Just What Is the “Outer Darkness”?
By the Lord’s parables
and also by direct words,
the New Testament warns
us that believers may
be disciplined in
the coming age
“You wicked and lazy servant!”….“Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness! There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
— Matthew 25:26,30
When some Christians see the “outer darkness” spoken of in the New Testament, they assume it is the same thing as the Lake of Fire, and so conclude that it cannot concern genuine believers in Christ.
As we have considered in recent Notes, however, the ones who are spoken of as being cast into that place are, first, the guest who was at the king’s wedding feast, but who did not have a wedding garment (Matt. 22:11-13; see “The Talents & the Minas”• 3).
If we are honest and open before the Lord and His word, we must admit that such ones can only signify genuine believers. So, unless we think that a genuine believer in Christ can lose his salvation (which is certainly not the case), then we must instead conclude that the outer darkness spoken of in these parables has to be something different than the Lake of Fire, and that it is a place where genuine believers may indeed go for a time.
But then, just what is the outer darkness?
To answer this question correctly, one crucial point to be aware of is that, in each of the three times the outer darkness is explicitly mentioned (which are all in the Gospel of Matthew), it is directly connected to the Kingdom of the Heavens.
And as we considered in another recent Note, the Kingdom of the Heavens, in its manifestation in the coming age, will be the 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth. This will take place between the end of this age and the beginning of the eternal age (Rev. 20:1-10; See “What Is the Kingdom of the Heavens?”).
During that time, the overcoming believers will be reigning with Christ, and also feasting with Him and the other overcomers as a reward for following Him faithfully in this age (Rev. 20:4-6; Matt. 8:11-12). However, the defeated believers will not experience reigning with Christ. As the foolish virgins, they will miss the wedding feast (Matt. 25:10-12), and some of them, at least, will be cast into the outer darkness.
Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew the Lord said to some of the Jews, who may also be cast into the outer darkness:
“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
— Matthew 8:11-12
And a related verse in Luke, though it uses the more general term, the kingdom of God, adds a crucial detail:
“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”
— Luke 13:28
When we combine these two verses, it indicates that those believers who are in the outer darkness will be able to see those who are feasting with the Lord within the kingdom. At least some of the ones in the outer darkness will receive a further discipline (cf. Luke 12:47-48, 1 Cor. 3:12-15), but some may simply weep as they realize what they are missing, because they were foolish and failed to follow the Lord in this age.
However, none of these believers will have lost their salvation. Instead, after they have been disciplined, perhaps at the end of the full 1,000 years, they will be brought back into the full experience of the Lord’s salvation and blessing for eternity, and then they will reign with Him and with all His saints forever and ever (Rev. 22:5). Yet, they will miss the chance to reign with Christ during His 1,000 year kingdom, and this surely will cause much “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Now we can finally answer our question.
Because, if we understand all of this, then the term, “the outer darkness,” like the term, “the Kingdom of the Heavens,” for the most part defines itself. That is, it is a place of darkness and suffering that lies outside the Kingdom of the Heavens during the 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth.
The overcoming believers will be in the kingdom, while the defeated believers will be in the darkness.
This means that the Parables of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matt. 25:1-13), of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30), and of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27), as well as the clear words in the New Testament about being disciplined in the next age (some of which are referenced above), are very sober warnings to the believers. In brief, the Lord will indeed hold us accountable for how we follow Him, or fail to do so, in this age.
“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
— Matthew 24:44; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10
Lord, grant us to be faithful in this age, so that we may reign with You in the Kingdom of the Heavens in the next age!
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— 22 April 2023 —