‘Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things – they will meet their end together with the one they follow,’ declares the Lord.
‘And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory.
‘I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations – to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord – on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,’ says the Lord. ‘They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,’ says the Lord.
‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the Lord. ‘And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.’
The final verse in Isaiah contains words that Jesus quoted when he was speaking about hell (Mark 9:48).
The Greek word for hell in this case is ‘Gehenna’, which comes from the Hebrew name for a place called the “Valley of Hinnom.” This was a deep valley surrounding the city of Jerusalem. At first it was a summer residence for the kings of Judah. Then it was used for music and culture. Over time it began to be used for pagan worship and eventually it was used for child sacrifice by the kings Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 28:3 and 33:6). When Manasseh’s son Josiah was only a boy he became king. Realising that what his father had done was evil, Josiah put a stop to these child sacrifices (2 Kings 23:10) and the valley became a rubbish dump.
In Jesus’ day the valley of Hinnom was literally a place where worms or maggots ate rubbish and people started bonfires to burn waste, including the dead bodies of criminals. This garbage site served as a vivid illustration for the agonies of Gehenna or hell. The only difference was how long the agonies would last. In any rubbish dump maggots do eventually die and bonfires eventually go out. But Jesus said that in hell ‘their worms will not die and their fire will not be quenched’.
In quoting Isaiah and using the word for hell which was the same word for the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem, Jesus was using metaphors that were making a serious point. He was saying that hell is real. It is for those who have rebelled against God and you don’t want to go there.
Admittedly, medieval works of art sometimes exaggerated the horrors of hell and may have sometimes been used to control and manipulate people. But let’s not ignore the references to hell in the Bible. Most of what we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus. Remember, Jesus was known for being loving, gracious and forgiving. He was not trying to manipulate and scare people into following him. He was willing to go through hell so that we would not have to be separated from God. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” he was experiencing separation from his Father.For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.(John 3:16) Understanding the reality of hell will motivate us to tell others about the love of God.
Thomas Halley (Sawyers Church Leadership Team)
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