What Does Jesus Mean by an Outer Darkness of Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth?

Recently, a reader responded to some of my articles on hell and included a question and a request:

You were helpful, Tim, and your articles were helpful to me too. Just a last question: Luke 13:28, the weeping and gnashing that is often quoted by hell believers as a reference to conscious hell. I would like to know your opinion about it.

On this blog, I have not previously addressed the subject he asks about—weeping and gnashing of teeth. So I would like to answer his question and share it with you at the same time.

gnashing of teeth

Photo Credit: SalaBoli via Compfight cc

The Passage in Question

Here is the expanded context of the passage in Luke 13:

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

“But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Jesus came proclaiming the establishment of the kingdom of God—an expanding community of God’s influence composed of those actively participating in creating the reality of ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ This kingdom would be characterized by peace, justice, and reconciliation.

The ultimate end of this expanding kingdom would be the time when God’s will on earth will be complete. And God’s final establishment of his kingdom was often expressed in the metaphor of a feast in which the kingdom community celebrated God’s kingdom.

The Audience to which Jesus Spoke these Words

This kingdom was a dream of the Jews of that day, but they envisioned it in political terms in which the Jews would be vindicated and would rule in their privileged position over the entire world. The Pharisees, especially, felt they were already prepared to instruct the unrighteous Gentiles in the ways of God.

But Jesus’ perspective of the kingdom was not that of the self-righteous Jews. As we observe throughout Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, Jesus warned them that their smug, satisfied attitude on their secure, privileged position in God’s plan was misguided. He constantly told them that in order to be part of the kingdom of God they would have to give up their preconceived notions and embrace a completely different understanding of the kingdom of God’s will on earth.

These self-righteous Jews admired and identified with the patriarchs and prophets of Israel and considered themselves to be the continuation of their heritage, devotion, and righteousness. On the other hand, they despised their fellow Jews who were not as righteous as they, and they despised even more the gentiles whom they would one day dominate when the kingdom was finally established.

Imagine how they would receive Jesus’ message to them in the metaphor of the feast:

“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets would sit at the feast, not with the self-righteous Jews, but with gentiles from the east, west, north, and south who would ‘take their places in the kingdom of God’!

Darkness, Weeping, and Gnashing

The narrow door is not an indication that not many will find it or enter it; it represents the difficulty of entering the door by those who carry so much pride and self-satisfaction that they cannot get through it. It is similar to the story of the camel and the eye of the needle, which is an illustration of how difficult it is for a person to participate in the kingdom while attached to his riches more than the kingdom message.

In the story, they appeal to the fact that they are worthy to participate in the feast, saying: ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ You know us, we are your chosen ones—we deserve to be here. But no, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Your privilege is only in your own imagination. These Jews should have been first, but they were last.

So the narrow door is a metaphor. The weeping and gnashing are no more literal than the narrow door or the house itself. They represent the intense disappointment the self-righteous Jews will experience when they realize they have wasted their effort on the wrong approach to God’s work and are supplanted by those whom they considered unworthy. Jesus warns them so they can abandon their misguided approach to the kingdom and participate in God’s genuine work.

Darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth have nothing to do with being punished in hell. But wait! There is no outer darkness mentioned here; where does that idea originate? Luke only mentions the metaphor of weeping and gnashing in this one story, but Matthew mentions it several times from the mouth of Jesus.

I think we can discover additional insight into Luke’s story by reviewing what Matthew reports. We will do that next time, and then (for those who are following the Good News series) we will return to the Good News of Jesus!

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Have a great day! ~Tim
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17 Responses to What Does Jesus Mean by an Outer Darkness of Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth?

  1. freeoneindeed says:

    Very good Tim! When I followed organized religion, this and other parables of Jesus, seemed talking about hell and were commonly interpreted to instill fear of loosing one’s salvation. Thus, keeping people within their religious ranks. But, as you correctly interpret, Jesus’ parable was taught in the context of the Jews and the establishment of a spiritual kingdom: the Ekklēsia. This is that Kingdom they had been exclusively prophesied to up until that point. They were given the privilege of hearing, believing and entering the Kingdom of Heaven first, as exclusive VIP’s.

    Unfortunately, and in spite the great enthusiasm they had for God, their zeal was misdirected. Why? Because they did not understand God’s ways. Therefore, they refused to accept God’s way, by adhering to their own way of pleasing God, trying to keep the Law of Moses. They clung to their own interpretations of the Law, ignoring that in its simplest context, its purpose was to bring about the Messiah, who in turn, would unleash Heaven on earth, as it was in the beginning days of our time.

    Furthermore, they were given the honor of eating of the Tree of Life ahead of everyone else. Fruit that had not been available since humanity was banished from the Garden. What a privilege!

    Tim, I am afraid that, by large, the real meaning of this and other parables of Jesus, have flown over the heads of the religious organizations of our days. We’ve also clung to the kosmo’s (Greek for world system) way of doing things, trying to please God with our deeds and not with our faith.

    It really saddens me to witness this and I yearn for the day we receive the truth of the Gospel and be set free from the baggage of religious tradition. The day we can truly enjoy of the Tree of Life.

