"You travel over land and sea to win a single convert..."
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, this was also taking place in those times among the Jewish sects.If we consider these "salvation" efforts over the centuries, including the many Crusades of the middle ages, we find that not all were intended to pass on Jesus' teachings. Many of these supposed Christians often incorporated violence and intimidation to convert natives in foreign lands to Christianity. While there may have been those who sincerely wanted to bring Jesus’ teachings to others, there were many others who simply sought the glorification and acceptance of others from being able to claim that they have converted so many.
Most of the violent Crusades, for example - where millions of innocent people were slaughtered for the sake of supposedly being saved - were organized by the ecclesiastic Roman church, which dominated the Christian world with an iron fist. They burned and pillaged any family or village that did not succumb to being mass converted to the Roman church and Roman government. 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 when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
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 was abhorred by the Jews, and they used 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.
Many people have been lulled into a concept prognosticated by ecclesiastical Christian teachers that hell is a place under the ground, where a fiery devil named satan lives and tortures people who are chained up on cavern walls. This erroneous teaching has even been taken to the extent that the entrance to hell are among certain volcanoes.
This of course has been proven wrong by those who have explored these 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 not think that a person who is starving in the Sahara is in hell? Is a woman in Africa who is repeatedly raped at gunpoint not in hell? How about a person in the grips of war in Afghanistan? Are they not in hell? How about a Jew who was tortured by the Germans during the Holocaust? Were those people not experiencing hell? And what about someone who is being tortured as a prisoner of war? Are they not in hell? Or how about someone in prison, subjected to being beaten and raped? Are these circumstances not hellish?
Many other species of living organisms are also living in hell - some even worse than these. Consider a small mouse who lives around a house with a big cat. The mouse is constantly in fear, being chased by this gigantic 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. 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)This question was very logical. Why did Jesus’ disciples (note multiple disciples) ask this question? The question arose from an understanding of Jesus’ teachings. In other words, it was 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, “what a stupid question.” 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)
As he admits this was a special case, Jesus accepted the fact that a person could suffer in his next life from sins of the past life.
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.
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 beat 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 consequence here: Good or bad.
Why is this? Did 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 be 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)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)