In the last blog we looked at a few of the references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that those who are “cast into the outer darkness” would suffer. We saw that the warning was not towards the godless, but those that follow God, His people; which are now in this age Christians. We saw how it speaks of losing the light of God’s special revelation. Since His revelation is progressive it means that those with the privilege of having the previous revelation could possibly miss out on the next move of God. Therefore since we don’t have all truth (for we only know in part 1 Corinthians 13:9,10) we are susceptible to losing God’s calling if we are not open to how and where God is moving in history.
We will now look at other references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that concern “the furnace of fire.”
The Furnace of Fire; The Wheat and the Tares
The first instance of this phrase is once again found in a parable and is recorded in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42. The parable is one that everyone is familiar with, the wheat and tares. In the parable a certain farmer sows some good seed, but during the night his enemy comes in and sows tares. The farmer doesn’t realize this until they start to sprout, but by then its too late, if he pulls the tares out, it will damage the wheat. So he waits until harvest time and then he harvests both the wheat and the tares but separates them. He then bundles all the tares together and burns them. Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable a few verses later saying,
“So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The first thing that we ought to notice is that this takes place at the end of the age. Jesus was not giving an immediate warning towards the Jewish nation, but a company of people who will be there at the end. This, we must assume, is a reference to the Church, who will be there when Christ Returns. We can also see plainly from the text that Christ’s angels will gather “out of His kingdom” those who are then thrown into “the furnace of fire.” Therefore they must be part of the Christian community, for they cannot be in His kingdom to be removed out unless this was so. We see here a very similar warning to the one Christ gave to the Jewish kingdom when God was beginning something new. Only this time it applies to that move of God that will take us into the Millennial Kingdom. Which means that it applies specifically to those who are presently God’s people – Christians.
Secondly, we must notice the symbolism of the parable. Thus it is interesting to note that the tares are indistinguishable from the wheat (at first). It is only when the wheat reaches maturity that the difference between the two can be clearly seen. Wheat becomes heavy and begins to sag under the weight of its fruit, while a tare does not (for it is fruitless). It is almost as if the wheat shows humility in its maturity (its fruit bearing), whereas tares manifest neither humility nor fruit. The wheat is edible in contrast to the tares, which are poisonous. In fact this is why the tares are thrown into the fire, so that their poisonous seeds will not contaminate the following year’s crop. The fire is part of the farming picture Christ is painting.
Whatever the tares are, they are part of the wheat company until the “end of the age.” Thus they are part of the Church and indistinguishable from a true follower of Christ, at least until Christ’s angels separate them from the wheat at His Return; much like the sheep and the goats were separated.
Shortly after this, in the same chapter of Matthew, Christ gives a similar parable about a fisherman who caught good fish and bad fish (vs. 47-50). It’s a very short parable, probably b/c of how similar it is to the wheat and the tares. Jesus then gives the interpretation saying,
“So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
At first glance this may not seem quite as clear about involving followers of God. But this is simply b/c it is such a short parable; there are not as many details as there are in the other parable. However, there are still a few details that we can notice.
Firstly, the parable itself is almost a mirror image of the parable of the wheat and tares. Both involve some form of labor that produces a harvest, and both involve good and bad portions of the harvest. The imagery only differs in occupation. Furthermore Christ’s interpretation is almost exactly the same as His interpretation of the wheat and the tares.
Secondly, Christ said that the angels will take the wicked out from “among” the righteous, implying that they were among them – that they were part of them. This reminds the listener of what Christ said in the previous parable about gathering the wicked out of His kingdom.
Lastly and most importantly, the picture of fishing is probably the single biggest image of Christianity next to the cross – for the Church is called to be fishers of men! Christ told Peter, who was a professional fisherman, that he would become a fisher of men (Matthew 4:18,19; Mark 1:16,17) and this has taken deep root in the Church. For from its inception the Church has adopted the picture of a fish as its symbol. Even today the fish is universally recognized as a symbol of the Church. Thus the parable is prophetic of those who are “caught” by and part of the Church, but are yet somehow no good.
