Was Jesus Referring to Hell When He Said the ‘Outer Darkness’?

Rather than argue about specific words or names, Jesus makes it quite clear that there is a place that is not heaven. Today we use the term hell to describe such a place, but Scripture uses Gehenna or Hades. Either way, the message remains unchanged.

Updated Jan 23, 2023
Was Jesus Referring to Hell When He Said the ‘Outer Darkness’?

Then the king told the attendants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).

People don’t like to talk about hell. It is no wonder that hell is not a pleasant or fun subject. Don’t get me wrong, we make jokes about hell, and we have an image of the devil as a sort of cute little red figure with horns and a pitchfork.

But we don’t talk in seriousness about what the Bible says about hell or what that destiny might look like for our friends and family.

How often, once a person has passed, do we hear — “they’re in a better place” or “they’re looking down on us now” — in an obvious reference to heaven? Yet often we don’t know.

We want to assume, perhaps to salve our own feelings and fears. Those comments would seem appropriate for Mother Theresa, but what about people like Adolf Hitler?

All too often, pastors don’t like to preach about hell. There is much speculation as to why this might be, but “butts in the seats” seems to always come near the top of the list.

So many churches today are run like businesses, gauging their success on metrics rather than on their faithfulness to Scripture and making true disciples of Christ.

Of course, if you are not pleasing the people, then the people will disappear. But there are other reasons too, including buying into the prosperity gospel, universalism, the negative imagery…or the quite intentional choice to emphasize “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16) over all of his other attributes. Over his justice. Over his judgment. Over his wrath.

The fact of the matter is, we the people seem to want our pastors to appear compassionate and inclusive. We don’t want to hear a message about the evils and consequences of sin, lest we risk offending someone. Anyone.

That is not the way of the world today, it seems. Maybe we consider ourselves too smart and informed to believe in an ancient concept such as hell. After all, a loving God would never send a person to hell if he truly loved them.

Too often, we feel a need to acquiesce to the outright avalanche of pressure to appear more accepting and to back off discussing the consequences of sin.

Paul warned us of such a time in his second letter to Timothy. Paul told Timothy to continue to preach the gospel and to endure whatever hardship might come, despite people’s rejection of sound doctrine, listening to preachers who say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Perhaps we must review again what the Bible says about “hell” — and salvation. Just perhaps we need to look again at what Jesus taught about those who would choose to reject him.

Hell in the Bible

There are many today who contend that the word “hell” appears nowhere in the Bible. They argue that the words have been mistranslated in the modern versions.

Rather than argue about specific words or names, Jesus makes it quite clear that there is a place that is not heaven — that there is a lack of joy and peace.

Today we use the term hell to describe such a place — New Testament writers used Gehenna or Hades — but either way, the message remains unchanged.

In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man — not to be confused with the Lazarus whom Jesus raised from death. Scripture says the rich man suffered torment in Hades.

Jesus’ message in the parable was quite clear – “…if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (v. 31).

However, this parable does not stand alone by any means. The New Testament contains more than 100 references to a place of torment, which we call hell. Many of these warnings were uttered by Jesus, who painted a rather frightening picture.

When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable of the weeds:

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Matthew 13:40-43).

Three times Jesus referred to the “outer darkness…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matthew 22:13).

“But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).

“And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30).

At the very start of the Gospel of John, then again in his first letter, the Apostle John refers to Jesus being light, and in him being no darkness at all. (John 1:4-5; 1 John 1:5) Then in John 3:19-21, John says this:

 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Heaven Is Real and So Is Hell

God is light, in Him there is no darkness. None. Those who do not have a relationship with God through Christ will be thrown into the darkness. Of course, in darkness, there is no light because God is absent.

None of us truly know what heaven and hell will be, but this much is clear: in what we call heaven, we will be with our Creator for all of eternity. In hell, we will be separated from the Father — knowing of him, wanting to be with him, but being unable because of our own choices we made in this life.

Not because he sent us there — but because we thought we knew better than God and chose to go our own way.

We have thus fallen into the trap, the lie, that we can pick and choose what we believe about the God of the Bible; that we can believe in God, yet ignore everything in the Bible we don’t like, including what the Bible might say about unpopular or unpleasant topics. Hell among them.

Whether we choose to accept it or not, hell is one of those deep truths of the Bible we must never ignore, at the risk of preaching a false gospel, albeit terribly unpopular today. Without hell, there was no reason for Jesus to die on the cross and be resurrected again.

For further reading:

What Is the Difference Between Hades and Hell?

Does the Bible Say There Are Levels of Hell?

What Is Hell? A Biblical Guide of its Existence

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/RomoloTavani


SWN authorGreg Grandchamp is the author of "In Pursuit of Truth, A Journey Begins" — an easy-to-read search that answers to most common questions about Jesus Christ. Was he real? Who did he claim to be? What did he teach? Greg is an everyday guy on the same journey as everyone else — in pursuit of truth. You can reach Greg by email [email protected]  and on Facebook

SHARE

Christianity / Theology / Heaven and Hell / Was Jesus Referring to Hell When He Said the ‘Outer Darkness’?