The expression “outer darkness,” used in the Bible exclusively by Christ, is recorded only three times in the New Testament, all within the book of Matthew (8:12; 22:13; 25:30). In each instance, those that experience it will exhibit “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (an expression of emotion, which in that day, conveyed “immense grief”). A literal rendering of the expression “outer darkness” from the Greek text is “the darkness the outer.” In the Greek text there is the definite article (the) before both the noun and the adjective, with the adjective following the noun. This conveys the meaning that this darkness on the outside points to a particular place of darkness outside of a particular place of light, and should be understood as “a darkness outside of and contiguous to a region of light.”
Luke, in his gospel, alludes to “outer darkness” in a parallel reference to Matthew 8:11, 12 (Luke 13:28, 29) but does not use the words. He simply reduces the expression to “without” (ASV). In the Greek text, both Matthew and Luke use the word ekballo, which means to “cast out.” Following the use of this word (in the Greek), the place into which individuals in these passages are cast is given in both gospels.
Within the New Testament, the expression “outer darkness” is never used in reference to the unredeemed (eternally lost), even though most of Christendom believes that it does. This is the result of the widespread misapplication of the phrase, by both laity and clergy alike, by equating the expression to “hell,” the final abode of the unsaved in the “lake of fire;” which then necessitates the conclusion that those who will be cast into “outer darkness” must be the eternally lost.
Outer Darkness in Matthew 8:5-13
The first use of the expression “outer darkness” in Scripture is found in the gospel of Matthew. In chapter eight a centurion comes to Christ after He had entered Capernaum (v. 5). The centurion pleaded with Christ to heal his servant who was “lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented” (v. 6). When Christ agreed to “come and heal him,” the centurion expressed great self-humility and equally great faith in Christ by saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word and my servant will be healed” (v.8). The centurion continued by recognizing the deity of Christ (His omnipotence, an attribute of deity), using a comparative analysis of his position of authority (v. 9).
(Miraculous works of Christ among the Jewish people were signs having to do with “the kingdom” (cf. Isaiah 35:1ff; Matthew 4:23-25; 10:5-8; 11:2-5). They constituted the credentials of the messengers of the gospel of the kingdom and pointed to that which Israel could have — supernatural healing (for both the people and the land [cf. 2 Chronicles 7:14; Isaiah 1:4-9]), supernatural provision, and the restoration of the theocracy — if the nation would repent. — Judgment Seat of Christ, *Chitwood)
Jesus marveled at the centurion’s words and said “Assuredly, I say to you. I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel” (v. 10). Christ had been reaching out exclusively to God’s chosen people, Israel, preaching the kingdom message. This was the kingdom gospel (good news) that John the Baptist had preached in preparation of Christ’s ministry. It was the promise that should the people of Israel repent from their evil ways, the heavenly sphere of the kingdom (Greek: “kingdom of the heavens”) that had been promised them (starting with Abraham [Genesis 15, 17]), as well as the earthly sphere of it, would be established at this junction in history. But in fact, Israel, represented by the religious leaders of the day, rejected (disbelieved) and ridiculed Christ and His message on every occasion. But here, this centurion, a Gentile, evidenced the faith that Christ had been seeking from God’s own people.
Of course before the creation of time God knew this would be the case, necessitating the Cross and the establishment of another nation of “kings and priests [Greek: ‘kingdom of priests]” (Revelation 1:6), “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9); which would delay the establishment of the promised kingdom for a period of time sufficient for God to complete His gathering of Gentiles into this new nation. And at God’s appointed time, Christ will return to establish His kingdom.
It will be a kingdom existing in two distinct spheres (earthly and heavenly), patterned after the model forecast to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 (Hebrews 11:12) and encompassing both his earthly descendants (the Jewish people), “as the sand that is on the seashore,” and his spiritual descendants (Christians), “as the stars of the heaven.”
And it is this future establishment of His kingdom that Christ spoke of in verses eleven and twelve, in which He said, “And 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.” Christ spoke of a separate and distinct group of individuals, taken mainly from the Gentiles, which would exhibit faith on the same order as this centurion; and, by so doing, will enter into the heavenly sphere of the kingdom.
But those, to whom this heavenly sphere of the kingdom naturally belonged, would be excluded due to their lack of faith. The “sons of the kingdom” (the nation Israel) would be “cast out.”
(The entire scene anticipated Matthew 21:43 where the heavenly portion of the kingdom was taken from Israel in view of a separate and distinct group ultimately occupying that which did not naturally belong to them. This group would be comprised of those who, at that time, were aliens, without hope, and without God (i.e., Gentiles). But “in Christ” these conditions would change. They would be “made near by the blood of Christ.”
