By Mike Willis
No person in his right mind will knowingly harm his body. Yet, there comes a time when a person will consent to allowing a physician to amputate certain parts of his body. We each recognize the principle of sacrificing the lesser good for the sake of the larger good. When a person’s diseased members of his body endangers the rest of the body’s life, the individual will consent to having it removed.
Jesus referred to this principle in His instructions in Mark 9:43-48. Here is His statement:
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Here Jesus placed in contrast the higher good, entrance into life, with the lower good, life in this world with both of one’s members. Let us examine this statement rather carefully.
Literal Interpretation Is Nonsensical
Though I have never met anyone who seriously interpreted this passage literally, to do so would be nonsensical. If one physical hand causes a man to sin and is cut off, the other one would be left to ensnare the individual. The same is true with regard to both the eye and the foot. Hence, to interpret this passage literally is to misunderstand it.
This form of overstatement is intended to emphasize the truth that is taught. The point being emphasized is that there is nothing in this life below that is worth separating us from God and the reward of everlasting life. The eternal damnation in hell is the punishment of sin; there is no sin on earth which can give sufficient pleasure to make it worthwhile to live forever in hell in order to enjoy it now.
Lessons To Be Learned From This Passage
1. There is a heaven and a hell. Those who depreciate the Bible, making it the product of mere man rather than a divinely imparted revelation to man, do not believe in a heaven or a hell. Several sects in denominationalism teach that, though there is an everlasting life, there is not a place of everlasting punishment. Contrary to the teaching of both, Jesus revealed that there is both a heaven and a hell.
Paul believed in the resurrection of both the just and the unjust (Acts 24:15). He revealed that the “righteous judgment of God . . . will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile” (Rom. 2:5-8). This is but the reflection of what Jesus taught in this passage.
There is an eternal life (Mk. 9:43, 45). It is also referred to as the kingdom of God (Mk. 9:47). (This reference to eternal life as the kingdom of God springs from the fact that the kingdom of the Lord is a kingdom which cannot be moved [Heb. 12:28]; it shall ultimately be delivered to God to dwell with Him forever [1 Cor. 15:24].) This life is described as everlasting or eternal (Matt. 25:46). This is the blessed hope of the Christian.
The place of eternal punishment is called hell (gehenna). To show the eternal nature of the punishment, Jesus used two metaphors – where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. The word Gehenna was used to describe the dump outside of Jerusalem. There putrefying bodies of animals were disposed of; the worms could eat the flesh from the bones as it decayed. Too, trash of whatever sort was burned in that valley. The idea of an unquenchable fire and undying worms was a metaphor of eternal punishment. Hence, notice that there is a hell, that it is a place of punishment, and that the punishment is everlasting in duration. Despite the fact that modern theologians have rejected the idea of an eternal punishment and a pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-bye-and-bye,” Jesus still ‘taught that both lie ahead for mankind. You will just have to judge who knows the most about the future, Jesus the Son of God or modern theologians.
2. There is nothing in this life worth the loss of salvation. When Jesus speaks of one’s body (whether his hand, foot, or eye) causing one to offend, he was speaking of one’s body involving him in a sin. Sin, by its nature, separates a person from God (Isa. 59:1-2); it brings, as its punishment, eternal damnation (Rom. 6:23). Hence, Jesus’ point is that anything which will separate us from God and our hope of eternal life is not worth what it costs us.
This lesson is a hard lesson for Christians to learn. We seem to think too much of this world; we forget that everything in it and all of the pleasures which it can offer us are temporal. The pleasures of sin are passing away (Heb. 11:24-25; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). Whatever enjoyment sin can give me, at the best will last only a short time. This fact should never be forgotten.
Christian friend, are you willing to spend an eternity in undescribable pain for the small amount of pleasure which sin can give you? Are a few moments of temporal pleasure which you might enjoy while engaged in an act of immorality with some ungodly man or women worth an eternity in hell? Are the things which you buy for yourself with the money which you should be giving to God giving you a sufficient among of pleasure to be worth spending an eternity in hell in order to obtain them? Is the television show or other recreational activity which you participate in rather than attending worship services giving you so much pleasure that it will be worth the eternity in hell which it is going to cost you?
We both know the answer to these questions. There is nothing in this life able to give us enough satisfaction to make it worthwhile to spend an eternity in hell and to miss heaven in order to enjoy it. Hence, the price of sin is exceedingly high! Satan can give the Christian no bargain when he offers him some temporal pleasure in exchange for his soul.
3. Sin is horrible and has eternal damnation as its punishment. This text surely shows us how horrible sin really is. Jesus proposed that it would be better to lose part of one’s own body rather than to be guilty of sin which would lead to eternal damnation. I can hardly picture such a statement having been said if what some of my brethren are writing is true.
My brethren are telling me that the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ is transferred to the believer so that God sees the perfect obedience of Christ rather than the individual’s sins. If that is so, why is sin so bad? These petty offenses do not separate the man from God; they do not lead to everlasting fire. Rather, God just closes His eyes to these sins. If one accepts this point of view, he will have trouble explaining why Jesus would suggest such radical treatment to prevent being guilty of sin!
The truth of the matter is that every sin which a man commits separates him from God and endangers his soul. Sin, by its very nature, is such that it always separates a man from God (Isa. 59:1-2); the penalty for sin is always death (Rom. 6:23). Hence, man must do everything which he can to avoid being guilty of sin. That is why Jesus used this statement to emphasize our need to avoid being guilty of sin!
Realizing that these things are true – that there is a heaven and a hell, that there is nothing in this life worth the loss of one’s personal salvation, and that sin is horrible and has eternal damnation as its punishment – how then should we live? Obviously, we should consider the higher good as more important than the lower good. Our eternal salvation must take precedence over everything else in life. Anything which gets in the way of our obtaining eternal life must be put out of our way regardless of how much it pains us in this life.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 42, pp. 675-676
October 25, 1979