Month 2:30, Rosh Chodesh Preparation Day, Year:Day 5936:059 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Sunday 20 May 2012
Is It Hell or Something Else?
I have been asked to give my understanding of what the three pasages of Scriptures in Matthew mean when they speak of "outer darkness" (Mt.8:12; 22:13; 25:30). To do that we must understand what the words "darkness" and "outer" mean in the receptor tongue and then place them in the context of the passages in which they are used.
In the Bible "darkness" is always to be understood as the reverse of its opposite, "light" which, when not being used to describe literal light, refers to simcha (joy), blessing, and chayim (life). As its contrast, darkness is used to represent sorrow, adversity and death. Additionally, as light represents Yahweh's presence, so to dwell in darkness is to be cut off from that presence (Ps.27:1; Is.9:2; 2 Cor.4:6) and implies judgment. As light refers to set-apartness or holiness, so darkness is a metaphor for impurity and uncleanness. And as Elohim is absolute Light, so Satan is absolute Darkness. Those who dwell in Yahweh's presence are accordingly described as the "children of light" where as those who belong to Satan are the "children of darkness".
The opposite of "outer" is "inner" and describes either the singular opposite of one of only two states (inside or outside) or the most extreme of a gradation or spectrum of opposites. Does it mean, as some translations interpret it, simply "the darkness outside [of Yahweh's Presence]" or does it mean "ultra- or extreem darkness"? We will identify which of these is the more correct interpretation as we look at the three contexts.
Here Yah'shua (Jesus) clearly explains that a failure to trust in Him on the part of Israelites will result in their being thrust into "outer darkness" along with everyone else who does not believe in the manner of the Roman Centurion. Though born for the Kingdom the Judahites are only born into it by trusting like everyone else. It looks pretty much as though Yah'shua (Jesus) means us to understand "outer darkness" here in the very simple sense of not being in Yahweh's Presence, and to therefore somehow be in hell.
"'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 (Israelites) [who do not have this kind of emunah/faith] will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' Then Yah'shua (Jesus) said to the centurion, 'Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.' And his servant was healed that same hour" (Matt.8:11-13, NKJV).
The second reference to "outer darkness" is a particular interesting one because it is used to justify the doctrine of Purgatory by Roman Catholics, that place of purification for sinners whose passage through it can be supposedly facilitated by the prayers of the living:
This parable by Yah'shua (Jesus) has traditionally caused all sorts of exegetical problems but perhaps the simplest explanation is that here is a man who has tried to sneak into the Kingdom by simply saying he is a 'believer' but without having gone through the proper conversion process of being convicted of sin, repenting and being born again. In other words, this is a nominal believer who lacks the covering provided by the atonement of Messiah. Such are those who try to enter the Kingdom by some 'other way', without spiritual regeneration, and who must, of necessity, continue to be numbered with the unbelievers whose destiny is "outer darkness" or hell.
"So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he 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, but few are chosen" (Matt.22:12-14, NKJV).
At first I thought that this was a true believer but not submitted to the mitzvot (commandments) but this is not the p'shat or plain sense of the passage but an unnecessary convolution and complication that has led to needless controversy in some quarters. This has led writers like Zane Hodges to conclude in his book, Grace in Eclipse, that those who turn up at the banquet are all believers who make it into Heaven but only those who have carefully carried out their obligations while on earth are entitled to actually participate in the banquet and so be robed:
The problem with Hodges' interpretation is that it implies some sort of works-based salvation and that those who are robed have 'earned' their robes somehow. He falsely concludes, because of this wrong assumption, that "outer darkess" is a kind of 'suburb' of heaven. Like the first passage, the second is simply distinguishing between true salvation and false. And whilst we know there are different divisions of the Kingdom based on degree of surrender and works this is not what these two passages are about. And the second is not distinguishing two classes of believer at all. At the same time, Hodges' critic Keathley wrongly concludes that there is only one grade of salvation, failing to distinguish between salvation and rewards based on faithfulness.
"...the wedding clothes are something the believers bring with them to the banquet. He equates the King's observation of the guests at the banquet to the Bema seat where Christ judges the believers for their good works. In short, the guy made it to heaven but can't partake of the banquet because he wasn't a faithful Christian. For Hodges, the passage refers to loss of eternal rewards and not one's eternal destiny" .
The third and final passage that talks about "outer darkness" is to be found in the Parable of the Unprofitable Servant. This is in a quite different category to the first two:
I cite this passage in my series of devotionals on Universal Graded Salvation because the the servants, who are respectively given 5, 3 and 1 talent(s) to invest and whose increase is, respectively, 5, 3 and 0, describe the three degrees of glory mentioned by Paul. In this pssage the one who produces no increase is cast into "outer darkness" whereas the other two, who double their talents, receive commendation from the Master.
"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' But his master answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'" (Matt.25:24-30, NKJV).
One of the fruits of salvation is multiplication of gifts, ohr (light), ahavah (love), emunah (faith), and so forth. A lack of multiplication is evidence of non-salvation because the emunah (faith) required to multiply the talent was not there - the servant had not been regenerated because he had not surrendered his life. He is an example of a lazy and worthless servant whose excuse for inactivity was fear of condemnation should things go wrong.
The first two servants represent the first and second resurrections of believers, respectively, with the third the resurrection to damnation as represented by "outer darkness". It is the natural home of those who do nothing with their spiritual life because of fear to trust.
So what is "outer darkness"? Is it 'hell' as traditionally understood by Protestants - a place of eternal torture - or as Jehovah's Witnesses, many Messianics and others who review it simply as the 'grave'? Neither. Part of the confusion that obtains about the afterlife in different religious circles is resolved by the understanding that hell is a place of purging for lawless and disobedient believers and a place of age-long (as opposed to eternal) punishment for unbelievers until the Cosmic Jubilee finally releases them to dwell in the twilight zone of the third degree of glory. To understand this important topic better, please see my three-part series of sermons, The Fire of Yahweh and also my ongoing series of devotionals on Universal Graded Salvation. There you will learn more about the nature of "outer darkness" or "hell" and what exactly it is for.
One thing is for certain - no one needs to be in "outer darkness" and in the heart of hearts nobody wants to be. The problem lies in a willingness or refusal to surrender ones life to Yah'shua (Jesus), and then to what degree. The Catholics have got it partly right but where they are wrong is in claiming that after their cleansing, those believers in Purgatory are united with those who escaped it after they are purged in a uniform glory. Catholics, like Protestants and most Messianics, deny that heaven is graded and believe that after everything is resolved at the conclusion of the Millennium, there will only be two places: an eternal heaven and an eternal hell. This, we maintain, is a false doctrine for Scripture declares that hell comes to an end, leaving three categories of heaven or light difference in glory as compared with what we see from earth in terms of the brilliance of the sun, moon and stars (1 Cor.15:41).
The good news is that "outer darkness" or hell does come to an end and that Yahweh is no malevolent torturer as orthodox Christianity would have us believe but is perfectly just in grading the eternal rewards of man according to his emunah (faith) and works. Nevertheless, let no man be complacent about salvation for not only is there no second chance after you're dead but "outer darkness" is absolutely not a place you ever want to be in, even for a limited amount of time. Why serve a sentence for unrepented sin or outright rebellion when you can be free to enjoy the best of everything Yahweh has.
Surrender to Yah'shua (Jesus) and obey His Torah!
 Hampton Keathley IV, The "Outer Darkness": Heaven's Suburb or Hell?