Jesus warns, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Matt 10:28). The Greek word for “destroy” (ἀπόλλυμι) denotes loss of life (i.e., death; Matt 2:13; 10:39; 26:52; 27:20), which indicates that Gehenna (commonly translated “hell”) consumes those who enter it. The imagery in Matthew 25 of a fire that brings the “punishment” of death underscores the destruction in 10:28 (cf. 25:41; Isa 66:24; click here for more on this imagery). Yet, while Yeshua describes a place of obliterative judgment where people cease to exist, he also alludes to the lawless being “thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:42, 50). This description seems to suggest that those in the fire remain conscious and emotive. Careful textual analysis can resolve this apparent contradiction: the fire destroys both the body and soul, but there is weeping and gnashing of teeth prior to destruction.

According to Matthew, Jesus says that “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” in a “furnace of fire” (κάμινον τοῦ πυρός; káminon tou puros; 13:42, 50). More often, the forum for this eschatological emotionality is “outer darkness” (σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον; skótos tò exóteron; 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Both images describe the same reality, and the “outer darkness” can clarify the “fiery furnace.” In Matthew, “darkness” (σκότος; skótos) is a metaphor for impending death or destruction. First, the Gospel cites Isaiah: “The people dwelling in darkness (σκότος) have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death (σκιᾷ θανάτου), on them a light has dawned” (Matt 4:16; cf. Isa 9:1 LXX). Jesus’ ministry saves those who sit under looming death. Second, the Sermon on the Mount uses “darkness” to illustrate miserliness with earthly treasures that “moth and rust destroy” (6:19-23). Finally, before Jesus’ death “there was darkness over all the land” (27:45) and, shortly thereafter, Yeshua “yielded up his spirit” (27:50). Where there is darkness, death is not far behind. Thus, when Matthew mentions “weeping and gnashing” in outer “darkness,” readers should envision the despair that occurs just before destruction in Gehenna. By extension, the same scenario should be true of the “weeping and gnashing” at the fiery furnace: just before death, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In Luke, Jesus confirms that “weeping and gnashing of teeth” happen before the unrighteous enter Gehenna. Anticipating his end-time words to the rebellious, Yeshua declares, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you [are] being cast out” (13:27-28; cf. Matt 8:11-12). The Greek word for “being cast out” (ἐκβαλλομένους; ekballoménous) describes presently occurring action: as these people are in the process of departing from divine presence, they cry and grind their teeth when they see the righteous in God’s increasingly distant kingdom. The outcasts weep and gnash on their way to hell, not inside of it. According to Matthew, after this expression of emotion the expelled are extinguished (10:28); no one continues to kvetch once they get to Gehenna. Insofar as Luke illuminates Matthew, the Gospels present a coherent picture of an eschatological exit in which sorrow and anger—“weeping and gnashing of teeth”—precede decisive death on the outskirts of eternal life.

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44 COMMENTS

  1. Dr. Schaser, Could these various descriptions be metaphors Jesus used to create a mental picture of a place away from God? It seems these are pictures of VERY undesiarale places, which is a description of a place without God.

    • Thanks for your question, Gene. Metaphor is a favorite literary device of biblical authors that is likely operative on some level in the descriptions of negative experience in the afterlife, and the primary force of the rhetoric is to express a “place away from God.” At the same time, Gehenna is based on an earthly model (the Valley of Ben Hinnom) — a place of fiery child sacrifice. See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/does-hell-exist/ Thus, metaphor does not preclude verisimilitude.

  2. Wow! Thus Hell=Resurrection of BILLIONS of DEAD humans by the Lord of hosts(spirits) just to have the pleasure of killing them again? Or does the word means the PERMANENT separation-alienation of rebelious SPIRITS? 4 they CAN’T burn nor die being essentially energy and not biological…? ULTIMATELY It’s all SPIRITUAL… Beware of Bible’s metaphors!

    • Physical resurrection was a fundamental tenet of early Judaism; the ancient texts envision actual, bodily resurrection of the dead. See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/happens-death-resurrection/ and https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/proving-the-resurrection/ More, divine beings can die (cf. Ps 82:6-7) and spirits have bodies (they are not just ephemeral “energy”). See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/can-spirit-body/ God, however, does not take “pleasure” in any death (cf. Ezek 18:32; 33:11). Finally, since Gehenna is based on a real place (the Valley of Ben Hinnom), metaphor should not preclude actuality. See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/does-hell-exist/

      • Divine beings? Jesus himself read much less than you in Ps 82,6. Jn 10:35 ‘If he calls them “gods” to whom the word of God came…’ The whole point of Jesus is that Scripture applies the word “gods” to non divine beings!!! mere humans!!! Or do you know Scripture better than Jesus? Get real!

        • This comment does not reflect a proper understanding of Ps 82:6, nor of Jesus’ reference to it in Jn 10:34-36. The addressees in Psalm 82 are divine beings; Jesus highlights these gods in order to contextualize his own self-referential use of “Son of God.” See Michael Heiser’s many articles, videos, and podcasts on how Ps 82 functions in John 10.

