“Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
Imagine, if you will, a trash dump. It is full of all kinds of garbage, including dead animals and human bodies, all of which in various levels of decomposition. Then imagine that this trash dump is on fire.
Is this a place that will be high on your vacation itinerary? Does this sound like a place where you want to be?
Such was the Valley of Hinnom in the first century CE. The Valley of Hinnom lay immediately to the south of Jerusalem; it represents part of the border between Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 15:8). In the days of the kings, the Israelites would burn their children alive there at the Valley of Hinnom to the god Molech (2 Kings 23:10, 2 Chronicles 28:3). Even though Josiah defiled the place, it maintained its reputation as polluted land. What better place, then, for Jews to place their garbage and burn it? And thus it was. Every Israelite knew exactly what the Valley of Hinnom was like. No one really wanted to go there or be there!
Jesus recognizes these things, and twelve times in the New Testament, He calls hell by the Greek word gehenna: the Valley of Hinnom. Such would be the destination of the Pharisees if they would not change their ways, as seen above in Matthew 23:33; their disciples would go there too (Matthew 23:15). In Matthew 5:29-30, among other places, Jesus establishes that it is better to lose an eye or a hand than to have the whole body cast into Gehenna. In Matthew 5:22, those who revile their brother will experience Gehenna. We are to fear God because, unlike mankind, He is able to cast both body and soul into Gehenna (Matthew 10:28).
While talking about hell may not be popular or politically correct these days, Jesus speaks about it more than anyone else in the Scriptures, and the Valley of Hinnom represents one of His consistent descriptions of the place. He uses that description not because He relishes the thought of burning souls like trash, but because He does not want anyone to go there! Who wants to be part of a trash pit that is perpetually burning? Who would sign up for such a thing? Who would want their loved ones to go there? Who would even wish that upon their worst enemy?
And that is precisely the point: hell is not a fun place. It is not a place anyone should want to go or should want anyone else to experience. God certainly does not want anyone to have to go there (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:7-8)!
If this message has thoroughly disgusted you, I pray that you are not offended, but will instead use that disgust to provide greater motivation to serve the Lord Jesus and encourage everyone you know and love (and, for that matter, those you don’t like) to serve the Lord Jesus also, lest anyone end up in that terrible trash pit!
Ethan R. Longhenry