And, through the immersion in the Spirit, those having been “made near by the blood of Christ” would become new creations “in Christ,” part of the one new man, who is “neither Jew nor Greek [‘Gentile’].” Then, through being “in Christ” (who is Abraham’s Seed), they, through this positional standing, would become “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise [the heavenly portion of the promise given to Abraham and his progeny, which was taken from Israel]” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 3:17, 18, 26-29; Ephesians 2:12-15; cf. Genesis 22:17, 18 — Judgment Seat of Christ, Chitwood).
Outer Darkness in Matthew 22:1-14
The second use of the phrase “outer darkness” is in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew in the parable of the marriage festival (feast). Contextually this passage is focused on “the kingdom of the heavens” (the heavenly sphere of the kingdom) as portrayed by activities attendant to a royal wedding (v. 1). And within context, the “king” and his “son” (v. 2) can only be identified as God the Father and God the Son. The “servants” and “other servants” (vv. 3, 4) sent “to call those who were invited [Israel] to the wedding” would refer to the ministries of the prophets.
The invitation, however, was spurned; so, “other servants” (the apostles) were sent out who were “treated spitefully and killed.” And this second series of events in which Israel rejected God’s servants and the kingdom message only confirmed the rejection and crucifixion of Christ by the nation’s religious leaders.
(Jesus, near the conclusion of His earthly ministry, rode into Jerusalem on an ass and presented Himself as Israel’s King in fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 [Matthew 21:1-11]. And He was rejected, culminating in His crucifixion and death [cf. Matthew 21:37-39; 22:1-6; 23:1-36]. The rejection of God’s Son, which led to His crucifixion, resulted in the heavenly portion of the kingdom being taken from Israel and extended to a separate and distinct nation [cf. Matthew 21:40-46; 22:8-10; 1 Peter 2:9, 10]. And, though God used this new nation — the one new man “in Christ” — to re-offer this portion of the kingdom to Israel (seen in the book of Acts), rejection on Israel’s part continued [with the re-offer of it being withdrawn around 63 A.D., at the time of Paul’s announcement in Acts 28:28]. — Judgment Seat of Christ, Chitwood)
Israel’s brutal treatment of God’s servants led to the historical destruction of these Israelites and the burning of their city (Jerusalem) by the Roman armies in A.D. 70. And this resulted in the nation of Israel being scattered throughout the world.
God then, through the Holy Spirit, turned His full attention to calling out the “body of Christ,” represented in the parable by His servants who “went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good (v. 10). Those who would heed the Holy Spirit’s call and place faith in Christ comprised the “new nation,” which was prophesied by Christ when he said, the “kingdom of the heavens” would be “taken from [Israel] and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it” (Matthew 21:43).
Individuals comprising this new nation are those from “the east and the west” in Matthew 8:11 and those on “the highways” in Matthew 22:10. And unbelief on Israel’s part, followed by others being brought in to be the recipients of that which naturally belonged to Israel, leads up to the mention of “outer darkness” in both passages.
But there is a difference in the two passages. The “outer darkness” in Matthew 8:12 is reserved for “the sons of the kingdom [a reference to Israel in this text],” but the “outer darkness” in Matthew 22:13 is reserved for an individual appearing at the marriage festivities associated with the wedding of God’s Son. The reason was because he appeared without the proper attire (a wedding garment) required for entrance into these festivities.
Israel had previously been mentioned in verses three through seven, with the man appearing without a wedding garment being identified with those called after the kingdom had been taken from Israel (cf. vv. 8-10, 14). This man would, thus, be among those from “the east and the west” in Matthew 8:11 or those found in “the highways” in Matthew 22:10.
One should bear in mind that at the time of Matthew 8:11, 12 the kingdom of the heavens had not yet been taken from Israel; but Matthew 22:1-14 was given at a time following the announcement concerning the removal of the heavenly portion of the kingdom from Israel, with the anticipated offer of the kingdom being extended to another group (Matthew 21:43).
In both passages, those who will be cast into “outer darkness” are those who are recipients of the offer of the kingdom of the heavens. In Matthew chapter eight, the offer of the kingdom of the heavens was open to Israel alone, even though the allusion was made to others being brought into this kingdom. But at the time of the events in Matthew chapter twenty-two, the announcement had previously been made concerning this part of the kingdom being taken from Israel; and now the new recipient of the proffered kingdom was in view (though this new recipient — the one new man “in Christ” — was yet to be brought into existence).