          • I will check the references. Probably some more twists. So there exist multiple “divine beings”! Yesterday the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. So if I understand you well, it should say Holy Multinity instead! Hmmmm…

          • No, that is a misunderstanding of the biblical claim. For ancient Jews, one God — the God of Israel — is to be worshipped. Later Christian tradition, somewhat unhelpfully, adopted a Latin term, “Trinity,” for a God who’s described in Hebrew and Greek texts. Other gods also exist along with, and in subordination to, the God of Israel. The existence of many gods is one of the most basic presuppositions of biblical theology. See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/is-there-no-other-god/ and https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/sorting-sons-god/

          • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

          • Ok,I listened to an audio from Heiser. He-just-displaced-the-problem. The-“gods”-referred-to-in-Ps-82-may-be-more-than-human,but-they-are-certainly-not-“divine-beings”.Jesus-says-as-much-when-he-pointed-out-the-character-borderline-weird-of-this-scripture-passage:”it-can’t-be-abrogated”,meaning-if-you-take-it-at-face-value,it-should-be-abrogated!!!Heiser’s-mistake,and-yours-imho,is-not-allowing-for-the-evolving-historical-consciousness-of-Israel.Yes,in-the-beginning-it-was-a-monolatry: YHWH is-the-god-of-Israel,but-there-exist-other-gods.But-later-monolatry-turned-into-monotheism.Not-to-take-this-historical-process-into-account-leads-to-mythical-interpretations.

          • There is no evidence for “monotheism” in the Hebrew Bible, and affirmations of multiple deities appear throughout the New Testament. It may be helpful to know that Greek writers (like the NT authors) use the word “demon” to refer to “foreign god”; both Jews and Gentiles define “demon” in this way (e.g., Matt 12:24; Acts 17:18). See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/beelzebul-prince-demons/ and https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/is-there-only-one-god/

          • Anyway-Jesus’s-intention-was-to-remove-the-debate-from-the-level-of-mere-words-to-concentrate-on-his-observable-and-obvious-actions.Like-when-he-said:”But-so-that-you-may-know-that-the-Son-of-Man-has-the-power-to-forgive-sin”,then-he-said-to-the-paralytic-man:”Take-your-mat-and-go-home”.Jesus-was-saying-to-his-detractors:my-actions-speak-louder-than-Ps-82:-I-am-God. And I-maintain,the-“gods”-of-Ps-82-are-not-“divine-beings”.

          • In future, please refrain from using hyphens between each word; they are unnecessary, as the above comment is within the word limit. If you have a comment that exceeds the word limit, our email information is available on the website. You are free to maintain any exegetical position, but evidence outweighs assertion.

  3. The Smoke of Their Torment Rises for Ever and Ever Revelation 14:9-11 The Lake of Fire where they will be tormented day and night forever and ever Revelation 20:10, 14-15 Jude 7 Punishment of Eternal Fire

    • Jude 1:7 describes punishment at Sodom, in which the fire is eternal but the people therein are destroyed. See https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/what-happens-to-the-goats/ The “they” in Revelation 20 doesn’t refer to humanity, but to Satan (a divine being) and the beast and false prophet who are closely associated with Satan and unclean spirits (see Rev 16:13). Thus, to use Rev 20 as evidence for human experience is tenuous. Rev 14 draws on the same Sodom imagery as does Jude, though the torment may extend eternally; if it does, readers are left with one apocalyptic and esoteric verse in the entire New Testament that alludes to eternal human torment in hell. Hanging one’s eschatology on one verse is interpretively injudicious.

  4. First and foremost Malachi tells us they will be ashes. No Loving God who does not want to lose even 1 could concieve of burning anybody forever. Yet He must in love remove them from their miserable state

    • Thanks for the Malachi contribution, Alan (Mal 4:3 [English] or Mal 3:19 [Hebrew] for those interested in reading the reference).

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

    • Alan….the verse you are referring to regarding God not wishing to lose any…refers to the Christians that he has regenerated, saved through the blood of the Lamb….not those that are destined to eternal separation from God. If God wanted everyone to be saved, they would all be saved. Man cannot thrwart the desires of God in any manner.

  5. In the light of what you have said, what does Mark 9:48 mean? where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched…

  6. But what about the rich man and Lazerith? The rich man was in a hot place. He asked Lazerith to dip his finger in water and to give it to him.

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    • Since there is no life in the grave this must be after the 1000 year reigh where Abraham and the beggar has been resurrected then the Judgement when the rest of the dead are also resurrected and judged knowing their fate, The point is no way for both to comunicate as the gulf is to wide

  7. If the wicked are taked from the last judgement and cast screaming into the lake of fire and eventually burned up so as to exist no more, how come Revelation 14 says they will be “tormented with fire and sulfur … And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night …” v10-11? Rev 20:10 indicates this is a place of endless torment, “day and night for ever and ever.”

