Lake of Fire




Dr. John Hoole – June 29, 2014




In our last lesson we were introduced to 3 Greek words that are translated “hell” in the King James Version -  Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna.  We also discussed other words associated with the judgments of God - The Abyss, Bottomless Pit.  We covered these is some detail a week ago, so let’s have a quick review.


Hades is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew Sheol, and is a current temporary place where the souls of the wicked go at death.  Though it is translated as “hell” in the King James Bible, it should remain as a proper name.  Almost all other translations leave it “Hades.”


Tartarus is a word used only once – in 2 Peter 2:4.  It is a place where some rebellious and fallen angels are incarcerated today.  Some theologians believe Tartarus is a lower part of Hades.


Gehenna speaks of a fiery place whose flames never quit.  It is associated with the eternal Lake of Fire judgment.  We covered Gehenna only briefly last week, but we will looked this in more detail today.


All other places we have mentioned are actually temporary places for those who inhabitant them.  It is the Lake of Fire that is the place of eternal judgment.  Gehenna is the only Greek word which we have looked at that speaks of this judgment.  And Gehenna is the only word that should be translated “hell.”


Let’s look at one verse that speaks of judgment by fire.


Matthew 5:22 NKJV


22     But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.


The Greek word translated “hell” in this verse is GEENA, pronounced Gheh-en-nah. – Gehenna..


We might think that because we are more familiar with the word “Hades,” that it is the most common New Testament word which is translated “hell.”  Gehenna, however, is used in the original text more than Hades and Tartarus combined.  And all 12 times this word is translated in our English Bible as “HELL.”




With the word Gehenna, we have a very clear picture of its origin and meaning in Jewish history.  One reason we can have this clear definition of Gehenna is because the Greek comes from the Hebrew language, which doesn’t happen often.  It also appears the Hebrew people took this word from the Jebusites, who were the inhabitants of the Jerusalem when David conquered it.


The word, “Gehenna,” as Jesus used it, ties it to a city dump outside the walls of Jerusalem.  I will come back in a few minutes to relate some biblical events that took place in this valley.  But first, let me show you where it is located and what that valley looks like today.


Here is a map of Old Jerusalem and the walls that exist today.  Here is an aerial photo of Old Jerusalem as it is today.  Let me show some additional photos as it looks today.


The Valley of Hinnom lies west and south of the city.  Its eastern terminus is the Kidron Valley.  On several occasions, we crossed the Valley of Hinnom using this road, either when going to our hotel or leaving it.  Our hotel on one Holy Land trip was at the Ramat Rachel Kibbutz.  The Kibbutz is about half way between Old Jerusalem and Bethlehem.


Now, lets look at what the Bible says about this valley.  The earliest mention of the Valley of Hinnom in the Bible is Joshua 15:8.  In this passage, Joshua is in the middle of describing the boundaries of the land that will belong to the Tribe of Benjamin.


Joshua 15:8 NKJV


8 And the border went up by the Valley of the Son of Hinnom to the southern slope of the Jebusite city (which is Jerusalem). The border went up to the top of the mountain that lies before the Valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the end of the Valley of Rephaim northward.


In that passage, we are told that this Valley formd part of the border between the land belonging to the tribe of Benjamin and that given to the tribe of Judah to the south.  Did you notice the full original name of this valley.  The verse we just read called it the Valley of the Son of Hinnom.


The Hebrew place-name was originally Ge (ben) hinnom, which means “the valley of the son of Hinnom.  We have no information as to who the man named Hinnom was or his son.  It appears this valley belonged to him and his son at the time Joshua came and conquered this part of the Promised Land.  In Hebrew, 3 times it is shown in its shortened form Ge-hinnom, from which the Greek translation became Gehenna.


I still haven’t fully shown the connection between this valley and a place called Hell.  We need to look at a little more of its history.


Here is a chart showing all the kings of Israel and Judah.  This next chart shows the kings of Israel and Judah from 800 b.c. to 500 b.c. along with some foreign kings and Hebrew prophets of that era.


With the word Gehenna, we have a very clear picture of its origin and meaning in Jewish history. About 720 B.C., King Ahaz was ruler of Judah.  He was an idolater and adopted some of the most revolting heathen practices of his day.  Among the worst was the offering of human sacrifices.  He even had one of his own sons burned to death.


These atrocities were carried out in the Valley of Hinnom, a place just south-west of Jerusalem.  Today that area is sometimes called Wadi-al-Rababi.


2 Chronicles 28:1-3 NKJV


1          Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord, as his father David had done.

2          For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals.

3          He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.


Ahaz paid dearly for his sin.  His political alliance became unstuck, and in one battle alone he lost 120,000 men.  His place was taken by the godly King Hezekiah, but he was succeeded in turn by his only son Manasseh, who undid all the good his father had done.


He built altars to heathen idols, and reinstituted human sacrifices.  He also burned his own son to death in this Valley.  He also burned other children to the god Molech (2 Chronicles 33:1-6).  Manasseh was followed by his equally corrupt son Amon, who lasted only two year before being assassinated.


Jeremiah often speaks against the practices occurring in the Valley of Hinnom.  But he makes reference to a specific place in the Valley, called Tophet.  This despicable place is mentioned in the Bible 9 times.  The word “Tophet” means “place of fire,” or “fire pit”.  In fact, God orders Jeremiah to go to this very spot, and to take some elders and senior priest (Jeremiah 19:1-14).  He was to announce a prophecy about the coming judgment upon the nation.  God says it will no longer be called the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, “but rather the valley of Slaughter.”


