Jesus and Hell


Benevolent God did not create Hell. There is no Hell in a literal sense, at least not as a physical place of dwelling full of fire and brimstone and torture – as the lasting mediaeval imagery would have us believe. Hell requires a closer scrutiny of the garbled Greek influences riding upon Jewish philosophy to determine its inferred meaning.

Sheol is the word used throughout the Old Testament that is usually translated as “Hell”, but the word itself relates simply to death and the grave – or perhaps more precisely, a grave-pit – that’s where the notion of Hell being “beneath” – a form of underworld – comes from – bodies are buried beneath us within the earth, and conjoined with the primal notion of Heaven and God being literally among or above “the heavens”. Yet even death is not seen as separation from YHWH: cf Job 11:8, 26:6, Jonah 2:2.

However, Sheol, like the word “Hell” itself, can be used figuratively. Working in a burger bar can be hell, but that does not mean that the Hell really is a burger bar. See 2Sam 22:6, Psalms 18:5, 116:3, Prov 15:24.

However, it should never be forgotten that the proper rendering of the word Sheol is grave-pit – see Psalms 16:10, Proverbs 9:18, Amos 9:2.

Even “hell” itself was originally an old Anglo-Saxon word simply for a grave-pit, although its meaning has obviously since been distorted in the mainstream English language.

In the New Testament, however, the emphasis begins to broaden. There are three words here translated as hell:

  • Hades – a Greek word and more encompassing term relating not simply to the grave-pit, but to the world of death itself,
  • Tartarus – used just once (2Peter 2:4), to denote a place of imprisonment in a state of death,
  • And Gahenna – being a reference to the waste dumps outside of the city of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom, where all the rubbish was burned – carcasses among it, including those of condemned people – ‘the damned’. The prodigious amount of trash from that great city meant that somewhere in Gahenna there was always a fire burning.
  • It is important to note that Jesus referred to Gahenna eleven times, and Hades just four (at least, in the Greek that the scriptures are translated from). In the gospels, of those sixteen references to Hell, nine are in the Gospel of Matthew alone, three in Mark, and three in Luke. There is no mention of Hell in the Gospel of John, though that gospel is the only one to actually mention the word grave – and only when relating to Lazarus (John 11:17, 31, 38; 12:17).

    Almost surprisingly, Revelations refers to Hades (Rev 1:18, 6:8, 20:13-14) – a place and state of death – rather than the fires of Gahenna itself – although it does refer to fires and Hellfire no less than twenty-six times – only five less than the entire four gospels together.

    Fire is referred to more often than Gahenna in all of the gospels, but Gahenna is clearly implied, and the figurative use would certainly not have been lost on a first century Jewish audience.

    This may help with interpretation of Revelations and its overwhelming theme of fire, especially when referenced with Matthew 13:40-42.


    Jesus (Yeshoshua) saw his mission as being for the Jews by the Jews (Matthew 10:5-7). In this context his statements relating to “love thy neighbour” (Matthew 5:43, 19:19, 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27) related to self-styled purpose of attempting to unify the Jewish people against their own factionalism. This is related quite clearly in the story of the Good Samaritan, described in the Gospel of Luke 10:29-37, for none of the Jews who passed by the fallen Jew cared to help him – only a Samaritan. Jesus attempts to shame his listeners by claiming that even the traditional Samaritan enemies of the Jews would more likely treat a Jew better than a Jew would (as Josephus would clearly demonstrate in his later commentaries). In fact, statements such as Matthew 10:17 relates specifically to the behaviour of factionalised Judea.

    Jesus also protests quite vehemently against the perceived corruption and hypocrisy within Judaism under the Roman occupation (cf, Matthew 21:12, and Mark 11:15).

    Jesus is warning that Judea is doomed by its current behaviour, and that YHWH has judged it unworthy. Jesus, like Old Testament prophets at times of tribulation and occupation, has given himself to preaching the errors of the Jews to the national ear.

    Jesus offers himself as a figurehead for a Jewish revival – an entry-way for the re-establishment of the covenant with YHWH – and thus to bring the Jewish people again into YHWH’s embrace.

    If we therefore place the words of Jesus into a proper context, when Jesus warns of Hell he is warning the Jews that they have strayed from YHWH, and therefore their rituals and customs no longer have association with YHWH. Due to the perceived base corruption of the whole Jewish nation under the Caesars, Jesus is warning that the covenant with YHWH has been broken, and their offerings worthless before YHWH.

    Jesus’ warnings to the Jews is that there is no point to them constructing tombs, for just as the damned are cast into the burning rubbish dumps, so the Jewish religion, for all its baseness, has failed to such an extent that the people may as well allow their own corpses to be cast into Gahenna, for Judaism under the current leadership has failed them.

