The Hebrew word for sheol refers simply to the grave or the place for the dead located deep in the earth. This word in Greek is hades which also has the same meaning...but has modern connotations that the scriptures do not support. Many of the above terms were previously translated as 'hell' in the KJV but no longer in most recent translations.
The word now most frequently translated as 'hell' is the Hebrew word Gehenna...which was the name of the valley near the city of Jerusalem where the city tip was located. This was where the waste of the city was burned including the remains of sacrifices and animals who perished and the fire burned continually to get rid of the refuse. But after Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 the fire has stopped burning there as soon as all was consumed and today we can see go and see that it is not burning anymore
The same description referring to everlasting fire here is also used of the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. We also know Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning today...but the fire certainly burned until its purpose was achieved i.e. all the waste was consumed.
Please note that ALL the scriptures speaking of Gehenna are addressed to the JEWS who would reject Jesus. These scriptures figuratively ALL refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by fire and the judgment of the Jews who rejected and killed their Messiah.
Matt 10: 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. NKJV
The Jews knew a resurrection and judgment would follow at the end of the Age. They had a covenant with God and were expecting to be rewarded with eternal life...in the time known as 'the resurrection'.
The context of this verse is that the gospel would cause division amongst the Jews ... even to the extent of persecuting believers and killing them as is demonstrated thoughout the book of Acts. Those who rejected Jesus hated and killed those who believed in Him.
Those who had rejected Jesus and said 'his blood be on us and our children' WERE disposed of in the fiery tip of 'Gehenna'. This was fulfilled during the fires which destroyed Jerusalem in AD70.
Matt 25:31 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.'
41 "Then He will also say to those on the left hand,'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'
44 "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' 45 Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." NKJV
This passage is addressed to the Jews who refused to acknowledge Jesus and the miracles performed before their eyes when He came as their Messiah. They also rejected and killed Him and all the prophets before Him.... and then killed His disciples. Their resurrected bodies on the Day of the Lord would be judged and burned. This happened in AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed and all its religious works were burned up. The everlasting lake of fire is required because the Devil and his angels are spirit beings. (Rev 20:10)
The everlasting punishment also speaks of the fact that it is NON - REVERSIBLE. Rejecting God and His way of salvation for the Jews (i.e. by receiving Jesus ... John 1:11-13) left no option other than to be destroyed 'on that day' at the end of their age.
When Gehenna is contrasted against the Hebrew word SHEOL which was also often translated as 'hell' in the KJV we can see that these adress two clearly different locations. In most scriptures this word and its Greek alternative 'HADES simply refers to the GRAVE... the place where the Israelites waited for their redemption by Messiah. This is what is alluded to in 1 Peter 3:19-20, 1 Pet 4:6 and Eph 4:8-10. Both good and bad were waiting for judgment and the good were to be rewarded with eternal life and the bad were to be destroyed. (Dan 12:1-3, Mat 13:39-43 and Mat 24:30-31)
Another commonly used passage which people believe is a teaching on hell is actually a parable (one in a series of 5 such parables) which is almost universally incorrectly literally interpreted. This leads some to claim that those in SHEOL are already being tormented while others are in bliss in Abraham's bosom EVEN THOUGH prior to the resurrection and judgment at the end of the age? But if taken literally it raises more than a few other complications.... i.e. are we to assume that those in hell can see and talk to those in Abraham's bosom? Are rich people sent to hell because they lived a lavish life on earth and poor people rewarded with heaven. Under the New Covenant are we not saved BY GRACE through FAITH?
Luke 16:19 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus , full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' 25 But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'
27 "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' 29 Abraham said to him,'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' 30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' 31 But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'" NKJV
This parable refers specifically to the Jews (Judah and his 5 brothers) under the Law of Moses and who refused to hear Moses and rejected Jesus (Deut 18:17-19) and the prophets and who were then certainly judged in AD70. They still did not believe EVEN AFTER JESUS RESURRECTION.
Peter also puts hell into the context of the JUDGMENT which was about to begin on the house of God (ie Israel)...(1 Pet 4:17) ...not an event 2000 years away.
1 Peter 4:17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God NKJV
and Peter tells that this judgment will apply to all who sinned under the Law..
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, ...........
9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment NKJV
God judged the ancient world which was satanically corrupted by destruction through the flood. The angels who were spirits were reserved in chains for the judgment in Revelations 20:10 of being 'cast into the lake of fire and brimstone'. The word Peter uses is 'tartaros'...the place of the damned. God judged Israel in AD 70 as Peter had written. Daniel 12:1-3 speaks of a time of great trouble which would precede the resurrection and the judgment OF ISRAELITES. This was prophecied to last three and a half years (vs 7) and was historically recorded as the time of the seige and destruction of Jerusalem where hail stones of a talent in weight and fire literally played their parts....this was 'THE day of judgment' for Israel.
So now when we look at the context as regards to the NEW Covenant which now applies
The judgments pronounced on those UNDER the Law (which ended in AD 70 with the destruction of the temple) do not apply to those who are NOT under the Law. (Rom 3:19)
Rom 4:15 ... because the law brings about wrath ; for where there is no law there is no transgression. NKJV
Rom 5:13 For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. NKJV
Why would Gentile non-believers, who had never had a covenant with God which they broke and who did not reject and kill their promised Messiah, then be judged according to the LAW which they were not under and be punished according to that Law? Would they not just simply 'die and perish and cease to exist' .... just like dust as the scripture says of those who lived BEFORE the Law and had not sought for and found God?
