has a very distinct meaning.
Heaven & Hell
Biblical Antinomy: Free Will vs Predestination