That is the last “furnace of fire” reference. However there yet remain two more instances where Christ refers simply to “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
One is found yet again in another parable (24:45-51). This particular one concerns a Master who goes away for an undisclosed amount of time (symbolic of Christ’s disappearance into heaven until His Return). He leaves a certain servant in charge of all His other servants. Christ then describes 2 types of servant; the faithful obedient servant who will be rewarded on His Return; and the evil rebellious servant who will be judged when He returns. Christ then declares the judgment of such an evil servant,
“…the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The phrase “cut him in pieces” is a term of scourging, where one was whipped with a cat of nine tails, effectually ripping his back into shreds. Thus his back was ‘cut into pieces.’ It does not refer to some sort of dismembering (as certain organizations so frequently do! ;))
I hardly need to point out how clear it is that this is referring to Christians, more specifically Christian leaders. Christians are the only people considered “slaves” of God, and Christian leaders are the ones “put in charge of His household to give [the rest of the servants] their food in the proper season.” Luke 12:42-48 records this same parable, but instead of saying that the wicked servant will be assigned a place with the “hypocrites,” it says he will be assigned a place with the “unbelievers.” This is proof positive that Christ is speaking about believers. The theme remains consistent, it is always God’s people who will suffer the fate of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The last instance of this terminology is found in Luke 13:22-30. Here is the section in its entirety.
“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from me, all you evildoers.’ In that place 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, but yourselves being thrown out. And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”
We can see here that Luke’s record of Christ’s words include phrases that we saw earlier in one of Matthew’s referrals to “the outer darkness.” Once again it is easy to see how it is referring to God’s people, not unbelievers. But to really drive the point home, let us take a look at Matthew’s account of this section. It is found in 7:13-23
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits… A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
You can see the similarities between the 2 Gospels. Not only that, but you can see many of the themes that we noticed in earlier references to “the furnace of fire.” On top of this we have many themes of authentic vs. counterfeit believers. Almost nowhere in Scripture is it as clear as here that there will be “many” Christians who will miss out on the kingdom of heaven. We know this is speaking of Christians b/c they call Him “Lord,” they prophecy in His name, they perform miracles in His name and even cast out demons all in His name. It’s pretty hard to miss the significance of who Christ is addressing here.
It is not my intention to address the issue of exactly what the kingdom of heaven is…that would require a book all on its own. Nor is it my intention to scare anyone. But it would be wise for every Christian to be aware of these warnings and to seek God for themselves to discover His will and know what standard He requires of us.
That being said, I think that we have seen fairly clearly that every instance in Scripture that addresses “the outer darkness, furnace of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth” – concerns certain disobedient followers of God. It is crucial to understand this, not only b/c it applies to us, but so that we might better avoid misapplying these verses to unsaved people going to Hell.
To further establish this, let us look at one more instance where it is obvious that God’s people don’t make it into the Kingdom of Heaven. It is found in Matthew 25:1-13. It is the parable of the Ten Virgins. I will not detail the parable, but I will point out two things. First they missed out on partaking of the Kingdom and marriage feast (with Christ), which will be heartbreaking. Second they were virgins engaged to the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is Christ, and Christians are supposed to be pure virgins b/c we are engaged to be married to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-25 and Revelation 21:2). It is clear that this is a warning spoken to the Body of Christ, and not unbelievers.
Seeing what we have seen thus far in the previous series on the words forever and eternal, as well as what we have seen in this series concerning the words we mistake for hell, as well as seeing how every other reference to some sort of hellish punishment actually applies to Christians, it becomes quite an obstacle to continue to believe in a doctrine of endless Hell reserved exclusively for non-Christians, as we have been traditionally taught. There must be some sort of revision concerning our understanding of Hell. And that will be the subject of the next series, where we address the themes of judgment found in the Scriptures. But before we get there we have a couple more issues to tackle. The next being anomalies in the New Testament concerning hell.