Mark 9:42–48 Jesus mentions hell three times in this passage to underscore the severity of sin. His warning includes both those who cause others to sin (v. 42) and those who yield to temptation (vv. 43–48). Jesus implies that hell is a fate worse than drowning, a death the Jews particularly feared (v. 42). Because hell is so dreadful, Jesus’ warnings against sin are severe. In fact, the agony of plucking out one’s own eyes or sawing off one’s own limbs is preferable to a place where, as Jesus quotes from the final words of Isaiah, “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (v. 48; cf. Isa. 66:24). Jesus’ suggestions are figurative in the sense that he is well aware that sin begins in the heart (Mark 7:14–23), and he is not advocating actual self-mutilation as the cure. Hateful and lustful thoughts are still murder and adultery even if we lack the arms or legs to commit the physical acts (Matt. 5:21–30)! However, Jesus’ rhetoric in no way questions the reality of hell or eternal punishment, the unavoidable reality of which drives his point: take whatever measures you must to stop sinning, even if those measures require excruciating repentance, honesty, and humiliation. Some have argued that the sufferings of hell are not everlasting, that those God’s justice has condemned will eventually cease to exist. But Jesus uses Isaiah to make plain that the fire of hell, and the pain such fire brings, will never cease.
Theology for Life—Jesus’ words are so severe not simply because he wants us to avoid hell, but because he wants us to “enter life,” “the kingdom of God” (Mark 9:43–47). Heaven and eternal communion with our Savior are worth the pains of mortifying sin in this life. The apostle Paul encourages us: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).