College and Career Summer Session – July 3, 2019
On Sunday, I had a recommendation for a topic to discuss and that was the instances where outer darkness is mentioned in the Bible. There is debate concerning what this is as a place and how one gets there. Is it hell? Is it a type of purgatory? Is it something else? The purpose of this study is to attempt to understand the larger implications of the scripture passages outer darkness is found in and from that, hopefully, make some reasonable conclusions. However, if you are looking for a dogmatic punchline to the whole study, you may not find it exists where you want it to. This should come more clear as we go on.
The three instances were outer darkness is mentioned are all found in Matthew: chapters 8, 22, and 25. Two of these references are contained with parables, whereas the other is spoken after a real event (that being Matthew 8). Let’s address the parables first then circle back to Matthew 8.
When we approach parables in the Bible, we need to be careful that we are not trying to assign rigid definitions to its terminology as that will often lead to taking positions on the parable that you cannot consistently claim elsewhere in scripture. Often when we dogmatize a parable, we end up creating something that the parable was never designed to uphold. Instead of attempting to ascribe a doctrinal definition to every word of the parable, we need to pull the nose up and climb to a higher altitude and assess what the underlying truth or principle is that the parable is conveying. The reason this is necessary is because of the nature of what a parable is. The word parable comes from words that carry the idea of a dark saying, or a riddle, or a proverb. In Mathematics, there are parabolas that, when graphed, they demonstrate a symmetrical curve (U-shape). When something is said to have symmetry, that means if you were to divide the object in half, what exists on one side is essentially mirrored on the other side. A parable functions in this manner. The language of the parable mirrors the truth or principle it is driving towards. The parabolic language and the principle are in symmetry.
Being in symmetry is often what is necessary for something to function as an allegory. An allegory is the usage of terminology, places, people, things, etc. to picture something outside of itself. For example, in Galatians 4, we find that Hagar (the bondwoman) and Sarah (the free woman) are allegories of bondage and freedom, respectively. Hagar and Sarah were certainly real people, yet are used parabolically when describing the difference in the family that seeks to be righteous before God by their works (the family of Hagar/Bondage) vs the family that seeks to have God’s righteousness on them by faith (the family of Sarah/Freedom).
Galatians 4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? 4:22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. 4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. 4:24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. 4:25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. 4:26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
It is often stated that the way you determine if something is a parable or not is whether or not proper names are used because the theory is that if a proper name is used, then it must be real (which also assumes anything parabolic isn’t real). However, as we see above, in Galatians 4, real names (of people and places) are used in a parable. In Numbers 21, we see a proverb or parable where again proper names and places are recited:
Numbers 21:27 Wherefore they that speak in proverbs say, Come into Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and prepared: 21:28 For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon: it hath consumed Ar of Moab, and the lords of the high places of Arnon.
The account of Hosea and Gomer is a parable of God and Israel. Hosea and Gomer are real, yet, they portrayed something outside of themselves. In fact, their offspring are parables of the portions of Israel that were cut off and the inclusion of the Gentiles as the people of God.
In Ezekiel 17, we find the parable of the great eagle and yet another proper name, Lebanon. (This parable is about the capture of King Jehoiachin in 2Kings 24)
In Ezekiel 23, Israel and Judah are yet again represented parabolically in the parable of the 2 Sisters.
The book of Job is viewed by some to be a parable. While nothing has been presented to me thus far that would be convincing enough to conclude Job never existed, what we can see from the book is that parables were used throughout, let alone if the entire book could be considered as such. But, again, just because Job could be considered a parable, doesn’t mean Job didn’t exist – that is a contradiction that is forced by the faulty premise that parables don’t involve real people.
In Luke 16, we have the account of Lazarus and the rich man where the name Lazarus is used to drive parabolic meaning. The name means, the one whom God helps. And, in the account (which is directed squarely at the Pharisees, by the way) is designed to show that when all is said and done, the one whom God helps is the poor beggar, not the haughty Pharisee (rich man) who fared sumptuously every day, caring nothing for his neighbor. Recall the greatest commandment is to love the Lord thy God and the second is to love thy neighbor as thyself. The Pharisees certainly didn’t love God and absolutely didn’t love their neighbor. Naturally, the parable is designed to show them that unless they repent and humble themselves, it will be the beggar who is exalted to Abraham’s side and it will be the rich man who turns into a beggar.
Again, our goal is to find the truth and/or principle that the parable is aiming at. And, when Jesus is speaking, this is going to be very important because a large amount of what is recorded of His speech is in parables. This is, however, by design.
Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 13:35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
You see the essentially the same thing said in Mark 4:33-34. Matthew and Mark are quoting Psalm 78:2 and demonstrating that Jesus used parables when speaking to the multitudes and without a parable did Jesus not speak unto them. In other words, when Jesus was teaching about God or the Kingdom of God, He used parables to convey His message. But, not only was this a fulfillment of prophecy, but by speaking in parables, it allowed a natural division to occur between the hearers of the parables. Those who desired, by faith, to hear (understand) the parable, they understood it. However, those who had no interest to hear it (understand it), the parable was closed to them. It remained a muddled enigma of gibberish. Note Christ’s words in Mark 4,
Mark 4:10 And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. 4:11 And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: 4:12 That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.
Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 6:9-10. Parables are to reveal information to the heart of faith, but conceal it to the heart of pride. This is intentional as it is in harmony with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. In Jesus’ ministry, it was often the Pharisees that were giving Jesus trouble, trying to trip Him up with loaded questions about the Law, and even asking questions that had they understood the parable, their questions would have been different. Yet, nonetheless, the Pharisees determined that they would reject the counsel of God against themselves in order that they might keep their own traditions. (Mark 7:9) To the Pharisees, their presumed power over the people was not to be challenged, especially by enigmatic speech. However, the irony is, as we look at the parables in Matthew 22 and 25, and as we consider this thing called, outer darkness, we’ll see that the Pharisees are indeed the subjects of these parables (at least in part).
THE PARABLE OF THE WEDDING FEAST
In Matthew 21, Jesus has come into the temple and has overthrown the money changers tables because they were taking a house of prayer and making it a den of thieves. The chief priests come out to see the ruckus as what is happening is going to be bad for business. Just like Demetrius in Acts 19 who got upset that the Ephesian market for Diana idols was being negatively impacted by Paul’s preaching of the Gospel, so too these Pharisees aren’t taking it too kindly that their means of profit is being hindered, especially by this Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is then approached and is demanded to declare on what authority He does this. He asks the famous question in return wanting to know if the baptism of John was of heaven or of men. The Pharisees immediately realize they are trapped because if they say it was from heaven, then they will be exposed for not believing it (yet claiming to be on heaven’s side). If they say John’s baptism is of man, then they will have the people to deal with because of how much the people revered John the Baptist. So, the Pharisees take door number 3 – the simply passed. In lieu of their response, Jesus tells them that they have no right to know by what authority He does this if they cannot answer His question. This starts Jesus down a road of parables, in the presence of these Pharisees.
The first parable is the parable of the 2 sons. Both sons were bidden to go work in their father’s vineyard. One son declined but later repented and went to work. The other son declined and never changed his mind. Jesus asks the Pharisees which son did the will of the father? The Pharisees respond that the first son did. Jesus nails them on this for they answered correctly. Reckon which son the Pharisees are typified by?–it is the latter. Note these words from Christ,
Matthew 21:31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 21:32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
Jesus, in the temple, tells the chief priests that harlots and publicans (tax collectors) would be found in the Kingdom of God before the Pharisees would. This is heavy stuff for these Pharisees, yet, as Pharaoh, they harden their hearts and having ears to hear, they close them to it. However, Jesus isn’t finished and starts into another parable, the parable of the husbandman. In this parable, Jesus describes a vineyard that was owned by a master yet was let out to a husbandman while the master was away. This husbandman was proxy for the master who was away. Yet, the husbandman did not tend to the vineyard and the well-being of its servants, rather, the husbandman beat and killed the servants. More servants came, and the results were the same. The master eventually sent his son to work in the vineyard, and the husbandman captured the son and killed him. Therefore, Jesus asks when the master of the vineyard comes back, what do the Pharisees supposed would happen to the husbandman?