    • Revelation 20 doesn’t refer to human beings, but to Satan (a divine being) along with the beast and false prophet who are closely associated with Satan and unclean spirits (see Rev 16:13); thus, the fate of these demonic forces shouldn’t serve as a model for general human experience. Rev 14:10-11 is complex: the language draws on Sodom and Gomorrah (whose inhabitants were annihilated), but also refers to ongoing lack of “rest” for “those who worship the beast.” Babylon (Rome) receives the same fate (cf. 14:8; 18:2) and the “beast” represents Nero (13:18; see https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/666-or-616/), so the ongoing torment seems to be for Roman leadership and beneficiaries. Even if Rev 14 applies universally, readers are left with one verse in the entire New Testament that alludes to eternal human torment in hell. From an interpretive perspective, hanging one’s eschatological convictions on one verse is exegetically injudicious.

  8. Jesus’ parable in Mat 25:14-30 and his warning in Lk 12:47,48 concern the final judgement, when each will receive according to their works. Jesus indicates that there will be degrees of rewards and also degrees of punishment, also suggested by Heb 10:29. If the unrighteousl are simply carted off to the fire to be burned up, how is the punishment varied?

    • Matt 25:14-30 and Heb 10:29 don’t describe gradations of punishment for the most unrighteous figures in the passages. In Luke 12, the variations in chastisement are for those who enter the kingdom, not those who end up in Gehenna. Matthew’s man with one talent gets cast into the outer darkness (25:30) and those who “trample the Son of God underfoot” (Heb 10:29) receive the punishment of “fire that will consume the adversaries” (10:27). The same is true of Luke’s unrighteous servant: he’s “cut up into pieces” (12:46). These instances represent various descriptions of destruction in Gehenna; none of these figures enters the kingdom of God.

      • OK, now I am confused. To be truthful, this is a topic that has confused me for a long time. You say the man with one talent entered the kingdom. But he did not use that talent to enrich the master, so he is cast in with the AC and ha’satan to be tormented. And the Roman leadership ends up there as well. Can we assume those leaders represent pure evil, and men like Hitler, Stalin, and others of their ilk will be there as well? Yet this poor servant who hurt no one, but did not work for his master will be there with them. Hard to see the justification for that. And how do they evter the kingdom if they are evil?

        • Thanks for your questions, Daniel. The man with one talent does not enter the kingdom. See above: “Matthew’s man with one talent gets cast into the outer darkness (25:30).” The servants with five and two talents make it in (25:20-23), but the servant with one talent dies outside the kingdom. The way I presented my answer above may have caused confusion, so I’ve reorganized the comment for clarity. If “AC” stands for “Antichrist,” Revelation doesn’t use the term; the dragon (Satan), the beast (Nero/Rome; and likely those who worship the beast, though it’s not 100% clear), and the false prophet are tormented eternally. Unlike Revelation, nothing in Matthew describes eternal conscious torment, so the servant with one talent dies in Gehenna. I can’t “assume” anything that the text doesn’t explicate (and, as a rule, I would caution against certainty based on one verse in Revelation) but whatever happens to 20th-century tyrants won’t be good.

  9. thank you for such enlightenment. So few Christians see this truth. Our God is good and though has to pass judgement He is still merciful even to the wicked and does end their punishment.

    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!

  10. If we consider a historical-narrative approach to the Gospels, is it possible that verses like this don’t refer to the afterlife at all, but to warnings about the judgment and destruction of Israel and its citizens through the Roman legions in AD 70 in keeping with the Olivet Discourse? I fear we often spiritualize such texts without due consideration of the historical-narrative context first.

    • Thanks for your question, John. While this reading is not uncommon among NT scholars, the limitation to 70 CE is problematic. Matthew’s “weeping and gnashing” occurs at “the end of the age” (13:49-50) when “all the nations are gathered” for judgment (25:32)–not just Jerusalem/Israel being judged under Rome. For the “end” to come, the gospel needs to be “proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” (24:14), which hadn’t happened by 70. More, the authors of Matthew and Luke write after 70, so they would not have understood the “weeping and gnashing” (language that only they use) referring to something that already happened in 70. To the contrary, both writers refer to “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” being present (Matt 8:11-12; Lk 13:27-28), which denotes a time after these figures’ resurrection (cf. Matt 22:29-32; Lk 20:24-28). The attempt to historicize and temporally delimit Jesus’ eschatology to 70 misses the weight of ancient Jewish beliefs in physical resurrection, judgment, and Gehenna as supernatural, postmortem phenomena.

  11. So the beast(Nero)and the false prophet are the only humans who suffer forever with Satan and his angels in hell? How nice.Why stop there?Why not extend the merciful annihilation to all of them?

  12. Based on # of comments in such a brief time since it was posted, 6/2/20, indicates what a sensitive nerve it hit, Dr. Schaser. I appreciate & have read other posts on related topics you cited. Frankly, it seems the “weeping & gnashing of teeth” begins before death in a literal sense. The postmortem part still leaves me wondering to such a degree, that even w/study/analysis of the texts, different words, I can only wait, see, hope, for God’s judgement, but esp., mercy. Again, I appreciate your tackling these tough topics.

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