In the New Testament, “hell” is the translator’s word of choice for three different Greek terms: gehenna (Strong’s G1067), tartaroo (Strong’s G5020), and hades (Strong’s G86). It is by means of these words that the Lord God communicates the most sobering and terrifying truth in the Bible. All three terms refer to a place where wicked men go after they die. None of them has a pleasant meaning. Both tartaroo and hades come from Greek origins and refer to a “subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds” (Strong’s G5020). Gehenna or gehinnom is Jewish, and its meaning is even more horrifying. It “was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned” (Strong’s G1067). Gehenna means “valley of lamentation,” so named “from the cries of the little children who were thrown into the fiery arms of Moloch.” After king Josiah, the Israelites so abhorred their child sacrifice that they used the valley as a place to burn refuse and the dead bodies of criminals.
These terms are warnings. Just as the valley of Hinnom was a real and terrible place, so God has prepared a more real and more terrible place to punish the wicked after death. These are the images Jesus intends to evoke when he warns us to “fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5).
Unlike many Christians, the fear of Hell did not play a large part in my conversion. But since that gracious day, the gravity of Hell has steadily increased in my mind. In fact, without Hell, the God I have loved would not be loving at all. How could God be just without punishing the crimes that men and women have done against him? How could God be holy without purging his creation, his tabernacle, of the vileness of sin? But most of all, Hell is the reality that Jesus endured on the cross. Oh how horrendous Hell is! But even the tortures of Hell could not keep Jesus from delivering us. Even Hell could not discourage his love. He entered Hell for us, only to exit alive.