If it had been the central tenet of Yeshua's teaching, he would have told his listeners about it!
It would be a remarkable omission if Yeshua knew that the ultimate, only important choice a person must make in life is to believe in him or face eternal torment in hell, and omit it from his teaching. And yet in Mark, the earliest gospel, truest to Yeshua's words, Yeshua doesn't talk about a hell at all.
He does refer to a garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom ("Gehenna") outside Jerusalem. That was mistranslated as "hell" by early translators, but modern translators have corrected that. It was a garbage dump, not a place of eternal torment.
This is how that happened. In Mark, Yeshua makes a strong point about eliminating things from one's life that limit spiritual growth, and about the destruction that would come to Israel if the people didn't change their ways. The physical realm is superfluous, he implies, and if your hand, foot, or eye limit your spiritual growth, you're better off without them because your body is going to end up (figuratively) on the garbage dump, and what's going to be left? He echoes the admonition in Matthew 6:19: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." Everything, including the body, is going to end up on the garbage dump. Only what a person achieves spiritually is eternal. (Mark 9:43-45)
The "valley of the son of Hinnom" outside Jerusalem was called "Gehenna." Those who heard Yeshua's words would have known immediately where it was and what it was. Children in earlier ages had been sacrificed to the god Moloch there, and the Jews viewed it as accursed. Yeshua used it as an extreme on the continuum from entering the kingdom of God through spiritual growth and suffering what the body will eventually suffer: being thrown on the garbage dump to be burned.
It was a striking metaphor for things that are worthless and for the fire and destruction Israel would experience, but Yeshua never mentions a hell the way the church portrayed it.
By the time the King James Version of the Bible was translated in the early seventeenth century, the church had already developed the doctrine of hell and fictional descriptions had been written by Dante (a poet, not a theologian), so the translators just translated the name of the garbage dump (gehenna, or "valley of henna") as "hell." It was a remarkably bad translation. Yeshua wasn't referring to a hell at all, and certainly not to such a place as the poets described. It doesn't exist.
References to judgment in the later gospels (Luke, Matthew, and John) were additions to Yeshua's teaching, possibly in the first writings of the texts, but more likely even later as the texts were edited by the church. There are no references to such judgment in the original writings about Yeshua (Paul's letters, written around 50 - 65 CE, the Q sayings gospel, written before 70 CE, and Mark, written shortly after 70 CE).
If hell really existed and the 12 who were with him, whom he loved, were going to have to either stay with him or roast in hell for eternity, wouldn't he have told them repeatedly? Wouldn't he have made that the central point of the Sermon on the Mount and the parables?
Instead, Yeshua never talks about hell! It simply was not Yeshua's teaching about eternal life.
Paul's theology focuses on salvation to the exclusion of Yeshua's teaching, but Paul never mentions hell.
Paul used every means he could think of to convert the Jews, the "god fearers" who worshipped with the Jews, and the Gentiles, so he promised them salvation, meaning they would have eternal life in the Kingdom of God when it was inaugurated. Those who weren't saved would just have to live on the earth as regular people, we suppose. But even when he wanted so much to convert people to believe in Yeshua as the Messiah, he never mentions a hell!
The Acts of the Apostles doesn't mention a hell.
Surely if hell were so central to humankind and Yeshua's mission, Peter and Paul would have told people about it. Hell would have been central to the Acts. But it is never mentioned in The Acts of the Apostles, even once. The reason: They never even considered the idea.
The place of eternal torment is incompatible with the Kingdom of God as Yeshua described it
Perhaps the most compelling reason we know hell is not a reality is that it is entirely incompatible with the Kingdom of God as Yeshua described it. In the Kingdom of God, there is no judgment and condemnation. There is only universal peace, brotherhood, and unconditional love. We enter the Kingdom of God by maturing spiritually so we are peaceful, brotherly, and loving. To mature spiritually, we must leave behind the desire and expectation for punishment, revenge, rewards for the worthy, and retribution for the unworthy.
It is inconceivable that God retains one of the primary fleshly characteristics that humankind must learn to abandon. Can we imagine the ruler of a country today requiring all citizens to swear allegiance to him and worship him, then committing to a pit of unspeakable horror all those men, women, and children who don't swear allegiance, without opportunity for reprieve, where they are tortured unmercifully with fire and guards that bite their bodies, every day, all day, for the rest of their lives? Of course not. That ruler would be a monster more evil than Idi Amin, Stalin, or Hitler. And yet the church would have us believe the God Yeshua described is that monster.
Judgment, condemnation, and retribution are spiritually immature attitudes characteristic of a tribal people that wages war with its neighbors, executes people for trivial indiscretions, and cheers when those with whom they disagree are defeated and punished. The church assigned that immature attitude to the God it created, whom they portray as a ruthless dictator that rules through fear and intimidation, when it should have been helping people mature out of the need to judge and condemn. The sentiments are simply incompatible with spiritual maturity, Yeshua's teachings, and God.
And what person who has merited heaven because of their love and compassion would want to spend every day in eternity knowing a parent, son, daughter, brother, or sister was writhing in pain in a fiery torture chamber and could never be redeemed? What kind of heaven would that be for them to be imagining their loved one's agony every morning when they awoke, and in the silence of every evening when they lay waiting for sleep to give them some relief? It is inconceivable that the God Yeshua described would condemn a parent, son, daughter, brother, or sister to that mental anguish for eternity.
And what sort of universe would it be for those who took to heart Yeshua's teachings and had become loving and compassionate to know that billions of people were in unspeakable agony while they were in heavenly luxury? The universe would, for eternity, contain pain, suffering, and misery, regardless of how mature a heavenly segment was becoming.
And those who were in the torment could never grow to become more compassionate, learning to love others and God. They would have no opportunity for reprieve, even if they changed in outlook and attitude. In fact, the hell thing would perpetuate anger and hatred in the universe as billions of souls cursed God and humanity. It's simply unthinkable for such a concept to be attributed to any God other than that fabricated by a church that itself encouraged the torture and murder of those who disagreed with its teachings.
In the Kingdom of God as Yeshua described it, no person will be judged; none will be unworthy; none will be unloved; none will be unacceptable. Probably the most difficult lesson we will have to learn, and the most persistent worldly characteristic we will have to abandon, is the desire for rewards given to us, who are right, and punishment and retribution inflicted upon them, who are wrong. The suggestion that God would judge humanity, committing the vast majority to eternal torment, is perfectly in character with the medieval church, but diametrically opposite to Yeshua's teaching about the Kingdom of God.
The hell myth is a fiction developed by the church to increase its power and keep the flock under control. It simply never existed.