Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More than a Garbage Dump

As we have been studying through the book of James here at Grace Church, we came to a term in verse six of chapter three where we see that the tongue is a fire and is, “set on fire by hell.” This word, “hell,” is from the Greek word “Gehenna” which was an actual place in the Valley of Hinnom located on the southwest side of Jerusalem (pictured above). Gehenna was a deep gorge where trash, garbage and the bodies of dead animals and executed criminals were continually dumped and burned.

James is the only other New Testament writer to use this term other than Jesus Himself who used this term in Mark 9:43-44 and Matthew 5:22. In the Old Testament, this same place was a location where the idolatrous religions that worshipped the false gods of Baal and Molech resulted in Jews sacrificing their children by fire as seen in 2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6. Josiah, King of Judah, bravely put an end to this horrific act (2 Kings 23:10).

Why would James and Jesus use this word to describe “hell”? Does this mean that hell is not a real place? Did Jesus mean that when we die we simply rot like the garbage and bodies in the local Jerusalem garbage dump? No! Jesus was using a metaphor that all of Israel could understand to illustrate the reality of a literal place that we often call “hell.”

How did this term fit? Due to the amounts of garbage, refuse and dead bodies that were dumped in Gehenna on a regular basis, there was always a fire burning and maggots were always present. As a result, it became a perfect illustration of hell which is a literal place of eternal torment. According to Jesus, as seen in the verses listed earlier, it is a place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies…just like Gehenna.

James associates hell with Satan and his demons. When he says that our tongues are, “set on fire by hell,” he means that our tongues can easily become a tool used by Satan to cause great destruction. This association between hell and Satan is not because Satan lives in hell or is in same way in charge there. That is how hell and Satan are falsely viewed in our culture today. Satan is not in hell today nor is he in charge there. However, one day Satan will be in hell. But he will not be there as the CEO of the place, but rather to endure the worst kind of eternal torment and punishment.

Jesus is clear in Mathew 25:41 that hell is a place that was prepared for Satan and his demons. Unfortunately, they will not be the only ones who spend eternity where the fire is never quenched and where the worm never dies. Revelation 20:15 teaches clearly that if anyone’s name is not found written in the book of life, they will also be thrown into a “lake of fire.” Why? Because of their sin. Hell is not a politically correct topic and it’s not one that people want to hear about, but it is true according to the Bible.

No wonder God calls the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus that leads to forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven, “Good News!” The bad news is clear…there is a literal hell. The Good News is even clearer…you don’t have to go there!

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