Outer Darkness, Weeping, and Gnashing of Teeth in Matthew

We addressed the question of whether weeping and gnashing of teeth in Luke describes hell, but I think we can gain even more insight into Luke’s passage, and the question of weeping and gnashing of teeth, by looking at Jesus’ uses of the phrase in Matthew. Note that Matthew also adds ‘Outer Darkness’ and ‘Fire’ to the concept.

Luke mentions weeping and gnashing once, whereas Matthew mentions the phrase five times. It appears in a variety of settings, and by looking at them I think we can get a good idea of what Jesus meant.

Keep in mind that Matthew uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ instead of ‘kingdom of God’, which is the same thing. Many Jews did not like to use the word ‘God’ and substituted ‘heaven’, but it is not heaven that is in view here.

This post is a little longer than usual because of more biblical context, so I have tried to keep commentary to a minimum.

Matthew Chapter 22
(see the entire chapter)

The passage most similar to Luke’s is found in chapter 22. Both involve metaphors of the kingdom of God as a celebratory feast, and the lesson and audience seem to be the same as well.

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.

Who are these people invited to the feast? I think we should look to a segment of Jesus’ audience who condemned his message at every turn; they were the Jewish religious leaders—the very people who should have been first to embrace the message of the establishment of the kingdom. They are the most logical ones to celebrate the kingdom feast, yet they go about their business and ignore the invitation.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find.

Those who did accept Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom, as represented by the invitation to the feast, were common folk that the Jewish religious leaders despised as being beneath their high level of (self) righteousness.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Attention is given to an individual who represents those who claim to deserve participation in the kingdom feast (the self-righteous Jews). However, instead of stealing a place at the table, he is cast out into the darkness outside. As in Luke, the weeping and gnashing of teeth signify the distress and indignity of being ignored and of privilege and ‘righteousness’ going unrecognized and unrewarded.

Matthew Chapter 13 (see the entire chapter)

In chapter 13, Jesus tells a number of parables about the kingdom of God. They include warnings about not paying attention to the kingdom message or being distracted by other concerns.

The first one mentioning weeping and gnashing of teeth is about good and bad seed that are sown in the kingdom. Jesus says of harvest time:

I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.

Jesus explains the parable to his disciples:

As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

A blazing furnace with weeping and gnashing of teeth certainly seems like a reference to burning hell!

But it is not.

The blazing furnace is simply part of the imagery of the weeds. Weeds are burned; people are not. However, this is a warning that those who don’t take the kingdom seriously will be outsiders.

The second parable carries a similar message:

The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But then Jesus adds an interesting observation:

Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

This directly addresses the teachers of the law—scribes and Pharisees—and it is positive instead of negative. Those who do become disciples of the kingdom will not have to abandon their learning but will be able to bring out new treasures. This suggests, perhaps, that the bad fish that are thrown away are those religious leaders who do NOT become disciples of the kingdom.

Matthew Chapter 24 (see the entire chapter)

In this parable, Jesus speaks along the same themes as in the parables already discussed.

Suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew Chapter 25 (see the entire chapter)

The parable of the talents illustrates the same thing—those who only pretend to serve the cause of God’s kingdom will be disappointed.

‘Master,’ he said. ‘I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! You should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest…throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew Chapter 8 (see the entire chapter)

The next passage is not a parable but a story of a centurion who approaches Jesus for help. In the interaction, the gentile centurion shows great respect for who Jesus is, something the self-righteous Jews will not do. Jesus responds:

I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

His response to the centurion’s words are almost identical to Luke’s story, and the lesson is very specific. The self-righteous Jews (the subjects of the kingdom) who should have been the primary ones to sit at the kingdom feast are supplanted by those they consider far beneath them in God’s favor.

How Does the Outer Darkness of Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth Relate to Eternal Burning Hell?

It doesn’t. Just as with every other biblical passage quoted to support eternal punishment in burning hell, this one fails. They all fail. Belief in eternal punishment in hell is terribly misguided and harmful to everyone exposed to it.

However, these passages do have an important message for us. If we think we represent God’s favorite people, and if we judge and condemn sinners and exhort them to be righteous like us, and if we are pleased with ourselves for the way we understand God so well and powerfully preach his holy word in judgment; then we might take warning lest we be surprised, embarrassed, and disappointed when we have no honored place at the kingdom feast.