At this point “outer darkness” is observed as a destination for those Israelites who have rejected Christ, as well as those Christians who are judged as those not possessing the proper attire, i.e., a wedding garment, which is the “righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:8).
In regards to this parable of the wedding feast, Gary T. Whipple in his book, The Matthew Mysteries, adds the following:
The King came in and “. . . saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment” (v. 11), to whom He inquired, “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment” (v. 12b)? And the man was speechless. “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called [saved], but few are chosen [called-out of the called]” (vv. 13, 14).
Mark carefully that these scriptures are not teaching that a lost person came into the wedding feast, but a saved one who did not have on a wedding garment; a garment that, in the Scriptures, is clearly an emblem of the righteous works (spiritual fruit) of the believer. This should become obvious when the wedding garment is compared with the bride’s garment in Revelation 19:7, 8, which is called the “righteous acts of the saints.” Righteous acts cannot be produced by anyone other than Christ Himself as He lives through the yielded life of the Christian.
The wedding garment is not the garment of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is put on every believer by God at the moment he believes, but a garment that is produced by the continuing faith of the believer after he is saved; a garment that represents all the spiritual fruit produced by Christ through the believer who is yielded to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the Word of God. How could this man represent the lost, when our parable shows him to be raptured and present at the wedding feast in heaven? The minute teaching of the parable itself reveals that the man accepted (through faith) the invitation to come (salvation) to the wedding. However, after he was raptured, he discovered from the King who came into the wedding feast (the judgment seat of Christ) that he had to bring his own wedding garment (righteous works after salvation). He apparently never prepared a garment for himself; and, as a result, was cast out of the heavenly wedding feast into the darkness outside, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Summarily, the man of our parable represents all the “called,” i.e. the saved, of the Church period who will fail to surrender the control of their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in obedience to the Word of God; and, as a result, will be cast into outer darkness for one thousand years. The other invited guests, who each had a wedding garment, represent all the “chosen,” i.e. those called-out of the saved, who, in this life, yielded their lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in obedience to the Word of God, produced fruit through their surrendered lives and, as a result, will be counted as the wedding guests at the marriage of the Lamb and will enter the kingdom in some capacity of rulership. For “. . . many are called, but few are chosen” (v. 14).
It should be noted that the invited guest in this parable who are able to produce a wedding garment will in fact become the “bride of Christ,” as seen in Revelation chapter nineteen. This will be the antitype of the type, Adam and his bride. Adam who was a type of Christ (Romans 5:14) received his bride, which was taken from his body (Genesis 2:21, 22).
Outer Darkness in Matthew 25:14-30
[Arlen L. Chitwood covers this passage of Scripture and its context in detail. The remainder of this section of this study has been taken from his book, Judgment Seat of Christ.]
The third appearance of “outer darkness” in Matthew’s gospel is in a tripartite, connected discourse that deals with the Jews, the Christians, and the Gentiles — the Olivet Discourse. The inception of Christianity awaited a future date at this time; but the discourse, given following Christ’s statement that He would build His Church and following the removal of the kingdom of the heavens from Israel, anticipated the one new man “in Christ” being brought into existence (Matthew 16:18, 19; 21:33-43; cf. Ephesians 2:12-15).
The first part of the discourse (24:4-36) deals exclusively with events pertaining to Israel during the coming Tribulation and with the return of the nation’s Messiah at the conclusion of the Tribulation. Israel had rejected the offer of the kingdom of the heavens, and now the nation must pass through the Great Tribulation and await her Messiah “in the way of your judgments” (Isaiah 26:8).
The second part of the discourse (24:37-25:30) deals with the new recipients of the offer of the kingdom of the heavens. The emphasis throughout this section is upon present faithfulness in view of a future time of reckoning, anticipating the kingdom.
The third part of the discourse (25:31-46) deals with judgment upon living, saved Gentiles following Christ’s return at the conclusion of the Tribulation. These would be Gentiles saved mainly under the ministry of the 144,000 of Revelation 7, 14 (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 6:9-11; 7:9-17; 20:4-6), who proclaim the “gospel of the kingdom” to the ends of the earth during the last half of the Tribulation (cf. Matthew 24:13, 14; Revelation 12:5, 17).
In this fashion, the three sections of the Olivet Discourse reveal God’s dealings with the three segments of mankind — Jew, Christian, and Gentile — during and at the conclusion of the present dispensation.
