Is Gehenna Purgatory?

This morning I was reading Matthew 5, when suddenly some things Yeshua said struck me with a totally different meaning.

and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be subject to fiery Gehenna – verse 22

And if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away! It is better for you that one part of your body should be destroyed, than that your whole body be thrown into Gehenna. – verse 30

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away! It is better for you that one part of your body should be destroyed, than that your whole body go into Gehenna. – verse 31

You see, this past weekend our Connections group had a discussion about cremation and the afterlife. In preparation for the discussion, I did some reading on Judaism’s point of view. As with Christianity, there are varying views, but most believe cremation is wrong. There are several reasons behind this belief, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll not delve into the cremation aspect of the discussion.

What intrigued me about Jewish ideas of the afterlife was their take on Gehenna. It sounded a lot like purgatory. Now, not all sects of Judaism have the same belief, but the one that intrigued me (probably because of the similarity to Catholic belief) is that after death, the soul goes to Gehenna for 12 months to be purged of any remaining sin.

With this in mind, Yeshua’s words took on a slightly different meaning. But we can’t simply take these three sentences out of context.

As we read the beginning passage of his teaching on the mount, we hear him say that he did not come to abolish the Torah, that it will stand as long as Heaven and earth do. We hear him say that whoever breaks the least of the commandments, and teaches others to do so, will be called least in the kingdom. Not that they are not getting into the kingdom, but they will be called least. That is significant.

Yeshua then goes on to expound upon some points of Torah, showing us that it is not just about outward appearance of keeping the commandments, but a matter of the heart keeping them.

  • If you are angry with someone, it’s the same as murder
  • If you lust after a woman, it’s the same as adultery

He tells us to get rid of whatever is causing us to stumble, before we leave this earth; to work on what’s inside of us that resists inward obedience to his Torah.

Is Gehenna purgatory? Why wait to find out? Why not listen to his teaching and get rid of those things that cause us to stumble and keep us from obedience to his Word?

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