I highly recommend the newly released book, The Sermon on the Mount. My family is using it as our daily devotional. This commentary by RJ Rushdoony rightly identifies this most famous sermon as a covenantal declaration from Jesus Christ as to who will reign in history. Here is a sampling from the chapter on hell.
Hell is not a popular subject; few people like to remember that it is mentioned even in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:22, our Lord speaks of “hell fire,” or, literally, the hell of fire. What does hell mean?
There are several references to hell by our Lord in the Gospels, and one by James (3:6). The word translated as hell is Gehenna, the Greek form of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or the Valley of Hinnom. Gehenna was notorious from Old Testament times; it was a valley where the sacrifice of children took place. King Josiah formally desecrated the place, to make it polluted for any such pagan religious practices (2 Kings 23:10). It was known also as Tophet. As a result, it became Jerusalem’s city dump; trash, dead animals, filth, and refuse were cast into the valley. The burning trash piles sent up a constant cloud of smoke, and the valley became a type of the life of the reprobate or damned.
To understand what hell is, therefore, we must see the meaning of Gehenna. A trash dump is the place of irrelevant and meaningless items. What cannot be used because it is useless is consigned to a refuse pile. Hell is thus the habitation of all who are determined to be useless to God. Whatever their opinion of themselves, if they are useless to God, they go into His cosmic trash pile. God’s righteousness or justice is the criterion of usefulness to God, and God’s righteousness is incarnate in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Things in a trash pile have no meaningful relationship one to another. In a normal house, all things have a place and a relationship in terms of the over-all life of the home. In a refuse dump, all things are meaningless; they are discarded because they are useless and meaningless. There is no common meaning, nor any meaning. There is no communication in hell, because there is no community of meaning. Every man, as his own god, lives in his own private universe; each speaks his own language of egocentricity and self-deification, and hence every man is all alone in hell. Hell is an endless monologue in an empty room by legions of empty men.
Our Lord speaks of “the hell of fire.” Fire burns and consumes. The Valley of Hinnom was a place of corruption, worms, rats, and fire; each of these in its own way meant the destruction of trash.
The inhabitants of hell are in the heaven of their own choosing. Each is his own god and universe. For them, there are none now to contradict their will: they can say eternally, My will be done! No fire, however, burns more bitterly than the fires of guilt and egocentricity. Man in the isolation of hell cannot grow: he consumes himself endlessly. The redeemed, however, both in this world and in the world to come, have community and growth. Because they know themselves to be God’s creatures, saved by His grace, they know the truth of Paul’s words:
7. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.We then have God’s plenty to grow on, and His law-word to live by. The denizens of hell have the paltry and stinking world of their own soul.
8. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the
Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. (Rom. 14:7–8)
The reprobate want themselves and their will, and hell gives it to them eternally. This is their judgment.*
* RJ Rushdoony, The Sermon on the Mount (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009), 49.