I’ve been to hell. No joke. I ran into the very pit of hell and escaped to tell you the story. I should explain. When Jesus talked about hell in the gospels, the word often used in the original Greek was Gehenna. Gehenna is a real place in Jerusalem, a valley that plunges down on the south and west side of the city, which I ran down into and up out of on a recent trip to Israel.
Why would Jesus choose that valley to talk about hell? First, because in the Old Testament, Gehenna was a place of weeping, wailing, and death. Children were sacrificed in that valley to appease the false gods of rain and war, a scene that I shudder to imagine. Perhaps Jesus chose that imagery to remind us that losing God forever is even worse than losing your own child in that fire.
Second, because Gehenna was outside the walls of the city. When an army marched toward Jerusalem, the only safe place was inside the city. If you were caught in the valley, you were assaulted, enslaved, or brutally murdered. Perhaps Jesus wanted a picture of what it’s like to face judgment without the protection of our King.
“But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell [Gehenna]. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:5). The only logical fear is the one that affects your forever. But if your faith is in Jesus, you have nothing to fear.