    Consider that in context with Matthew 5:29-30, 18:8-9, and Mark 9:43-49 – Jesus is warning that YHWH must be followed and obeyed wholeheartedly and wholeheartedly only – he warns that there is no room for hypocrisy – even if the body follows YHWH, if the hand, or foot, or eye is corrupted, then you are not with YHWH. Read also Matthew 7:14-15 as well in this context, and it is realised that Jesus is not denying people a place in Heaven, as much as declaring the commonality of those who allow themselves to comport themselves corruptly, or follow those who are inwardly corrupted though outwardly pleasant, Jesus stating that such people deny themselves a true connection with YHWH. And if you allow yourself to be separated from YHWH then there is no purpose or meaning to Jewish ritual or practice – YHWH knows the corruption not only of Israel as a people, but each individual Jew also, and he will judge them (cf Matthew 13:30, 38-39, Mark 4:29),

    The theme of Jesus’ words becomes less about death being merely a grave, as much as death being a form of separation from YHWH (cf Matthew 5:22, 29-30, and especially in Matthew 10:28), and he illustrated this repeatedly with reference to the fires of Gahenna where the condemned were consigned (Matthew 7:19 illustrates this well).

    That is what Jesus really refers to when he uses the word “Hell”. This view is almost overtly declared in Luke 12:49. It is never described by Jesus as an actual place of punishment, but a state of loss of YHWH experienced by the living people of the world – or, more specifically, to the Jews of his time. Jesus expands upon the original use of Sheol precisely because he is not speaking simply about individual death, but of national death.

    Thus Jesus is probably not the Christ of popular legend, but possibly simply “annointed” as were all the Old Testament prophets.

    As a last note it is interesting to observe the references to baptism in this context. Although baptism, especially with water, was a relatively common ritual in many belief systems, it was not and still is not practised by mainstream Jews. The introduction of baptism among Jesus and his disciples and followers (Matthew 20:22-23, Mark 10:38-39) relates well with the symbolism of fire prevalent in the gospels. It is a common observation that wet things do not burn easily, thus the use of baptism was not simply an attempt to “cleanse the soul”, but also a symbolic way of saving the body from corruption through the fire often preached of (Gahenna). This meaning certainly would not have been lost on any Greek or Greek speaking audience, for the theory of “the Four Elements”, constituting of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – a system not only used in medicine but also very much embedded in their theology – was very prevalent. How did it relate to the teachings of Jesus? In simple terms, to follow Jesus in his mission of overhauling Jewish religion, and returning it to a non-corrupted adherence of Mosaic law (Matthew 5:17-20, John 7:19-24), the act of baptism was to be seen as helping the adherent resist perishing in the condemning flames of Gahenna, as described above – for water opposes fire. Thus the follower not only seeks to become closer to YHWH, but also symbolically protects himself against his own iniquities.

    Scripture refs in order of appearance (KJV) :

    44 refs to 77 verses

    Job 11:8 It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?

    Job 26:6 Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.

    Jonah 2:2 And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.

    2Sam 22:6 The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;

    Psalms 18:5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.

    Psalms 116:3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.

    Prov 15:24 The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.

    Psalms 16:10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

    Proverbs 9:18 But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.

    Amos 9:2 Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:

    2Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

    John 11:17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.

    John 11:31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

    John 11:38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

    John 12:17 The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record.

    Rev 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

    Rev 6:8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

    Rev 20:13-14 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Matthew 5:29-30 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

    Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

    Matthew 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    Matthew 13:40-42 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    Luke 12:49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?

    Matthew 10:5-7 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

    Matthew 5:43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.

    Matthew 19:19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Matthew 22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    Mark 12:31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

    Luke 10:27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

    Luke 10:29-37 But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

    Matthew 10:17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues;

    Matthew 21:12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

    Mark 11:15 And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;

    Matthew 5:29-30 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

    Matthew 18:8-9 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

    Mark 9:43-49 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.

    Matthew 7:14-15 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

    Matthew 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

    Matthew 13:38-39 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.

    Mark 4:29 But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

    Matthew 20:22-23 But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

    Mark 10:38-39 But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:

    Matthew 5:17-20 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    John 7:19-24 Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth the law? Why go ye about to kill me? The people answered and said, Thou hast a devil: who goeth about to kill thee? Jesus answered and said unto them, I have done one work, and ye all marvel. Moses therefore gave unto you circumcision; (not because it is of Moses, but of the fathers;) and ye on the sabbath day circumcise a man. If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

    FEATURE: Hindu Texts

    Explore the most ancient writings of India, with our complete collection of the most venerated of all Hindu literature, the Upanishads, Vedas, and Bhagavad Gita.