Gen 3:19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return." NKJV
(Please note that God did not say to man that only his physical 'body' would return to dust ....but YOU...i.e. man himself in his entirety would come to an end. Those who argue that only man's body died and that his immortal soul lived on need to address the fact that the life of man is the spirit of God breathed into him according to Genesis 2:7. This breath or spirit (ruach) returned to God at death. The scriptures do not seperate the soul of man from his MORTAL body NOR do they ascribe to man's soul a separate immortal status)
Eccl 12:6 Remember your Creator before the silver cord is loosed,
Or the golden bowl is broken,
Or the pitcher shattered at the fountain,
Or the wheel broken at the well.
7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was,
And the spirit will return to God who gave it. NKJV
It is far more accurate to conclude that the scriptures teach that God's wrathful judgment WAS TO BE on the very Jews who as His chosen people then rejected and killed their long promised Messiah (this judgment is described in the White Throne Judgment of Revelations 20 vs 11-15) and that this occurred in AD 70 as history itself records for our confirmation. The work that determines for us today whether one is saved is or not is "What did you do with Jesus...accept Him or REJECT Him?" (this alone will get our names in the Lamb's Book of Life). Jesus states emphatically that THIS generation who rejected Him would be judged rather than that the judgment was something which would be poured out on 'innocent' future generations at some undisclosed time over the next 2000 years or more later? (this would be contrary to Ezekiel 18).
So what about the 'Lake of Fire' in Revelations?... some will ask
Revelations addresses the judgment of Israel for rejecting her Messiah as Jesus specifically promised (Mat 23:33-38). The whole book was about events that were SOON to take place...things that were COMING QUICKLY ...and would happed SHORTLY (Rev 1 and Rev 22)
The great city (spiritually known as Sodom and Egypt ...and also Babylon) which is where our Lord himself was crucified (Rev 11:8) WAS Jerusalem.
This city WAS destroyed and burnt to the foundations in AD 70 ... and fire was the means and 1.1 million Jews died being those who rejected Jesus. EVERY christian fled the city when they remembered what Jesus said (Mat 24:15-16) (Luke 21:20-22)
The church is first referred to in Rev 1-3 where the seven churches are told the challenges they must overcome to avoid being caught up with the judgement of Israel. Remember that most of the early churches had Jewish and Gentile believers who formed their congregations. It is not till Rev 21 that the overcoming church is referred to again. From chapter 4 of Revelations to the beginning of chapter 21 the book deals with God's judgment on harlotrous Israel and the devil.
The NEW Jerusalem (Rev 21:2) coming down from heaven IS the NEW Covenant which applies to the church...(Gal 4:24-26) ... it is NOT a new physical city again located in Jerusalem (which sadly today has a reputation for being one of the most godless cities in the world and a global centre for homosexuality. Combine this with their continued refusal to acknowlege that they rejected their Messiah)
It is only when we come Revelations 21 ...to the NEW Jerusalem that we get some insights into what the new covenant situation is. The great truth is that God now dwells with His people not in a temple in Jerusalem. The fact that death has lost it's sting and that there is no more sadness because we as believers are never separated from Christ. The BRIDE of the Lamb in vs 9 is the CHURCH (Eph 5:25-32)
Brethren, the second death of Revelations 21:8 refers to the death of unbelievers and those who have not been transformed by being 'born again of the spirit'. The first death for unsaved is spiritual death which is separation from God (Rom 5:12). The second death is the remaining great sadness. It is the death of the unsaved person who had no interest in knowing God and no end other than destruction. The lake of fire, in symbolic and prophetic imagery, is the place where those who have perished BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN CHOICES are disposed of.
Points to ponder
God did not tell anyone in the bible from Adam till when the Law was given through Moses, that they would be judged and burned in Hell for any sin they might commit. They were only told that sin would result in death. Hebrew rabbin have throughout history concluded that all Gentiles had to do to be righteous was to believe in the one true God and obey seven major rules (B'nei Noach)...such as not being immoral, not killing, being generally law abiding, not eating meat with blood or things sacrificed to idols (refer also Acts 15:23-29)
This is plainly illustrated in the situation where Cain killed Abel. He was only told that the soil would not produce for him and that he would be a fugitive and a vagabond for the rest of his life. God even protected him from being killed for this crime. He was certainly not told that he would be raised and judged and burned in Hell and be tormented forever because he had sinned.
It was the Law that brought wrath... Christ bore the wrath of God for the sin of the whole world on the cross. (1 John 2:2)
Now that the Law has been abolished all that remains one sin....
John 16:8 And when He (the Helper) has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. NKJV
Believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit and eternal life... or remain DEAD
The only consequence remaining in the scriptures for people today (apart from the Law which has now been abolished) for the sin of disobeying God ...was DEATH.
John 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." NKJV
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. NKJV
Simply viewed, the dilemma of Adam and Eve was that they were able to be convinced (by the devil) that God's instruction not to eat of the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' was given because He was a despot enforcing rules for His own pleasure and self interest. This was despite the fact that God had only demonstrated LOVE and care for them.... though his creation and provision of all their needs.... and His own personal loving interaction.
What is your view of God?... this will determine your response to Him.
If you feel you have been 'hard done by' and blame God or have just ignored Him ... then REPENT ... change your way thinking about God and respond to His LOVE.
The God who made you is reaching out His hands to you in LOVE.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. NKJV