The slaughter he is prophesying is that of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who would come prior to the death of Jeremiah.  He also prophesies that they will be under bondage to a foreign ruler for 70 years. Earlier in Jeremiah’s book, he says, “Because you have served strange gods in your land, so shall you serve strangers in a land that is not yours.”


Amon’s eight-year-old son, Josiah, took his place, and by the time he was sixteen he had begun a program of vigorous reformation  Josiah singled out this Valley for particular attention.  From being a place of idol worship, he turned it into a public rubbish dump.  This is where the inhabitants of Jerusalem would bring their waste.  Later, the bodies of animals and even the corpses of criminals were flung there, and left to rot or to be consumed by the fire that was kept constantly burning.


We can now start to see how this otherwise unimportant piece of land fits into the picture.  The Hebrew place-name was originally Ge (ben) hinnom, which means “the valley of the son of Hinnom.  The shortened form of the name was Ge-hinnom, from which the Greek translation became Gehenna.


During New Testament times, a fire burned the rubbish continually in this valley.  The flames never went out.  The English word for Gehenna, with all its imagery of shame, disgrace, sin, guilt, judgment, and punishment is “HELL”.


Look at the words of Jesus.


Mark 9:42-44 NKJV


42     But whoever 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.

43     If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell (Gehenna), into the fire that shall never be quenched --

44     Where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.


Notice that Gehenna is referred to as a place where the fire is never quenched  (vss. 43 & 44).  The burning fire was not only continuous, but its flames will never end.  That makes it different than Hades which is temporary, and will itself be destroyed.


Over the years, I have had people say to me that they don’t accept the harsh God of the Old Testament.  They say, “My idea of Christianity is the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.”  Such statements show they have not really taken a close look of the Sermon on the Mount for it provides no escape whatever from the thought of an eternal hell.


In Matthew 5:22, Christ says that a person who says to another person “You fool”, is in danger of “hell fire” (Gehenna).


In Matthew 5:29, (NIV) we are told


         It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna).


Later in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:13, Jesus doesn’t use the word Gehenna, but taught of the need to turn from “the road that leads to destruction.”


A moment ago I mentioned that the most common Greek word translated hell is the word Gehenna.  It may come as a surprise to those who believe Jesus taught only love that all but one of the uses of Gehenna come from the lips of Jesus.


It has been calculated that of the 1,870 verses which record the words of Jesus, some 13% of them are about judgment and hell.  Jesus spoke more on these two subjects than about any other.  Angels came in second.  Love was third.


Also, of the about 40 parables spoken by Jesus, more than half of them related to God’s eternal judgment of sinners.  The strongest Greek word for Hell is Gehenna.  And, again, of its uses, all but one were spoken by Jesus himself.


Let’s look at a few more passages where Gehenna is used.


         In Matthew 23:33  (NIV), Jesus is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders.


         33     You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell (Gehenna)?


In Matthew 10:28  (NIV), Christ says:


28     Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).


From these verses, and those we read earlier, we learn that Hell (Gehenna) is:


•  fiery  (Matthew 5:22)


•  eternal (Mark 9:43)


•  a person has both soul and body there  (Matthew 10:28)


It is impossible to read the New Testament in general and the words of Christ in particular, without facing the fact that hell is not a figment of religious imagination.  It is terrifyingly real.  But the words of Jesus also adds that nobody needs to go there.


Because of its unending fire, most believe Gehenna is synonymous with the Lake of Fire, which is mentioned in the Book of Revelation.


Lake of Fire


As we stated a moment ago, Gehenna is a reference to the Lake of Fire.  The phrase “lake of fire” is spoken only 4 times, and one using the phrase, “Lake of burning sulfur” all of them in the Book of Revelation.


Sometimes it is referred to as “the lake of fire and brimstone” (19:20; 20:10; 21:8)  In the Bible, “fire and brimstone” always signifies the hot wrath of God.  Jesus said in Luke 17:29, “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.”


The passage in Genesis depicting the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah reads:


Genesis 19:24 NKJV


24     Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens.


The first use of the phrase “lake of fire” is in Revelation 19:20, which speaks of the Antichrist and the False Prophet being sent there.  The second time is in Revelation 20:10, where Satan is cast into the Lake.


There are other New Testament passages that refer to the Lake of Fire (or Gehenna) while using different Greek words.


Matthew 25:41  (NIV) is one of them.


41     Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.


Five verses later, Christ refers to this place of eternal fire as being a place of “eternal punishment.”  These verse (Matthew 25:41-46) corroborate two things we already have discussed about the Lake of Fire, and adds one new piece of information.


We earlier noted what this passage reaffirms:


         •  The fire is eternal


         •  The punishment is also eternal


The new thing we are told here is that the Lake of Fire was originally created to be the eternal abode of the devil and his fallen angels.


Let’s summarize what we have learned this morning.


1.      The word, Gehenna, has its roots in an ever-burning dump in the Valley of Hinnom.


2.      Gehenna and the Lake of Fire are a reference to the same thing.  They both have eternal fire as one of its characteristics.


3.      Of the 12 times Gehenna is mentioned, 11 came from the lips of Christ.


4.      It is a place of torment “day and night” forever (Rev. 20:10)


5.      Going there is the “second death.” (Rev. 20:14)


6.      Anyone whose name is not in the Book of Life will go there.  (Rev. 20:15)


7.      People in the Lake of Fire have both body and soul united there.