In the Jewish section of this discourse, God’s dealings with Israel are restricted to the time during and immediately following the coming Tribulation. The reason for this is very simple: Israel has been set aside during the present time while God removes from the Gentiles “a people for His name.” The time when God will deal with Israel once again awaits the completion of His purpose for the present dispensation. This is the reason why the Jewish section of the Olivet Discourse begins with Israel in the Tribulation. This section begins at the point where God resumes His dealings with Israel once again.
In the Christian section of this discourse, unlike the Jewish section, God does deal with a people during the present time — a time preceding the Tribulation. And those with whom God is presently dealing are the recipients of the offer of the kingdom of the heavens following Israel’s rejection of this offer, which is exactly what is in view in this section of the Olivet Discourse.
(There is a widespread interpretation that associates Matthew 24:37-25:30 with Israel rather than with Christendom, but such cannot be correct. God’s present dealings with a segment of mankind in relation to the kingdom of the heavens, among other things, prohibit this view. God is not dealing with Israel today. The nation has been set aside for a dispensation. And the kingdom of the heavens, which is the matter at hand throughout this section, has been taken from Israel.
Thus, such an interpretation is not only strained and unnatural, but it is not possible. Such an interpretation will not at all fit the tenor of that which is taught in Scripture leading into the Olivet Discourse. It is completely out of line with that which is taught in Matthew chapters twenty-one through twenty-three.)
In the Gentile section of this discourse, only the Gentiles are in view. God, at that time in the future when these events occur, will have completed His dealings with Israel and the Church. “Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Christians and the nation of Israel must be judged first, in that order. God will complete His dispensational dealings with Christians first (which includes judgment); and this will be followed by God completing His dispensational dealings with Israel (which includes judgment). Then God will judge saved Gentiles coming out of the Tribulation immediately prior to His 1,000-year reign over the earth.
The preceding groundwork has been laid in order to place the third mention of “outer darkness” in Matthew’s gospel in its proper perspective. The third and last mention of “outer darkness” lies at the end of the parable of the talents, which concludes the Christian section of the Olivet Discourse. However, “outer darkness” is not restricted to the parable of the talents in this section. The parables of the good man of the house (24:40-44), the Householder and His servant (24:45-51), the ten virgins (25:1-13), and the talents (25:14-30) are interrelated after such a fashion that the expression “outer darkness” must be looked upon as applicable in parallel passages in all four.
Four parables follow the parable of the fig tree and comments concerning the “days of Noah.” And the main thought throughout this entire section of Scripture (the parable of the fig tree, the days of Noah, and the four subsequent parables) centers around the due season, watchfulness, and readiness for the Lord’s return, introduced in the parable of the fig tree and comments concerning the days of Noah (the two passages that set the tone for the four parables that follow).
In the parable of the good man of the house, watchfulness, having to do with faithfulness, allowing the person to be ready for the Lord’s return, resulted in corresponding positive action by the Lord when He did return. But unwatchfulness, having to do with unfaithfulness, causing the person not to be ready for the Lord’s return, resulted in corresponding negative action by the Lord when He did return.
Then, in the parable of the Householder and His servant, the thought drawn from that which has preceded centers on faithfulness in dispensing “meat in due season.” If the servant remains faithful, he will be made ruler over all the Lord’s goods; but if the servant becomes unfaithful, he will be “cut asunder” and be appointed “his portion with the hypocrites.”
(Note that by comparing Matthew 24:45-51 with the parallel section in Luke 12:42-46, it is clear that only one servant is in view throughout. The servant either remains faithful or he becomes unfaithful.)
The parable of the ten virgins immediately following begins with the word “Then,” pointing back to the parable of the Householder and His servant. The parable of the ten virgins covers the same subject matter, providing additional information from a different perspective; and the parable concludes in a similar fashion by showing that which awaits both those who are ready and those who are not ready at the time of the Lord’s return.
The parable of the talents, immediately following the parable of the ten virgins, is introduced in the Greek text by the words Hosper gar (“For just as”); and these two introductory words tell the reader that the parable about to follow is just like the parable that has proceeded it. In respect, these two words tell the reader that an explanatory parable for the parable of the ten virgins (and the two parables preceding the parable of the ten virgins as well) is about to be given.
Verse fourteen, introducing the parable of the talents, should literally read, “For [it is (i.e., the parable of the ten virgins, and, consequently, the parables of the Householder and His servant and the good man of the house as well)] just as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods.” The parables of the good man of the house, the Householder and His servant, the ten virgins, and the talents ALL center on the same basic issues. ALL present different facets of exactly the same thing.
