Hell (pt. 2): Protection or Punishment?

A few weeks back I started writing some thoughts on hell. We discussed that Scripture is more the story of heaven and earth, not heaven and hell. The whole story is not to escape earth for heaven but to reconcile the two by fighting the hell here on earth.

Today, let’s turn our attention to Jesus and hell.

If you’re reading the New Testament the chances are whenever you read the word “hell” it was translated from the Greek word “Gehenna” which was a place you could MapQuest and then go to, though I’m not sure you would have liked it.

Gehenna (called “the Valley on Hinnom” in the O.T.) existed outside the city of Jerusalem (the city where God’s people lived) and it was noted for two reasons:

  1. It was a place of idolatry where the people of God went to cheat on him.
  2. It was a place of injustice where children were sacrificed to false gods.

Gehenna wasn’t exactly crushing it on Trip Advisor.

Gehenna was marked by infidelity towards God and injustice towards one another.

When Jesus was talking about hell he was referencing kicking sin (and those who willfully commit it) out of his city to a location where people could do as they please essentially handing the rebels over to their rebellion.

But that rebellion is not welcomed in his city.

That’s an interesting look at hell.

Hell exists outside the city God has prepared for his people, a place of Shalom – God’s peace. Even the very name Jerusalem (Yeru-shalom) means “the shalom of God”.

However, sin and rebellion are not content to live on their own. They want into the city. Gehenna/hell is in direct opposition to Jerusalem. Sin wants to corrupt what belongs to God. It wants to burn his city to the ground.

This is why when God shows up sin is cast outside the city so that those inside can experience God’s beautiful and redemptive purposes and shalom.

As the biblical narrative continues we read of a New Jerusalem which has the new shalom of God. It stands at the center of the world with gates wide open and the city offers peace and protection.

Though the city is open it is closed to sin with a “no entrance” sign posted.


My old thinking was that hell was to punish sinners but that follows the idea God creates hell to punish people. This can make some believe that God enjoys the punishment.

It is for protection, not punishment.

Inside the city God’s love is felt as his redemptive glory, but to the invaders it is experienced as a protective fire.

God keeps sin out so that his work may be completed and so that we may experience shalom here on earth and in eternity.

This paradigm shift can bring us great joy as we seek to join God on his mission to reconcile heaven and earth!


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