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24 Responses to Outer Darkness, Weeping, and Gnashing of Teeth in Matthew

  1. Tim, for what it’s worth I think you’re absolutely spot on here. I still find these passages deeply disturbing and find it very hard to switch off the old hellfire images and theology when I read them, but I think that your interpretation makes much more sense than the traditional evangelical one.

    So it’s a warning to any of us who think we’re the privileged and favoured few (as against those awful sinners out there) that we may have completely missed the point, and are in grave danger of missing the invitation to something much better.

    And yes, the weeping and teeth-gnashing are not representative of physical torture, but the regret and frustration at having been shut out of something we thought we had privileged access to, and seeing the people we rejected get in instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Evan, it IS difficult to do away with the old understanding of these, and other, supposed descriptions of hell. But if we can suspend our old reactions to all these passages and examine them in context, I think we realize our beliefs about hell are based on a patchwork of references that are all talking about other, unrelated, issues.


      • Yes, I agree. I think the trouble is that those old hellfire understandings and images are so powerful and go so deep in our psyches – they’re the stuff of nightmares and our deepest, darkest fears. But you’re right, I don’t think they’re what Jesus is trying to convey at all.


  2. Pingback: What Does Jesus Mean by an Outer Darkness of Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth? | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. michaeleeast says:

    Thank you Tim for analyzing these passages.
    I don’t personally believe that a loving God would assign anyone to a burning hell or an outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
    It is significant that several of these stories in Matthew are replicated in Luke without the weeping and gnashing of teeth. What does this tell us?
    Either Matthew added them or Luke omitted them.
    WE would do well to think about that!


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good question, Michael, about the same stories in Luke not referencing weeping and gnashing of teeth. Very good question.


  4. God doesn’t torture, human beings do and torment is an inward condition of those who torture others. There isn’t even anything in man apart from God that can live eternally, let alone suffer for eternity. “the scriptures are spiritually discerned”
    Thanks for the post, Tim.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good comment Pam, but I do think Jesus offers us eternal life and demonstrates his ability to deliver in his own resurrection. I will be writing a post on that very issue in a few weeks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, He does. He is the One who offers eternal life. On that we agree.:0) I look forward to your post. We come from different reference points. Anything I express that may come across as disagreement is just me trying to understand your point of reference.


  5. Marc says:

    I have enjoyed reading your last couple of post regarding “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

    These passages have to do with the separation of people that takes place as the judgments and resurrection harvest of the Day of the Lord begin. The “wise virgins” enter into the wedding banquet as the Bride of Christ. The “foolish virgins,” and unbelievers are left to experience the tough love judgments of the Day of the Lord. Some weep with sorrow, while others gnash their teeth in anger.

    Because the fire mentioned is probably the presence of God, It can illuminate, purify, or consume those exposed to It. There is good reason to believe that most will respond to the illumination and painful purification with repentance leading to reconciliation and eternal life. Those that don’t will be consumed and annihilated with Satan and the demons at the end of this age

    The blasphemous concept of eternal torment is the worst baggage stemming from the Platonic pagan concept of the natural immortality of the soul prevalent in the Greco-Roman world of the Imperial Church. The Lord’s own words confirm that the human soul can be destroyed and perish (see Matthew 10:28 and John 3:16).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Christine says:

    I understand “outer darkness” to be the opposite of being near the Source of Life And Light, Jesus Himself. However in Matthew 13 Jesus Himself explains at the end of the age, the “good seed” to be “the sons of the kingdom” and the “weeds” to be “sons of the evil one”, which, like weeds will be “gathered and thrown into a fiery furnace.” Do weeds burn indefinitely? Hell was created for the devil and his angels, not people (Matthew 25:41) and is the “second death” a “forever life?” The whole point of getting cast out of the garden was to keep Adam and Eve from living in their sinful death state indefinitely. It is also fascinating that the weeds are removed first, while the wheat is stored, when we often learn that we will be removed from the earth first.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Christine, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I like your question, “Do weeds burn indefinitely?” And of course they do not. I don’t think this passages implies eternal punishment in hell.