Matthew 21:41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. 21:42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 21:43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 21:44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 21:45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. 21:46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
The Pharisees understand they are being spoken of, but they are more concerned that they are being exposed than actually responding in repentance. Jesus is laying it on thick at this point and is not about to stop. As chapter 22 opens, we find Jesus speaking about a wedding feast. A king was throwing a wedding for his son and wanted to invite guests to the wedding celebration. This is kingdom of heaven that Jesus speaks of is likened unto what is true about this wedding feast. Unfortunately, the invitations were rejected. So, the king sends out more servants with more invitations and some of the intended recipients just went back to their farming or their merchandise and the rest of the intended recipients started killing these servants. The king is angry that his servants are being treated like this and sends his armies to destroy them, then, he sends his servants out to invite all who would come to the wedding. Instead of going to the same group, now the invitation goes global, to all. Eventually the wedding is furnished with guests and as the king comes in, he notices someone in attendance who doesn’t have a wedding garment on and the king questions him on it. Note this exchange,
Matthew 22:12 And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
Ok, not much of an exchange as the guy was speechless. He had nothing he could respond with. In Jewish culture, when a wedding invitation was received, the guests would prepare a wedding garment so they could adorn it whenever the appointed time for the celebration came. In those days, there wasn’t a paper invitation with time and place, but rather once the engagement (betrothal) was formally announced, the groom would go away and prepare a place for he and his soon-to-be wife to reside. Once the groom had finished preparations, he would return to take his bride. However, before his return, the ‘best man’ would go ahead of him and announce his arrival. We might say it is like a voice crying in the wilderness saying, prepare ye the way of the Lord. Upon that announcement, it was time to get your wedding garments on. This could happen at a moment’s notice, so there was no time to waste. One could not wait for the announcement of the best man and then go about scrounging up their wedding garment. In the parable of the wedding feast, we find a guy who came to the wedding, but was improperly dressed and the king calls him on it. Because he is not in proper attire, the king orders this wedding crasher, as it were, to be bound hand and foot and cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. All this just because they guy didn’t have his tux on? Yes, that’s exactly it, but it is what this tux represents that makes all the difference. In the book of Isaiah, we find that there are garments that every person who responds to God in faith would be adorned with and we even have it being related to wedding garments,
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
The wedding garments that the guests are to have on pictures the salvation and righteousness a person of faith is clothed in. By responding affirmatively to the servants invitation to the wedding, the guests made their wedding garments ready. The difference being that instead of producing the garment themselves, they are clothed in it from God. Yet the one who shows up to the wedding without being clothed in the righteousness of God is confronted because he is essentially standing in his own righteousness–his own garments. Christ wants the Pharisees to see that they are this guy who doesn’t have the proper garments as they live and seek to maintain their own righteousness. Therefore, they would be showing up wildly under-dressed and at the same time, detrimentally under-dressed. The one standing in their own righteousness is bound and put into outer darkness. Is outer darkness a picture of hell? Could be. Is outer darkness a picture of God’s judgment? Could be. Is outer darkness a place where under-performing believers are temporarily punished until they are allowed into the kingdom of God? Certainly not – that hasn’t been anywhere in the context of what Jesus has been speaking about.
The Parable of the Wedding Feast demonstrates that there is no ambiguity between where the respondent of faith is (in the wedding feast) vs where the respondent of rejection is (in outer darkness). The underlying principle that this parable is built on is that faith unlocks the proper garments (righteousness) to be welcome into the kingdom of God. (And, as we’ll see, Matthew 8 affirms this to be the case.)
THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS
In Matthew 25, we have to decent parables, one of the wise and foolish virgins and the other of the talents. The parable of the virgins is a wedding-centered parable where they were to be watching for the bridegroom. (Think of these virgins as bridesmaids.) As we mentioned above, then the bridegroom comes back, it could be at a moment’s notice, so it is imperative for these virgins to be ready. Drawing on the customs of the day, these virgins were to have their lamps/lanterns trimmed and prepared with oil. The wise virgins have oil in their lamps but also oil in their vessels. In other words, they prepared in case the watching for the bridegroom took longer than expected. The foolish virgins only took oil in their lamps and when that oil was used up, they asked of the wise virgins to give them of their oil but the wise virgins told them to go to the market to buy more. When the foolish virgins are in the marketing buying more oil, the bridegroom comes and essentially seals the deal for these foolish virgins – they are not permitted entrance to the wedding.
Matthew 25:10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. 25:11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. 25:12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. 25:13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.
There is an admonition to watch for the bridegroom because the hour in which He comes is unknown. The underlying principle here is that proper preparation now (faith) can’t be replaced with unwise, hasty preparation later. Although it isn’t mentioned, it is possible that the foolish virgins would suffer the same fate of outer darkness (signified by the door being shut to them). This is reminiscent of Noah and the Ark that salvation was in the ark and once Noah and his family were on board, God shut the door to the rest of the world, as the foolish virgins.
Either way, Christ uses this parable of being prepared for an unexpected arrival and transitions into another parable of similar tone.
Matthew 25:14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 25:15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
In the parable of the talents, a master has three servants and gives to them talents. Talents are a unit of money (don’t think of someone having talent to do or perform certain things). To one servant, he gave 5 talents; to another 2 talents and to the last, 1 talent. The master went away and it was up to the servants to make use of the master’s talents while the master was away. When the master returns, he reckons with all of the servants as to what they did. The servant that was given 5 talents had doubled them to 10. The servant that was given 2 talents had doubled them to 4. Both of these servants were praised for being good and faithful and were permitted to enter into the joy of their lord. The last servant didn’t fare so well. He simply buried his talent in the earth hoping to just give it back to the master when he came back for fear of risking it in the market and losing it. However, the master is not pleased with this at all. Each servant was given talents that they could be stewards of. The amount of they received is relative to what they could handle. It was their job to trade these talents (think of a stock exchange type engagement), not sit on them. The master tells the last servant that he could have at least put it in the bank so he could get a little interest on the talent. But, because the servant did nothing, he was also rewarded with outer darkness.
