In Matthew 10, Jesus encourages his disciples to move into the world and offer the gifts of God – healing the sick, raising the dead, and generally giving of themselves freely as they have received from God. This, he says, is the way God’s kingdom becomes present among the world.
He warns them, however, to expect opposition – people who are in positions of religious and political power who will not like this, and who will even encourage betrayal from family and friends. In spite of this opposition, Jesus assures the disciples that there is no need for fear of those people who are in power. In fact, he assures them that God will come and deal with those who reject his Kingdom. Moving the kingdom forward without fear of the powers that be is a critical theme in this discourse.
In connection with that theme, Jesus says this:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Ghenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
I do not think that Jesus’ purpose here is to threaten the disciples with destruction in Ghenna. In fact, he seems to be saying that – quite the opposite – God has great concern for their well being. Instead, I think Jesus is saying that God should be feared because he is capable of dealing with those powers that oppose representatives of his kingdom.
Even if you are convinced Jesus is somehow threatening the disciples with Ghenna, however, notice what he says happens in Ghenna: body and soul are destroyed. In Matthew 10, then, the purpose of Ghenna is not to maliciously torment people for eternity, but to put an end to those who oppose (or possibly who refuse to advance) God’s kingdom. In other words, Ghenna serves the purpose of “putting out into the trash heap” those who stand in the way of God’s movement to bring healing and life to the world.
More to come.