Yes, there was a literal "hellfire" in Jesus day. The KJV of the Bible translates the Greek word "gehenna" into the English word "hellfire;" but, do you know what "gehenna" means?
In the beginning, God offered Adam and Eve eternal life if the obeyed him. They would still be alive today, if they had not eaten the forbidden fruit. But, they did and they died. They were NOT told they would burn or be tortured for eternity; they were told they would die and return to the dust from which they were made. Gen. 2:16-27; 3:19 God has NOT changed his mind. He still holds out eternal life to obedient people. Deut. 30:15-19 The opposite of eternal life is eternal death. "Those people will be punished with a destruction that continues forever." 2 Thess. 1:9 NCV
The Bible book of Revelation defines the figurative phrase "lake of fire" as "second DEATH," not torture in a flame, and explained, death is an unconscious state. Thus, "gehenna" or "lake of fire" refers to everlasting death, which is the opposite of everlasting life. The second death , which is represented by gehenna or lake of fire, is "perpetual sleep," or "eternal destruction" as opposed to eternal life.
The word "fire" in the Bible has several figurative meanings. Fire or expressions having the thought of burning, or flaming, are often used figuratively in the Bible to mean different things, such as, love (Song Of Solomon 8:6), passion (Romans 1:27; 1 Corinthians 7:9), anger and judgment (Zephaniah 2:2; Malachi 4:1), or strong emotion (Luke 24:32; 2 Corinthians 11:29). When Jeremiah wanted to keep from speaking God’s word, he found this impossible, for it proved to be like a burning fire shut up in his bones. (Jeremiah 20:9) Also, refinning of our godly personalities, is likened to a metal refinning fire; and, complete eternal destruction or second death is the meaning of "lake of fire."
Isn't the work of destroying sinners foreign to God's nature? Yes. Most folks will be rehabilitated, meaning they will be given a second chance by being raised to life on earth and being educated in righteousness during the 1,000 year kingship of Jesus Christ over earth. Isaiah 26:9 explains, "With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee earnestly: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." Isaiah 26:8-10,19; Acts 24:15; Isaiah 11:9
By Linda Washburn