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What is "the Outer Darkness?"

by David A. DePra

But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness

there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 8:12)

And cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and

gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 22:13)

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall

be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 25:30)

     The term "outer darkness" occurs three times in the gospels, all

in parables of our Lord. Each time the term is used, someone is

CAST there -- from God's presence. And each time, Jesus says

that in that outer darkness will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

     Not a pretty picture. But obviously, Jesus did not tell these

parables, nor paint such a sobering picture, for no reason. He told

these parables to correct us, and help us avoid the fate described.

     If there were a book written entitled, "Scriptures Which Apply To

Everyone Else But Me," these parables which speak of the outer

darkness would be included. No one imagines that THEY could be

cast into outer darkness. Yet probably someone reading this, right

now, is going to be. The possibility is there or Jesus would not have

taken the time to warn us.

Not Eternal Hell

     What is "the outer darkness?" Most of us would probably say, "It

is eternal hell." Of course, we have no clue as to how to reconcile

outer darkness with hell fire -- if we think hell consists of fire -- but

many of us would say it anyways. We think that when Jesus says

that someone is to be cast into outer darkness that He is talking

about God throwing someone into hell.

     Actually, the Bible never speaks of eternal damnation as being

literal fire. Not even in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

"Gehenna" is the word used for "hell fire" which is everlasting. And

that place "gehenna" was an actual place during Jesus' time. It

was the garbage heap outside the wall of Jerusalem, located in

the Kidron valley. This place was also a location where Israel had

sunk to their lowest moral ebb, sacrificing children to false Gods.

This was the valley of Hinnom.

     Note that the "gehenna fire" was ALWAYS burning. That's

because there was always garbage from a city like Jerusalem

Thus, that is why it was everlasting fire -- figuratively speaking. But

the real picture is that of a fire which is there to burn garbage, in

this case, spiritual garbage in US. And if we resist God, it never

is able to burn it. So it is a fire which always burns, but never

consumes -- but only "torments" because we are resisting God

in favor of our own will. There is both a temporal and eternal

application to this.

     But then there is "outer darkness." What is that? Well, actually,

it is somewhat the same picture. There was so much smoke from

that ever-burning fire in gehenna, that it made everything in that

valley DARK. And because that valley was OUTSIDE the city

walls, this place could be called the "outer darkness."

     Note the geographical relationship. We have Jerusalem, which

would be the INNER -- and this stands for the presence of God. But

then we have the OUTER darkness, which is outside the city walls.

     Those who are cast out of God's presence are cast into this outer

darkness. But then we have even yet a third place: Into the fire


     Presence of God, outer darkness, and then eternal gehenna fire.

These are the three locations with with we are dealing. They were

geographical locations back then. But Jesus used them to typify

spiritual realities and conditions.

Outer from WHAT?

     In Jesus' time, the "outer darkness" referred to a place OUTSIDE

of the city of Jerusalem, but not necessarily IN the gehenna fire

itself. The term "outer darkness" suggests much.

     First of all, take the word "outer." Once you use that word, you

have to have what? An "inner." Sure. Do you see that? If you have

an "outer darkness," you have to have a location which is INNER,

so that, relatively speaking, there can be an OUTER. There is no

"outer" anything unless you have an "inner" to which it is being


     The parables provide us with the identity of the "inner." In each

case, someone is being cast into "outer darkness" FROM the

presence of Jesus, or from a position God gave them. So the word

"outer" is speaking in relation to God. He is the center, or the inner.

His presence likened to Jerusalem itself.

     The spiritual picture, however, carries even more meaning. In

Jesus there is all life, light, and Truth. God IS light. So spiritually

speaking, the closer you get to God, the more light there is. The

farther away you get, the darker it is. Thus, the "outer darkness"

is not close to God. It is away from Him.

     But in the parables, do not simply limit the meaning of being

cast into the outer darkness to something geographical. No. It is

much more than that. It is more importantly, the SPIRITUAL

CONDITION of the person being "cast" there.

     Jesus is describing individuals who were saved, but who have

spent their lives DISTANCING themselves from God. They were

apparently saved because they are shown to be given the

opportunity to do right, be faithful, and stay in the inner light. Those

who are not saved never have that opportunity in the first place.

These individuals all had a certain amount of light, but nevertheless

chose to DISTANCE themselves from that light.

     Now note: They chose to distance themselves from the light. So

what is the judgment against them? To be cast into outer darkness.

In other words, the final judgment upon them is exactly what they

had chosen all along: Distance from God. Outer darkness.

  Never think the event of death will change you. It will not. Rather,

it will seal and confirm what you have become. If you have spent

your life -- even as a professing Christian -- distancing yourself from

God -- then THAT is what you will receive. Exactly as you have

chosen. Perfect justice. You will simply be cast into the outer

darkness which you already have within you by choice.

     Is this a matter of LOSING one's salvation? It is not possible to

lose one's salvation in the sense of God yanking it back. Why?

Because you can't be born again backwards. And salvation is

free. So you didn't earn it to begin with. Thus, you can unearn it.

But once you have salvation by grace, you are responsible for what

you become BECAUSE of it. With what you DO with it.

     A person who has received salvation has been given LIGHT.

They KNOW. This is a great freedom and joy. But it is also a

great responsibility. You must now walk in the light. If you reject

that light in favor of your own will, there will come in a darkness.

And it will be a terrible, outer darkness.

Jesus said,

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single,

your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your

whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in

thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt. 5:22-23)

     The "eye" is the motivation and goal for living. Our choices are

two: God or ourselves. God's will or MY will.

     The place where we determine whether we will dwell in light or

darkness is NOW. How? Quite simple. We are right now living

in either the Light or darkness. By our faith or unbelief. Right now.

What we are becoming in Christ right now is going to determine

what will happen to us then. *

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