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25Sep/080

Theology Thursday: Predictions of Destruction

Today, a nice, light topic. Destruction and desolation. Nice, eh?  First, read this:

Jeremiah 7:30-34 (NET):

30 The Lord says, “I have rejected them because the people of Judah have done what I consider evil. They have set up their disgusting idols in the temple which I have claimed for my own and have defiled it. 31 They have also built places of worship in a place called Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom so that they can sacrifice their sons and daughters by fire. That is something I never commanded them to do! Indeed, it never even entered my mind to command such a thing! 32 So, watch out!” says the Lord. “The time will soon come when people will no longer call those places Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom. But they will call that valley the Valley of Slaughter and they will bury so many people in Topheth they will run out of room. 33 Then the dead bodies of these people will be left on the ground for the birds and wild animals to eat. There will not be any survivors to scare them away. 34 I will put an end to the sounds of joy and gladness, or the glad celebration of brides and grooms throughout the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem. For the whole land will become a desolate wasteland.”

Now realize that when Jesus used the word typically translated "hell" in our Bibles, it was really "Gehenna," which means "Valley of Hinnom" or "Valley of Ben Hinnom."  Interesting, no?  I put this out there for anyone who is still stuck on "Hell means Eternal Conscious Torment."  It may be, but the case for it might need to be made on other bases than Jesus' teaching on "hell."

So when you hear a preacher tell you that Jesus spoke more about Hell than Heaven, realize that he's assuming a meaning for "hell" that may not actually be there.  Jesus was talking about a garbage dump where dead bodies were thrown, where there were fires constantly burning.  It's possible he was implying that Hell would be like that, but with the flames lasting forever (and perhaps the flesh of its victims also lasting forever).  Or he may have been implying that those who reject him would be consumed (which still isn't a pretty picture) but not suffer eternally.  Or he may be simply indicating the coming destruction of Jerusalem (in A.D. 70), which paralleled the previous sacking of the city by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. (predicted by Jeremiah).

I actually haven't gotten to Thayer's treatment of Gehenna in The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment yet.  I'm curious to see how he'll explain it.

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