Mark 9:38-50

What Jesus Says About Hell

We will address three separate issues in the passage this week. First, a practical ministry concern that appears to be born out of a jealous heart of one of the disciples.  Secondly, and most importantly an eternal concern that Jesus puts forth as a stern warning.  And finally, very briefly a discipleship concern.

#1 A Ministry Concern

38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40For the one who is not against us is for us. 41For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. Mark 9:38-41

John brings a ministry concern to Jesus.  John, and his brother James, were given the name the Sons of Thunder (c.f. Mark 3:17).  He was likely a very young man at this point. (We know this because he would go on to write the book of Revelation in the AD 90s).    This is the same John who once asked Jesus if it would be alright for him to call down fire from heaven to consume an uncooperative Samaritan village.  Here he is not asking for fire from heaven, but for support in opposing “unauthorized” ministry.

Apparently there was someone, who in the name of Jesus, was casting out demons, the very thing that some of Jesus’ disciples had tried and failed to do earlier.  John and others were so appalled to see this they actually tried to stop him.  And notice the reason given was that this person was not “following us.”  We might expect John to say that he was not “following you,” meaning Jesus, but he says he was not “following us.”  This man was not part of their exclusive group and so John reasons that he was wrong to cast out demons.  This is a very narrow way to view ministry done by others, thinking that we are the ones the inside and everyone else is on the outside.  John has not learned to differentiate between issues that are core to the faith and issues that are not.  We see this same issue in our day as well, as comedian Emo Philips  illustrates:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!” He said, “Nobody loves me.” I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?” He said, “A Christian.” I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?” He said, “Protestant.” I said, “Me, too! What franchise?” He said, “Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?” He said, “Northern Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.” I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.” I said, “Me, too!”

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

There are many issues over which Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, church-going Christians will disagree.  We must learn to differentiate between what is dogma and what is doctrine; between what is essential and non-negotiable and what is important but not essential.  Many of our differences are not cause to keep us from learning from one another and even ministering with one another.  I have been helped by reading books and listening to messages from those outside my denomination.  It was a blessing in my campus ministry days to partner alongside others who came from different backgrounds, who for instance, had a different view on baptism or spiritual gifts.  This is not to say there are no “lines in the sand” but Jesus clearly says “do not stop him.”  Whoever is not against us is for us.

#2 An Eternal Concern

42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’  Mark 9:42-48

This section is clearly addressed to his disciples.  Notice that there are no editorial comments between verse 41 and verse 42.  Mark does not tell us that Jesus turned from addressing the disciples and then began to speak to the crowds.  This is a sobering warning for Jesus’ followers.

The “little ones” Jesus references here could possibly refer back to the child he embraced in verses 36 and 37 but given the context it is more likely a reference to people like the man in verse 38 who are “little” or young in faith.  Jesus warns his disciples not to cause these little ones to stumble and then begins a teaching on hell.

The church of our day has become quite silent on the topic of hell which is difficult to understand when we remember that the Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone in the Bible and he actually addresses the topic of hell more than even heaven.  If we are to be committed followers of Jesus, we must consider what he has to say about hell.

The word that Jesus uses here for hell is the word gehenna.   The term gehenna is a form of the Hebrew word for the valley of Hinnom.  It was in this valley outside the southern gates of Jerusalem that  human sacrifice was performed in the Old Testament (c.f. 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6).  Under King Josiah’s reforms this practice of human sacrifice was ended.  But Josiah did more than stop this practice, he defiled the Valley of Hinnom apparently by turning it into a garbage heap (c.f. 2 Kings 23:10).  So this garbage heap, which was once the location of human sacrifice, becomes a metaphor the Bible uses to describe the final place of punishment.

Consider what Jesus says to his disciples about hell:

(1) Hell is a place of torment that is worse than anything we could experience on earth.  

Jesus relates the horror of hell to some dreadful things we might experience on earth.  The disciples were likely familiar with the first scenario Jesus described, having a millstone tied around one’s neck and being thrown into the sea, as this was practiced by the Romans as a form of capital punishment.  He then goes to describe self-mutilation, cutting off your hand, foot, or eye.  Notice in each of these cases he says that it would be better to endure this pain than to be cast into hell.  Hell is worse than anything we could ever experience on earth.  We sometimes hear people say that “I went through hell to get here,” or “My suffering was like hell.”  None of these statements are true.  Hell is infinitely worse than anything we could experience on earth.

(2) Sin is the reason someone is cast into hell.

Jesus makes the connection between sin and hell very clear.  If you cause a little one to sin, it will be better for you to be punished now than to face eternal punishment.  If you yourself sin, it is better for you to suffer now than to endure the flames of hell which will never die.  Sin is clearly the reason someone is cast into hell.  No one is sent to hell because of ignorance.  Though this is sometimes suggested by those attacking the Christian faith.  It is not someone’s ignorance of the Gospel or Jesus but their willful sin against a holy God that condemns them to hell.

People tend to think that what is wrong with them is a problem that is found outside of themselves.  Their problem, they say, is the world or others or something else.  It is an alien problem.  The answer, they insist, is to look deep within themselves.   Notice that Jesus turns this thinking upside down.  What is wrong with you is you!  If your hand or your eye or your foot, causes you to sin, cut it off!  Our problem is within ourselves and the answer is found outside of ourselves.  We need an alien righteousness to fix our internal problem.

(3) Hell is final and eternal.  

I am not sure how anyone can read these words of Jesus and come away thinking that hell is anything but the final and eternal punishment suffered by the wicked.  Jesus describes hell as an “unquenchable fire.”  He refers to Isaiah 66:24 and says that hell is “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  This is a sobering teaching from the lips of Jesus.  Some well meaning Christians have discounted this teaching.  Rather than holding to what Jesus teaches here that hell is without end, some hold to the view that the wicked will simply be annihilated, they will simply cease to exist.  Certainly this would be a wonderful act of God’s mercy — if it were supported by the Bible! Jesus clearly teaches here that the fires of hell will never be extinguished.  Annihilationism has no support in this passage.

#3 A Discipleship Concern

49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  Mark 9:49-50

These last two verses are quite puzzling.  Jesus seems to turn from teaching on the fires of hell to teaching on the fires of discipleship.  To experience fire is not always a bad thing.  The Bible says that fire can be used to purify us.  This seems to be the context here.  In Leviticus 2:13 God instructs his people to salt their grain offerings.  Before the offering was given to the flames it was salted.  This might help us to understand Jesus’ saying here that everyone will be salted with fire.  We are told salt is good and it should retain its essential characteristics of saltiness. Retaining our saltiness means we live at peace with one another.  Taken together these verses are a call to the disciples of Christ to be purified with fire and to be true to the calling Jesus has given.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do John and Jesus see the man casting out demons differently?
  2. Why does Jesus not stop the man from casting out demons?
  3. Can you relate to John’s attitude here?  Why can it sometimes be difficult to be glad about the ministry of others?
  4. Who are the “little ones” in verse 42?  Why such a severe punishment for causing them to sin?
  5. Do you think Jesus means for us to literally cut off our hand, eye, or foot?  Why or why not?  If not, how do we apply these verses to our life?
  6. What does this passage teach us about the seriousness of sin?  How might this passage challenge someone who views sin simply as “brokenness” or a “spiritual disease”?
  7. What does this passage reveal about hell?  What misconceptions about hell does this passage correct?
  8. Why do you think Jesus speaks more about hell than anyone else in the Bible?
  9. Discuss the meaning of verses 49 and 50.  What do you think fire represents here?  What do you think salt represents?
  10. What is one thing you want to be sure to remember from this passage?


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