    • Hunter Lee says:

      Hell was created for the devil and his angels but the same scripture you quoted says that the unrighteous will be thrown in with them. The second death is eternal punishment and separation from God while being born again grants you access into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t think the removal of the weeds symbolizes the removal of the unrighteous from the earth before Christians but that is a nice observation. We will get a new earth after everything is said and done anyways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Hunter, the idea that hell was created for the devil and his angels was a familiar one in Jesus’ time, and Jesus often used such commonly known information for illustration purposes–like we would use Huckleberry Finn or Gone with the Wind. The concept was presented in the Book of Enoch, which was written a couple hundred years before the time of Jesus and was probably influenced by Zoroastrian theology during the time of Persian rule.

        You can read more here if you wish:



  7. Hunter Lee says:

    You say that belief in an eternal Hell is “terribly misguided”. You quoted from Matthew 25:30 about the parable of the talents, but if you read a little lower you’ll see that Matthew 25:41 you see Jesus himself sending the unrighteous into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. You also say that belief in an eternal Hell is “harmful to everyone exposed to it”. I strongly disagree because the realization that my friends will suffer an eternity in Hell is what drives me to share the gospel with them. I think what you’re teaching is very dangerous because it makes us assume that our sins aren’t deserving of eternal punishment. You vastly underestimate God’s holiness. If you punch a police officer, you go to jail. If you punch a king, you get executed. If you sin against an eternal, and perfectly Holy God, you can guess that the punishment must be equal to his holiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hunter, thanks for your comment. You are right that we disagree, and I understand because I used to believe the same way you describe. I was a dedicated personal evangelist witnessing to people I happened to run into and knocking on doors. Now instead of warning people about hell I tell them about the good news of the kingdom.

      You share a phrase from the parable of the sheep and the goats, but it is just that–a parable. A story to make a point. It is not a description of what will happen at death. You think I vastly underestimate God’s holiness, which is based on the influence of Calvin’s penal substitution theory of salvation. On the other hand, I think many people vastly underestimate God’s love.

      Thanks again for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hunter Lee says:

        Thanks for the quick reply. I don’t think either of us are gonna change each other’s mind. I really want to believe in a god that doesn’t send people to an eternal Hell but that’s not the God I read about in the bible. I just hope that we both grow in our faith with open minds and open hearts. We both believe in what Jesus did for us on the cross and that’s what’s important.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The Word says:

    My name is Alan Finch. I became a Christian 42 years ago.

    “WOW,” I was taught and believed that multitudes upon multitudes of humans will suffer “eternal torment” for 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and it goes on and on with no hope of it ever ending. I am certain that each one of us, deep inside of our very being, know that something just does not add up, but we just can’t quite figure out what is it that we are not understanding correctly from the Scriptures.
    The true biblical teaching is neither the traditional Christian view of hell, nor the view of annihilation. Our great God is neither a great torturer nor a great annihilator, but He is the great Saviour of the world.

    The mystery of the finished work of Christ on the Cross will one day reveal the perfect plan of God for the entire human race, which does not include “eternal torment” or “eternal annihilation” for one single person!

    I have written an article upon this topic, but it is much too lengthy to post on this site (24 pages). Below is a sample. If anyone would like a copy in it’s original Word Document Format, feel free to e-mail me and request a copy, and I will e-mail you a copy.


    ………. What is the “GOOD NEWS” of the Gospel of Christ? ……….(Re-examining the widely held belief of “eternal torment” in “Hellfire”)

    My purpose for this writing is to Biblically “expound” upon (1) is there really going to be “eternal torment?” (2) is there really going to be “eternal annihilation?” (3) to give a Biblical answer to the question “If there is no “eternal torment,” and if there is no “eternal annihilation” of our very being, then what are we being saved from, and what is our being here during this present time on earth really all about?”

    I was a Christian for 38 years before I gained a better “Scriptural” understanding of some Biblical truths that I had not properly understood in regards to the finished work of Christ on the Cross.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hello Alan, I was also taught, and believed, that the majority of people would spend an endless eternity in burning hell. I no longer believe that and am glad that you do not.

      I am a hopeful universalist, but I don’t think God will override anyone’s free will should they decide not to accept eternal life with God. What are your thoughts on that?


