“You travel over land and sea to win a single convert ..." (Matthew 23:15)

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15)

Who did Jesus say 'travel over land and sea'?

Over the centuries, missionaries have traveled by boat and by land, and now by air to distant locations to convert those of other beliefs to their particular sect. By Jesus’ statement, we know this was also taking place in those times among the institutional temple sects.

We can draw many inferences about Jesus' statement with regard to some of the missionary expeditions launched by sectarian institutions including the Roman Catholic Church over the centuries.

If we consider these missionary efforts over the centuries, we find that not all were intended to pass on Jesus' teachings. Many of these supposed followers often incorporated violence and intimidation to convert natives in foreign lands. This was often followed by those lands being taken from native populations. As a result, over the centuries, many native cultures have become lost or severely diminished.

Unbeknownst to many of these missionaries, some of these native cultures also worshiped the Supreme Being in their own unique manner. For example, we find many North American Native tribes honored The Great Spirit.

While there may have been those who sincerely wanted to bring Jesus’ teachings to others, there were many others who simply sought glorification from claiming to have converted many.

Many of these 'travels' resulted in the slaughter of thousands of people for the sake of supposedly saving them. Does murdering innocent native people in the name of a particular sect or philosophy save them? Surely burning and pillaging native villages does not save them from hell - it brings them hell.

Was this pleasing to Jesus? Certainly not. As we can see from Jesus' statement, conversion can also be condemned, depending upon who is doing the converting and how it is done.

What did he mean by 'a son of hell as you are'?

Jesus confirms that these 'missions' of these institutional temple priests were worthless, and their converts become as lost as they are. This is confirmed by the Greek phrase υἱὸν γεέννης, which has been incorrectly translated to "son of hell."

The more appropriate translation for υἱὸν γεέννης would be a follower of those who will suffer.

The word υἱὸν has been incorrectly translated as son. While υἱὸν can mean 'son' in the context of a father and his physical son, this is not the correct context. This context indicates the translation, as confirmed by the Greek lexicon, υἱὸν should be "used to describe one who depends on another or is his follower." So a person who becomes converted by one of these hypocritical Pharisees, becomes one of their followers.

The next word in the phrase is γεέννης. γεέννης has been translated to "hell," and this is not altogether wrong, but Jesus' concept of hell should be clarified.

The Greek word γεέννης, transliterated as 'geenna,' is an allegorical reference to a location south of Jerusalem in the valley of Hinnom, called 'Gehenna.' Here there were ghastly sacrifices of children and animals to an idol called Moloch. The animals and children were thrown into the fire.

This place and its practice were abhorred by the local people, and they used a reference to this as a place of suffering, where people followed a demoniac god and suffered as a result. Therefore, this place (Gehenna) became referred to allegorically as a place of suffering. This has since been expanded to mean some kind of underworld.

Many people have been lulled into a concept prognosticated by sectarian teachers that hell is an underground world where a fiery devil named satan lives and tortures people who are chained up on cavern walls. This imaginative teaching has even been taken to the extent that the entrance to hell is through volcanoes.

This has been proven wrong by those who have explored volcanoes, and by those who have drilled many miles deep into the surface of the earth. There are no caverns where people are being chained to walls and tortured.

So where is hell then?

Hell is right here. We are living in hell. The question is to what extent we are suffering in hell. This physical dimension simultaneously supports relative degrees of hell, depending upon our past activities.

Do we think that a person who is starving is not in hell? Is a woman who is repeatedly raped at gunpoint not in hell? How about a person in the grips of war? Are they not in hell? How about someone being tortured or murdered in a Holocaust? Are they not experiencing hell? Or how about someone in prison, subjected to being beaten or raped? Are these circumstances not hellish enough?

Many other species of living organisms are also living in hell - some even worse than these. Consider a small mouse who lives in a house with a big cat. The mouse is constantly in fear, being chased by this gigantic (monster-like) cat with huge teeth, who eventually catches it with its long nails and rips it apart in a gruesome death. Is the mouse not in hell? How about a bug in constant fear that he will get snagged by the gigantic tongue of a frog? Is the fly not living in hell?

All of these circumstances, to one degree or another, are hellish. Why? Because they are wrought with fear, pain and suffering.

Have we sinned in a previous lifetime?

The question is whether our life in the physical world is the result of actions taken in a previous lifetime. Consider this question, asked of Jesus by his disciples:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:1)
Why did Jesus’ disciples (note multiple disciples) ask this question? This question was very logical because some people are born normal and others with deficiencies. Why is one person born blind they asked? Why is one person born in more fortunate circumstances than another person?

The question arose from an understanding of Jesus’ teachings. At one point Jesus said to someone:
Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14)
In other words, they understood that there were consequences for sinning.

And in this case, Jesus' disciples assumed that before the man was born, he had the ability to sin, and this sin caused his current suffering.

In order to have the ability to sin, the man must have had a previous physical body. Why? Because as Jesus also taught that sinning was an activity executed through the flesh. In other words, the person must have had a prior physical body in order to have sinned before he was born.

Note also that Jesus did not ridicule or criticize this question. He accepted it. He did not say, “that cannot happen.” What he said was:
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me.” (John 9:2)
In other words, Jesus accepted that a person could suffer in his next life from sins of the past life. This means that we do have previous lifetimes.

This is also confirmed here in Matt. 23:15, as Jesus confirms that the Pharisees will suffer, and so will their converts. Jesus is not threatening a fictitious place called hell. He is simply telling them that they and their followers will suffer in the future for what they are doing now.

Does he mean they will suffer during this lifetime? That would be impractical, since they were living within a system that continued to support their practices. Therefore, Jesus could only be referring to a future lifetime.

Is this a world of consequences?

We can look around us each day and see how in the physical world there serves up a reaction for every action. All of us suffer our particular situations for the activities we did in the past. Consider a person sitting in jail. They are in that hellish situation because of their past activities. Or a person who has lung cancer from smoking. Their smoking addiction caused their current suffering. Or a person who is beaten up by another person after starting a fight.

All of these indicate that the physical world is a place of consequence. Everything we do has a consequence here: Good or bad.

Does this mean that God put us here to suffer? Actually, God set up the physical world as a place of learning. This is a rehabilitation center, where we have the opportunity to grow.

Why? Those of us in this physical world are here because we turned away from our relationship with the Supreme Being. We no longer wanted to be His loving servant. We wanted to enjoy separately from God - rather than love and serve God (our natural constitution).

So we were sent down to this physical world and given virtual temporary physical bodies in order to 1) exercise our right to try to enjoy independently from God and try to pretend to be God, and 2) to learn.

And since these bodies are temporary virtual shells, the miseries they suffer are also virtual. We might compare this with an icon in a video game. The icon may get shot, but we are still sitting there handling the video game controller.

This virtual world has a purpose, however. We have been sent here to take on these virtual physical bodies because God wants us to learn once again how to love. He wants us to return to Him and His loving kingdom because He knows only this will make us happy.

In order to return, however, we must have a change of consciousness. We must be willing to give up the idea that we are going to enjoy independently of God. We must give up the idea that we are superior to others and the world revolves around us. We must learn what it means to love and care for someone other than ourselves.

Isn't this what the physical world constantly teaches us? That loving and caring for others brings happiness, while self-love and selfish behavior brings us misery? Is this a coincidence? No. It is intentional. God programmed the physical universe to teach us about love.

The ultimate source of pleasure for us is to love and serve the Supreme Being, because when we love and serve God, we become truly fulfilled. And when we love the Supreme Being we automatically love all of God's children. These are the real teachings of Jesus:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt. 22:37-40)