About fifteen centuries before Christ, the Israelites were led into the Sinai Wilderness where they received the Law of Moses. Included in these guidelines were prohibitions against following after false gods, particularly Molech (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). Molech was an Ammonite deity served by burning children alive as human sacrifices. When I read these regulations, I can’t help but wonder why God’s people, or anyone else for that matter, would have to be told not to do this! But the Lord, in his infinite wisdom and foreknowledge, determined that it was necessary for such warnings to be issued.After four decades in the wilderness, when the Israelites entered, conquered, and inhabited the land of Canaan, the territory was divided among the twelve tribes. Within Judah’s allotment the city of Jerusalem was established, to the west of which was a valley called ben Hinnom or the Valley of the Son (or Children) of Hinnom (Joshua 15:8; 18:16). For the next five centuries Israel thrived in the Promised Land, reaching the pinnacle of her national glory under the leadership of King David and on into the reign of his son Solomon.
Unfortunately Solomon was not the man after God’s own heart that his father was (1 Kings 9:4; 11:4), and among his numerous transgressions was the setting aside of a place of worship for Molech (1 Kings 11:7). It is unlikely that Solomon ever envisioned the horrific atrocities that would occur once these flood gates were opened, but within the next couple of centuries Solomon’s own descendants were offering their children to Molech as burnt sacrifices (2 Chronicles 28:1-3; 33:1-6). Fifty years ago, at least among most civilized nations, who would have imagined that the mass killing of unborn babies in government-financed abortion clinics would be approved by society’s mainstream and demanded as an intrinsic right of pregnant mothers?!
The place where the Jews committed these abominations was called Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom (Jeremiah 7:31). The name Topheth is believed to have come from the Hebrew toph (meaning "drum"), seeing that drums were used to drown out the torturous cries of the burning children. As God’s Law was ignored and neglected for generations, such heinous sins became commonplace among the Jewish people.
Then around 622 BC, when the Book of the Law was rediscovered in the temple, King Josiah set forth to bring about repentance and to restore pure religion. Among his many reforms was the defilement of Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom (2 Kings 23:10), desecrating the hallowed place with unclean things to render it unfit for any kind of religious activity. From that time onward the valley became a refuse dump for putrid waste, rotting animal carcasses, decaying corpses of executed criminals, and all manner of filth. It was a place where fires burned continually in the futile attempt to deplete the amassing mountains of garbage and to mask the horrid stench.
Fast forward to the time of Christ. In Mark 9:42-48 three times the Lord graphically emphasizes the importance of ridding oneself of whatever leads to sin in order to avoid ending up in the place he describes as Gehenna (Greek geenna). While this term is rendered in most English versions as "hell," it is derived from the Aramaic Gēhannā and its Hebrew equivalent Ge Hinnom, meaning "Valley of Hinnom." Similar to picturing heaven with the most beautiful and precious things known to man (e.g. Revelation 21:11-21), the Lord portrays the destination of the wicked with imagery familiar to his listening audience. The most disgusting place imaginable was the rubbish dump outside of Jerusalem, with its decomposing cadavers covered in maggots ("where their worm does not die") and its perpetual smoldering ("and the fire is not quenched").
Other biblical descriptions of hell include, "eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence" (2 Thessalonians 1:9); "furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42a, 50a); "outer darkness" (Matthew 8:12a; 25:30a); "the wailing and the gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12b; 13:42b, 50b; 25:30b); "everlasting fire/punishment" (Matthew 25:41, 46); "vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7); "tormented in fire and sulphur," "the smoke of their torment forever and ever goes up," "no rest day and night," "the lake of fire burning with sulphur," and "tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 14:10-11; 19:20; 20:10, 15).1 As horrible and as terrifying as these images seem, there are other despicable things about hell not specifically mentioned in scripture but certainly implied.
One of the worst things about hell is that it is a place where there are no children. In fact, both before and after Christ’s warning about Gehenna (Mark 9:43-48), children were the topic of discussion. In Mark 9:33-37 Jesus teaches his disciples an important lesson about meekness and humility by taking a small child in his arms and saying, "Whoever receives one of these children in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, not only receives me but the one having sent me." Then in Mark 10:13-16 the Lord seizes another opportunity to impart a similar object lesson. Upset by the disciples having rebuked certain ones for bringing young children to be blessed by him, Jesus says, "Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for of such is the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child, by no means will enter into it."
The Lord obviously considers children to be the epitome of spiritual purity, innocence, humility, eagerness to learn, receptivity, trust, and among the best examples of what it means to be nonjudgmental. During the Croatian War of Independence in the early 1990s, there was a television commercial depicting two boys in a room (a Croat and a Serb) sitting on either end of a sofa. It didn’t take long for the youngsters to start looking at each other, then talking and moving closer together, and finally laughing and playing together. By the end of the one-minute scene they were the best of friends, while their adult family members and neighbors were at war. No further comment necessary.
I have always loved children. But when my wife and I had our own, it gave me a whole new perspective. Most of us understand the joy that comes into a family when a child is born or adopted (cf. Luke 1:14; John 16:21). As we "receive the kingdom of God as a child," are we not to be harbingers of joy? (John 15:11; 16:24; 17:13; Acts 8:8, 39; 15:3). There is nothing more peaceful than a sleeping baby. I remember all the stress and anxiety in my life disappearing whenever I held one of my infant daughters as she slept. "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9; cf. Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14). We also learn patience from our little ones. Most parents have to admit that we are much more patient now than before we had kids. While the Bible tells us to be patient (1 Corinthians 13:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14), our children teach us to be patient (see Love is Patient).
What about crying babies and noisy youngsters in the worship assemblies? I must confess that I am more sympathetic and less distracted now than I was before having my own kids. I really appreciate conscientious parents who understand the importance of nurturing their children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). What an encouragement to see entire families (little ones included) regularly attending church services. We could probably have a quieter environment with fewer disturbances if we banned all the children from coming to church, but I’m pretty sure the Lord would not approve of such an alternative!
"And [God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain . . . . But as for the cowardly, unbelieving, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, these will have their part in the lake burning with fire and sulphur, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:4, 8).
Heaven will be filled with children, including all those sacrificed to pagan gods, all who have been slaughtered in abortion clinics, all who have been stillborn, and all who have died from accident, sickness, or abuse. Yes, heaven will be full of children, but not a single one will be in hell. Where do you want to spend eternity?
–Kevin L. Moore
1 Scripture quotations in English are the author’s own translation.
Related articles: Stan Mitchell's Is there a Hell?
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