      • The Word says:

        Thank you for your sharing with me and for your question. I 1st began writing my article ………. What is the “GOOD NEWS” of the Gospel of Christ? ……….(Re-examining the widely held belief of “eternal torment” in “Hellfire”) 4 years ago. At that time the article was approximately 12 pages. It has now grown to be 24 pages.

        I have spent countless hours in putting this article together, because there is nothing more important than for the human race to understand what God’s eternal plan and eternal destiny for each and everyone of us is. I have painstakingly tried to Biblically write my article in the most clear and easy to understand way that I know how.

        I would like to be able to e-mail you a copy of my article, because it will require the reader to understand a number of things written in the Bible, in order to fit the pieces of the puzzle together in such a way that will cause the light bulb to come on in our minds, and then bring great clarity to a number of things that we have not properly understood before from the Scriptures.

        My e-mail address: candy33alan@aol.com

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Word says:

        This is Alan Finch again. In regards to the question, I don’t think God will override anyone’s free will should they decide not to accept eternal life with God. What are your thoughts on that?

        I would like very much to give you the Biblical answer to that question, which I answer in my article.

        Philippians 2:10-11 “That at the name of JESUS every knee will bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth: And that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

        There is absolutely nowhere in this Passage of Scripture that states or even suggests that every knee will be FORCED to bow the knee to the name of JESUS. In all religions, bowing the knee is a voluntary form of worship. As explained in the next several paragraphs, we will come to understand more clearly that Philippians 2:10-11 is revealing to us that bowing the knee and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, is not going to be forced upon ALL, but that ALL will do so willingly. Throughout the Bible, we find that the Scriptures clearly state that God only accepts a willing heart.

        A word study of confess (ἐξομολογήσεται) in the Greek language, in light of the way that this same verb is used in other New Testament Scriptures, reveals that this verb in the context of this Passage of Scripture is rendered to thank. That meaning growing out of the sense of open, joyful acknowledgement. The sense here is that of frank, open confession.

        An individual cannot praise and joyously proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, if one is being forced to do so, especially, if that individual knows that eternal damnation & eternal separation from God, awaits them. It is just that simple!

        The traditional teaching on this Passage of Scripture has been that even the enemies of the Cross will be forced to bow their knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

        That train of thought is in complete contradiction to the Written Word of God, because the Bible from Genesis to Revelation clearly teaches that the Lord only accepts praise and worship from a willing heart. Forced praise and worship DOES NOT bring Glory to God.

        In Philippians 2:10-11, God IS NOT proclaiming that all those who have not known Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, are going to be forced to bow their knee and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

        TO THE CONTRARY, God is proclaiming to us an astonishing & profound revelation, that because of the finished work of Christ on the Cross, that ALL will come to know Jesus Christ in such a way, that ALL will willingly (not be forced) acknowledge openly with praise, and proclaim joyously that Jesus Christ is Lord. The true meaning of Philippians 2:10-11 has been greatly overlooked by the Church today!

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Alan, thanks for the discussion on Philippians 2. As a hopeful universalist, myself, I hope you are right. However, I don’t think we can accept Paul’s word’s here as a revealed propositional truth from God. Paul spoke from (and to) the totally different culture of his day and, in addition, addressed specific questions in his churches of the time. I admire Paul, but I cannot read his words as God’s own truth–nor, I think, would he.

          Regarding your article, my hands are constantly full and I cannot commit to reading a 24 page article that is not part of my objectives. I am sorry.


  9. The Word says:

    My name is Alan Finch. I became a Christian 42 years ago. I am adding another comment to my previous comment on July of 2018.

    It is important to understand that the Lake of Fire is not a physical Lake of Fire. The Biblical phrase “Lake of Fire” is symbolic for a Spiritual Lake of Fire which is representative of the FIRE of God’s Spirit that is going to do a transforming work of “Divine Purification” in each individual that comes before the Great White Throne Judgment. This transforming work from God’s Spirit will give these individuals a full understanding of God’s Boundless Love for them and the entire human race. (Note: The Scriptures do not reveal how long that this process will take)

    I have written a 26 page article that Biblically deals with this subject extensively. If anyone would like a copy, feel free to e-mail me and ask for a copy, and I will e-mail you a copy.


    Liked by 2 people

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