|Valley of Hinnom, c. 1900|
When Jesus spoke about hell, the word he used was Gehenna (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 5:29-30, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:9, Matthew 23:15, Matthew 23:33, Mark 9:43, Mark 9:45, Mark 9:47, Luke 12:5).
Gehenna's meaning literally means the "Valley of the son of Hinnom". Some believe that in Jesus' day it was the location of a garbage dump that had fires continually burning to consume the filth and cadavers thrown in it (others question the burning garbage dump explanation).
Some Jews of Jesus' day held some spiritual beliefs about this literal place called Gehenna as well. Gehenna was viewed as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked. Gehenna was considered a Purgatory-like place where the wicked go to suffer until they had atoned for their sins. It was stated that the maximum amount of time a sinner could spend in Gehenna was one year, with the exception of five people who are there for all of eternity.
I believe Jesus believed in a literal place called Gehenna. He spoke about fires of Gehenna, and spoke about bodies being thrown into it. The way he talked about Gehenna makes it sound like it was a bad place that nobody wanted to end up in.
I don't know if Jesus' had similar spiritual views about Gehenna as some other Jews of his day held.
But I do assume that Jesus believed in the literal Gehenna, and he possibly held some of the non-literal views other Jews of that time held.
Other New Testament passages frequently contrasts eternal life for some with death, destruction, and perishing for others. It seems to me that most Christians believe in literal 'eternal life', but don't accept that death, destruction, or perishing in those same verses should be taken as literally.
So I believe there was a literal place called Gehenna, and tend to lean towards an understanding of a literal 'eternal life' for some, and literally not eternal life for others.
So feel free to accuse me of believing in a literal reading of Scripture in this case. :)