(Note that a parable, by its own definition — from the meaning of the word itself [from the compound Greek word parabole (para, “alongside”; bole, “to cast”)] — is simply one truth placed alongside of a previous truth to help explain the previous truth [i.e., a truth cast alongside (which would necessitate a previous truth)].
In the parable of the talents, a truth is placed alongside of a previous truth [in this case, the parable of the ten virgins, along with the two parables preceding the parable of the ten virgins (since all deal with the same basic issues)]. And the truth being placed alongside [the parable of the talents] is being given to help explain [provide additional light for] that which Christ had previously stated in the preceding three parables.)
In the parable of the good man of the house, faithfulness resulted in a position alongside the Lord, but unfaithfulness resulted in the forfeiture of this position. The contextual thought from the Greek text, through the use of paralambano, has to do with either being received alongside the Lord or being turned away (rather than as in the KJV translation, “one shall be taken, and the other left,” leading some to erroneously understand this as a reference to the rapture).
In the parable of the Householder and His servant, faithfulness would result in the servant being positioned as ruler over all the Lord’s goods, but unfaithfulness would result in the servant (the same servant) being assigned a place with the hypocrites.
In the parable of the ten virgins, the faithful servants (wise virgins) were allowed to enter into the marriage festivities, but the unfaithful servants (foolish virgins) were excluded from these festivities.
And in the parable of the talents, the faithful servants were allowed to enter into “the joy” of their Lord, but the unfaithful servant was cast into the darkness outside (i.e., cast into a place of darkness outside Christ’s “joy,” having to do with the things surrounding His reign over the earth, which would include the preceding marriage festivities [cf. Luke 19:16-19; Hebrews 12:1, 2]).
Understanding the interrelationship between these parables and comparing them with the parable of the marriage festival in chapter twenty-two, it becomes clear that “outer darkness” is associated with all four. This is the place where the unfaithful servants found themselves in all of the parables, even though the expression is used only in the parable of the talents. One parable describes the place, and all four describe conditions in this place — whether in a place outside the marriage festivities or outside Christ’s subsequent reign.
Comparing the parable of the Householder and His servant with the parable of the talents, note that positions of rulership are in view in both parables. Only the faithful will be apportioned these positions. The unfaithful will not only be denied positions in the kingdom but they will be apportioned their place “with the hypocrites,” where there will be “the weeping and the gnashing of teeth [an Eastern expression of deep grief]” (Matthew 24:51; 25:30, ASV); and this place is referred to as “the outer darkness” (ASV) in the latter parable.
(Note the same expression in Matthew 22:13 in connection with “the outer darkness” [cf. also Matthew 8:12]. Also note that the unfaithful among the ten virgins were excluded from the marriage festivities [25:10-12], as was the man without a wedding garment [who was bound and cast into “the outer darkness”] in Matthew 22:11-13.)
[The preceding taken from Judgment Seat of Christ, Chitwood]
A time of judgment is coming for every person born on earth, Christian or otherwise, in which his works will be judged (Ecclesiastes 12:14). For the Christian (previously a Jew or Gentile), it will be at the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10) where his works will be judged for reward or loss (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). At this judgment only millennial verities will be involved, i.e. his status during Christ’s one thousand year reign on earth (Messianic Era).
A Christian at this judgment, based on his works, will either experience loss by not being “called out” (from the body of Christ) to be part of the “bride of Christ” and thereby will lose his “inheritance” as a “first born son” to share rulership with Christ during the Messianic Era; or, will experience reward by becoming part of the “bride of Christ,” establishing his “inheritance” as a “first born son” to indeed share rulership with Christ during the Messianic Era. Fortunately, for the Christian, this judgment will have no affect upon his eternal salvation, a free gift purchased by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross of Calvary and which can only be obtained through faith alone in Christ alone, and which can never be abrogated by man or God. For access to various studies regarding this comprehensive redemptive plan of God for man, the reader is directed to either www.bibleone.net or www.lampbroadcast.org.
As for the non-Christian’s judgment, it will take place after the Messianic Era as seen in Revelation 20:11-15. It is normally referred to as The Great White Throne Judgment. Without the benefit of the free gift of salvation, each person appearing before this judgment will be judged according to his deeds during his lifetime upon earth, all being insufficient to merit eternal life. This being the case, each one will be assigned his place in the “lake of fire” (not “outer darkness”). There will be no recourse or appeal from this judgment. It will be final . . . and, eternal.
* Arlen L. Chitwood, The Lamp Broadcast, Inc., Norman, Oklahoma