Matthew 25:16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 25:17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 25:18 But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord’s money. 25:19 After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 25:20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 25:21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 25:22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 25:23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
Matthew 25:24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25:25 And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 25:26 His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 25:27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 25:28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 25:29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 25:30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This parable can be a little tricky because it seems to suggest that I need to work for my reward (and therefore to escape outer darkness). However, a master has servants because those servants are to carry out the master’s desire. Throughout the Old Testament, Jacob (Israel) is called the servant of God. They were the nation God chose to serve as the conduit to bring Christ to the world and through that, they would in turn serve the other nations of the earth. Even though there was a collective service, as a nation, each individual would have to make the choice if they were going to be the servant their master desired. In other words, being born into servant-hood didn’t guarantee that one would be a good and faithful servant. Those who were given little and were faithful in little were rewarded with much. However, those who were given little and were not faithful in little were rewarded with outer darkness. The Pharisees aren’t in the audience when this parable is spoken as it is to the disciples (going back to Matthew 24). Both the parable of the virgins and the talents are directed at Christ’s disciples. Both parables describe some arrival of either the bridegroom or the master and a distinction made of the people they come to. The wise virgins enter into the wedding because they made preparations in faith. The good and faithful servants enter into the joy of their lord because in faith, they stewarded well the goods of their master. In both instances, faith worked within those counted as wise and good, and from that working of faith, the virgins and the servants responded favorably. The rest are put in outer darkness.
This is where the protestant purgatory idea usually comes into play. The idea is that since they are all servants and they are all being judged at the same time, then they must all be believers. Two of them go into the kingdom where the third doesn’t lose his salvation but must be punished in outer darkness for a period of time before he is permitted to go into the kingdom. Unfortunately, this is a contrived conclusion based on presumptions about the word servant and the timing of their reckoning. As we mentioned above, servants, where Israel was concerned, was the natural and national duty of every Israelite born. Whether or not they responded to their duty in faith was completely up to them. Many, as we know, did not. Every believer is a servant, but not every servant is a believer. This is important to note that this idea of outer darkness isn’t just something Jesus levies against the Pharisees but also uses it when discussing these matters with His closest followers. Those who refused to pick up the banner of faith, thus being the servant they were called to be, aren’t welcomed into the joy of the Lord. This is certainly true of the Pharisees, but also certainly not limited to them.
In Matthew 8, we have the account of a Roman Centurion who has a sick servant and approaches Christ that He may heal his servant. Christ asks to be brought to the servant and the Centurion recognizes the power of Christ and says there is no need for Christ to make extra efforts, for He just needs to speak and his servant would be healed. Christ’s response is very telling,
Matthew 8:10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. 8:11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. 8:12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 8:13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.
Notice that Jesus turns to those who were with him – Jews – and makes the statement that the faith of the Roman Centurion (a Gentile) was so great that any faith Christ had found in Israel paled in comparison. Jesus uses this opportunity to teach Israel something about faith’s ultimate conclusion. There will be many who come into the kingdom and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the children of the kingdom would be case into outer darkness. In other words, there will be plenty of Gentiles in the kingdom and plenty of Jews not permitted in the kingdom. Why? What was the catalyst for entrance? It is faith.
What conclusions can we draw then from what we’ve looked at? I think firstly, we see a common theme across these parables and the account of the Centurion and that is that faith is what God responds to. Faith is what works in each person to perform (as James 2 speaks about). The performance isn’t absent of faith nor does it preclude faith, but by faith, performance happens. Those who respond to the invitation of faith are clothed in righteousness. Those who reject the invitation of faith, that they may keep their own traditions, will not be permitted to enter into the joy of the Lord, but must maintain their loyalty to their traditions. However, their traditions only land them outer darkness – a place of turmoil, outside the kingdom of God where God, who is light, withholds His light from that which is outside.
Is outer darkness hell? Certainly possible.
Is outer darkness a simple picture of the judgment of God? Certainly possible.
Is outer darkness a protestant purgatory? No, without twisting Matthew 25, this conclusion has no basis.
Is outer darkness an actual place or is it metaphorical?
Why aren’t the parables more clear about what outer darkness is? Well, they are, but not in the sense we want. We want a clear definition of outer darkness, defining what it is, where it is, and who is in it. Yet, the parables aren’t focused on answering that question. The parables are focused on demonstrating the proximity to God and God’s Kingdom one has, based on their response to faith’s invitation. The point is – respond to faith’s invitation.