It is important that we be clear on such matters as judgment and punishment, so it is fortunate indeed that our generation has in hand so much abundant and consistent afterlife evidence. Now we know in considerable detail what actually happens after death. And it is especially wonderful that Jesus clearly also knows what happens after death, and the fact that He so perfectly describes it in Gospels that are two thousand years old is among the most certain proofs of His existence and validity that ever have been found. You will be glad to know that no afterlife researcher of whom we are aware ever has found any evidence that a fiery hell exists. What does exist, though, is what Jesus vividly describes as an outer darkness to which we might end up condemning ourselves if we have a problem with posthumous self-forgiveness.
Let us begin this segment by hearing Jesus tell us yet again that neither He nor God ever judges anyone. Jesus says, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (JN 5:22-23). And on a different day, with different Temple guards listening, He says, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (JN 12:47). We must be diligent, however, in learning to forgive others, and diligent as well in undertaking the harder task of learning to forgive ourselves! As Jesus says, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (MT 7:1-2). And His warning will come into play with special force after our deaths, as we shall shortly see.
With that out of the way, we have first got to deal with the fact that the Gospels do include some references to the word “hell.” In general, though, they are only figures of speech that help Jesus to illustrate His Law of Love, like this one: “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be answerable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be answerable to the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be answerable to the high court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (MT 5:21-23). Jesus isn’t saying here that He Himself believes in a fiery hell, but He knows that His listeners do, and He also knows that it is what the Temple guards will be expecting Him to say. And since the Gospel footnotes often give “Gehenna” as an alternative translation, Jesus may have routinely used that burning trash heap outside the walls of Jerusalem as a stand-in for hell from early in His ministry. In a few cases, too, Jesus uses the word “hell” to taunt the clergy, as when He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one convert; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (MT 23:15). I have to say that every time I reading that last bit it makes me chuckle! You can clearly see what a bane Jesus was to the existence of the clergy wherever He chanced to be teaching. No wonder they could not wait to be rid of Him.
No, there is no fiery hell, and the Gospel evidence tells us that Jesus clearly knows that. There is no judgment by God or by Jesus. But there is indeed what Jesus refers to as an outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, and Jesus mentions it three times in the Book of Matthew. Here is one of them:
And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion, a Roman military officer, came to Him, begging Him, and saying, “Sir, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, terribly tormented.” Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Sir, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Now when Jesus heard this, He was amazed and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very hour” (MT 8:5-13).
In fact, the lowest afterlife level is cold, dark, smelly and disgusting, and it is populated by sadly wailing wraiths who have ended up there because they have been unable during their post-death life reviews to forgive themselves for things that they have done in life. Their inability to forgive themselves has caused their spiritual vibrations gradually to slow, until eventually they have ended up at the lowest afterlife vibrational level. And that Jesus could so accurately describe that place two thousand years ago is a wonderful, flat-out thrilling fact which shouts that Jesus is precisely who He tells us He is!