    IN Him,
    José

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  2. The whole idea of an eternal life of torture and torment for the damned is pagan and not Hebrew. People subconsciously apply that pagan idea when they read the scriptures an it is so heavy a lens that it is really hard to get them to see what the text actually says. The Christmas story is like that too. According to the Bible, Jesus was two years old when the wise me found him and he was living in a house and not in a manger. However, the images we are accustomed to over-ride the words we read and it takes real effort to look beyond our preconceived notion to discover the truth. Also, when it comes to eternal conscious torture, people have to spiritually grow into God’s desire of wanting no one to perish. Too many believers like the notion of their enemies getting what the deserve. People have to learn to love their enemies before they’ll accept that they won’t suffer forever in Hell.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      You are right, Pam. Ideas of hell came from outside Judaism, but since then the concept of hell has become even worse and more pervasive among Christian believers. The imagination runs wild with every possible hint and bit of imagery in the Bible; it is a very disturbing intrusion into the story of Jesus.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sheila0405 says:

    This post got me thinking about those Pharisees. I wonder where they are now. Have they recognized the true meaning of God’s kingdom upon encountering the living God after they died? Will we be able to rejoice with them when the Kingdom arrives? i surely hope so. I like to believe that in the end, love will win.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I hope to see many enlightened Pharisees in the kingdom–perhaps most of them; maybe all of them! Those who are mistaken are always capable of being enlightened under the right conditions.

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  4. Eleanor Skelton says:

    Thank you for this. 🙂

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  5. michaeleeast says:

    I think it is significant that the weeping etc. only appears once outside of Matthew.
    Matthew contains 90% of the New Testament’s references to hell.
    It is worth considering what that might mean?

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I address outer darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth in Matthew in my next post, and I have previously dealt with other references in Matthew that some people think refer to hell.

      In my opinion, none of the references in Matthew indicate a punishment in burning hell for unbelievers.

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      • St John Baptist says:

        jesuswithoutbaggage, burning hell is not for unbelievers but eternal punishment for unrepentant sinners.

        Burning hell is the fact that water is life and without water there is not life, the human flesh will be eliminated and humans will become machines like computers and smart phones.

        Now watch this jesuswithoutbaggage, if you are and electronic and you are water proof, this means water can not get trough you and you would exist and be conscious but will exist in an eternal burning tormented hell.

        Also jesuswithoutbaggage if you are an electronic and you are not water proof, this means even if there is water you will have to stay away from it, otherwise water will destroy you.

        So jesuswithoutbaggage what is worse? no having one drop of water to kill the thirst? having plenty of water but not being able to consume? or having plenty of water and being forced to rejected and kept away from you?

        This is a perfect idea of burning hell and eternal torment.

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          John, this all seems quite speculative, and I can’t imagine a reason for this scenario. I like science fiction, but the two substantial points about an imagined ‘hell’ of eternal punishment is that the Bible does not teach and it is inconsistent with God’s character.

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  6. St John Baptist says:

    Death, Deep, Pit, Hades, Hell, Lake of Fire and Brimstone, Second Death and Eternal Torment.
    All this is and represent the same thing, punishment for sin.

    Now; Luke 13:
    He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

    “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

    “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

    “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

    “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

    This means:
    Out = Outside, rejected, let behind.
    Darkness = Evil, ignorance, spiritual blindness.
    Weeping = Sorrow, regret, pitiful.
    Gnashing of Teeth = Pain, Frustration, Eternal Torment.

    The Deep:
    The History of Creation
    Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens {Life} and the earth (death). 2 The earth (death) was without form, and void; and darkness (evil) was on the face (nature) of the deep (hell). And the {Holy} Spirit of God was hovering over the face {Nature} of the waters {Life}. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; {Good} and there was light {Good}. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light {Good} from the darkness (evil). 5 God called the light Day {Truth}, and the darkness He called Night (deceit). So the evening {Age} and the morning (generation) were the first day {Truth}.

    Genesis 2:21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place.

    Absolutely each and everyone who comes and is a descendant of Adam is in a deep darkness of ignorance and evil. (A fallen angel).

    The Bottomless Pit:
    Revelation 20:1 [Satan Bound 1,000 Years] Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

    Revelation 20:3 and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.

    Hades:
    Revelation 20:13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.

    Revelation 20:14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    Hell:
    Matthew 5:22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

    Matthew 5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

    Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

    The Lake of Fire and Brimstone:
    Revelation 19:20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.

    Revelation 20:10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    Revelation 20:14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    Revelation 20:15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

    The Second Death:
    Revelation 2:11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’

    Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

    Revelation 20:14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    Revelation 21:8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

    The Eternal Torment:
    Revelation 9:5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.

    Revelation 11:10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

    Revelation 14:10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

    Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

    Revelation 18:7 In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’

    Revelation 18:10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’

    Revelation 18:15 The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,

    Revelation 20:10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever = The Eternal Torment.

    The eternal torment is when unrepentant sinners see the devil’s face to face.
    The eternal torment is the final stage (LAST DAY) for unrepentant sinners.
    The eternal torment is when unrepentant sinners see the door into heaven closed for good.
    The eternal torment is when unrepentant sinners know they are dead for the second time.
    The eternal torment is when unrepentant sinners find out there is no more resurrection.
    The eternal torment is when unrepentant sinners are in agony for one single drop of water.
    The eternal torment is when unrepentant sinners find out this is for ever and ever. Amen.

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    • sheila0405 says:

      Wow, your interpretation of creation is really different. I suggest reading Peter Enn’s “The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.” Also, read Tim’s blog posts on the so-called inerrancy of the Bible.
      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/inerrancy/

      And, quoting Revelation? That book is allegorical and must be understood in the context of the audience to which it was written and the circumstances of that time. Lobbing Scripture is only helpful if you have studied its origins.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      John, I cannot agree with your understanding of these passage, but Sheila has written such a good response that I have no need to add to it–except that I did add the link to the articles she suggested.

      Like

  7. St John Baptist says:

    P. S. I almost forgot,

    The Great White Throne Judgment
    Revelation 20:10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

    2015 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

    Now can everyone reading this message go and check your calendar and put two and two together.

    This is the NINTH DAY OF UNIVERSAL EXISTENCE, judgment day for the human race, specie, gender and flesh in general.

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  8. sheila0405 says:

    Again, you seem not to understand the book of Revelation.

    Like

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