Sunday, February 7th, 2010
"How are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?" (Matthew 23:33)
Gehenna was a valley area outside the walls of Jerusalem where rubbish and the carcasses of dead animals were burned. Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of eternal death. His question about escaping from Gehenna showed that those religious leaders as a class were fit for everlasting destruction. (Matthew 5:22, 29) The Jewish leaders compounded their sins by persecuting Jesus and his followers. Later, as John and Jesus had warned, God’s day of wrath came. In that case, “the coming wrath” was centered on one particular locale, Jerusalem and Judea, so it could have been possible to flee in a literal way. (Matthew 3:7; Luke 21:20) The wrath was expressed when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by Roman armies in 70 C.E. Many of the city’s inhabitants were killed or taken captive. This pointed to a greater destruction that awaits many professed Christians and those of other religions.—Matthew 24:21.
(Watchtower issue: 6/15/08, 1:3-5)
If you check out the illustration in this picture that I posted of the temple area in Solomon's day, you'll see the location of the Valley of Hinnom (where the inhabitants of Jerusalem burned refuse and dead bodies) in the bottom left-hand corner. It gives you an idea of the *literal location* which the *figurative description* of Gehenna is based upon.
There's also a description and illustration of Gehenna in this article What Really is Hell? from the the website, which contrasts the difference between Hades, Sheol, and Gehenna.
BTW- here's one more modern day way to illustrate the symbolic destruction of Gehenna (even though this isn't a Biblical reference). If you're talking to a teenager or someone who is familiar with either the book 'Lord of the Rings' (by J.R.R. Tolkien), or has seen the recent movies based on the storyline, they will no doubt understand this comparison. -In the story, the characters had to travel to this active volcano called Mt. Doom in order to *permanently* destroy the ring (because it was so impervious to harm by any other means). And when you stop and consider how an active volcano is constantly *burning* with "fire and sulfer" (the same way Gehenna is described as being the lake of fire), I thought that was a good comparison in order to illustrate the point to someone who has a difficult time understanding the concept of Hell or Gehenna in the Bible.
Because any object or human that falls into an active volcano wouldn't *burn forever* ... they would simply perish, although the fire and lava would continue to burn, the same way that the fire in the Valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem was kept burning. The dead bodies that were thrown into that fire, along with the other refuse, were no longer alive or suffering torment. The destruction was permanent...just like the symbolic destruction of Gehenna or "the second death" is permanent for unrepentant sinners who do not have the future hope of a resurrection.