Since Gehenna is a physical place of punishment, doesn’t that mean hell is not eternal torment?

Gehenna is a place of judgment mentioned in the Old Testament. When Jesus’ speaks of hell He several times refers to it as Gehenna. Since Jesus refers to Gehenna in identical terms as those used in Isaiah 66 doesn’t this mean that hell cannot possibly be a place of eternal torment?

The place described in Isaiah 66 is one where Divine judgment falls on wicked humanity at the beginning of the Millennium. When Jesus returns to the earth to establish His millenial kingdom He will do several things. He will imprison Satan in the bottomless pit for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3). He will judge the unbelievers who remain alive on the earth at this time. (Matthew 25:31-46) He will throw the Antichrist and the False Prophet into the Lake of Fire. (Revelation 19:20) He will defeat the armies of the world that have united in warfare against Him. (Revelation 19:19-21) The defeat of the rebel armies and of the antichrist will take place at the battle of Armageddon.

Isaiah does not tell the identity of the wicked ones who are slain and cast into the place of judgment. Possibility they are the corpses of the soldiers slain in battle. Possibly they are those who will refuse to obey Jesus during the millennium. Whoever they are makes no difference to the point of Isaiah. God promises shameful death to those who rebel against His Messiah.

Since Jesus referenced this place of judgment in His descriptions of hell, doesn’t that mean hell is just a temporary place of physical punishment? Hell cannot possibly be a place of eternal torment if the Bible never describes it as a place of eternal suffering and if the Bible never uses familiar, earthly imagery to describe eternal realities.

The Bible is very clear that the suffering of the wicked is an eternal suffering. Two passages will suffice to show this Biblical truth.
Revelation 14:9-11, “If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”
In this passage those who receive the mark of the beast, that is all the unsaved during the time of the Great Tribulation, will suffer eternal punishment. The smoke of their torment ascends up forever. Lest anyone imagine this only refers to the smoke that tormented them, the passage goes on to say they have no rest, day nor nor night. Their torment is a constant, unending torment.
Revelation 20:10, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
Three persons, two human and one angelic, are cast into the lake of fire. Their torment is eternal, forever and ever. Their suffering is continual, day and night. God has plainly declared in His Word that the judgment of the wicked is one of eternal suffering.

The Bible is prolific in its use of the earthly and familiar to describe the eternal. Jesus uses the manna in the wilderness to describe Himself. He describes believing in Him in terms of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Does this mean that Jesus will fade in the midday sun like manna did? Is Jesus available six days a week, but not on Saturday? Is cannibalism necessary for conversion? The questions themselves show the absurdity of such an argument. What about the serpent in the wilderness? Is Jesus a bronze snake? Is salvation only for those who have been bitten by poisonous vipers? The tabernacle in the wilderness was a picture of the heavenly tabernacle. Does this mean the heavenly tabernacle was made of badger skins? These are just a few of the many examples of the Bible using physical, temporary things to teach of eternal things. Such things aid our understanding of truth, but must be understand in light of the point being made and in light of the broader context of Scripture.

Jesus’ use of Gehenna does not disprove eternal torment. His picturesque language does not limit the suffering of the wicked. It graphically depicts in understandable terms the unending punishment the unsaved will endure.

What is Gehenna?

Jesus’ use of Gehenna is a primary argument for annihilationism. Adherents to this belief claim the historical and prophetic use of Gehenna as proof that the punishment of the wicked results in their physical and spiritual erasure from existence. Jesus says God will kill the wicked and cast them into hell. The Greek word for hell in Luke 12 is Gehenna.

“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5)

What is Gehenna? Gehenna is the Greek name of a valley mentioned in the Old Testament, the Valley of the son of Hinnom. (Jeremiah 7:31) This valley was the scene of horrific idolatry. In the Valley of Hinnom the Israelites burned their children alive as sacrifices to the false god Molech. God promised to judge the Israelites for their idolatry and the book of Jeremiah describes the Valley of Hinnom as the place of the Israelite’s judgment. (Jeremiah 19:1-10) Some believe this valley is also the place of God’s judgment of the wicked described in Isaiah 66:24. Gehenna was a place of horrible wickedness that was turned by God into a place of terrible judgment.

The place of judgment described at the end of Isaiah 66 is a place where the people of God will be able to view the corpses of those who have rebelled against God. The final chapter of Isaiah is the culmination of Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah, His glorious kingdom, His defeat of the wicked and His redemption of His people. As part of the Messiah’s conquest the dead bodies of the wicked will be cast into this place, presumably the valley of Hinnom, where they will be consumed with fire and devoured by maggots. The dead bodies of the wicked will be a continual reminder to the people of God of the righteous judgment of God.

The warnings of Jesus to beware hell (Gehenna) describe it as a place “where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched”. His words are an echo of the words of Isaiah 66. “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.” The judgment Jesus describes as taking place in Gehenna is one of perpetual worms and unceasing fire.

Annihilationists believe because Jesus uses Gehenna to describe the place of final judgment then the suffering in hell is not eternal. The next article will address will address the way in which Gehenna shapes our understanding of eternal, conscious torment of souls in hell.