Chapter 24

"Cast Into Outer Darkness"

This is the last study of the parable of the man who went on a long journey, leaving each of his servants with the number of talents he was capable of handling properly. In this segment, we will examine the penalty of the unfaithful servant who buried the only talent given him.

What is meant by the unfaithful servant being cast into outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth? Is this a reference to what in theological terms we call hell or everlasting punishment? Notwithstanding the denials current in our day of the Scripture teaching of future punishment, it behooves each one who knows and loves the Lord to take his stand uncompromisingly upon the Word of God.

Word Studies

From the parable we see that the faithful servants were invited to enter into the joys of their Lord, but the unfaithful sluggard was denied that privilege and was cast into outer darkness where there will be the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Our Lord used words similar to these in Matt. 8:12.

Further light on this subject is to be found in Matt. 5:22: But I say unto you, that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire.

The gehenna of fire is also mentioned in vs. 30 and in Matt. 18:8,9 he spoke of future punishment, calling it "eternal fire" and "the hell of fire."

There are two words in the original text that the translators rendered as the English word hell in the older versions. "Hell" is of Anglo-Saxon origin and etymologically means "to conceal or hide." In the King James version it is employed to do triple duty. For instance, in Matt. 5:22,29,30 it is used to translate the Greek word gehenna; in Luke 16:23 it is used for the Greek word hades; in 2 Pet. 2:4 it also serves as a translation of tartarus.

It is clear from a close study of all passages in which these three words occur that different places are meant. Because of the loose translation of the Common Version, much confusion has been introduced into our theology. The Revised Version has attempted to remedy this situation by giving the proper renderings in the footnotes.

"Hades" is a Greek word transliterated into English. In the original language it was the name of the place to which the departed spirits went, both righteous and wicked, prior to the death, burial, triumph and resurrection of our Lord. "Gehenna" refers to the place where the wicked will be punished, as is evident from the quotation given above. Tartarus is a place to which certain rebellious angels who revolted when Satan attempted to match swords with God were cast. They are incarcerated there, awaiting the day of final judgment. It is called "the pit of the abyss" in Rev. 9:1 and simply "the abyss" in 20:1.

The Place Called "Hades"

In Hades there were two compartments separated by a great gulf. In Luke 16:19-31, that compartment to which the righteous went is called "Abraham's bosom," but the place to which the wicked are assigned is not named. It is a place of punishment, as is evident in that the rich man pleads with Abraham for Lazarus to be sent for water to cool his tongue, for "I am in anguish in this flame" (vs. 24). One must not conclude, however, that Hades and the suffering to which the wicked there are subjected are the same as gehenna with its eternal punishment mentioned in other passages.

The institution of
hades, called in the Hebrew language sheol, must not be confounded with gehenna, the place into which all the wicked will be cast at the end of the thousand years of our Lord's glorious reign upon the earth. Hades had two compartments: one to which the righteous went; the other to which the wicked were consigned. Thus all the dead, prior to our Lord's triumph, went to Hades.

When Christ conquered the spiritual hosts of the unseen world, however, he triumphed over these hidden powers of darkness and came forth from the grave, followed by many of the saints who appeared with him in the Holy City (Col. 2:14,15; Matt. 27:51,52). When he ascended on high, those thus raised accompanied him into Heaven (Eph. 4:8,9).

Ever since our Lord's triumph, the righteous, upon death, go immediately into the presence of Christ: Being therefore always of good courage, and knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:6,7). But I am in a strait betwixt the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ; for it is very far better: yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake (Phil. 1:23,24). And when he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a great voice, saying, How long, 0 Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Rev. 6:9,10).

The spirits of "the dead in Christ" are in the presence of the Lord now and await the time of the Rapture for their resurrection bodies. On the other hand, the wicked upon death seem still to go to Hades, or Sheol, there to await the time of the judgment of the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Place Called "Gehenna"

Gehenna, on the other hand, is called, in various passages, the "Lake of Fire." A few verses from John's preaching may throw light upon this subject.

And even now the axe lieth at the root of the trees: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing-floor; and he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire. (Matt. 3:10-12)

Notice in the beginning John used the illustration of the unfruitful tree and its being cast into the fire. It is evident from the context that he was not talking about the literal tree, but was using it as an illustration to present a spiritual lesson.

The process of the separation of the wicked from the righteous is further elucidated in the language, "he [Messiah] shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire." The baptism of the Holy Spirit here mentioned seems to be a reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Jewish nation in the Millennium as set forth in Joel 2:28f: "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh ..." The baptism of fire spoken of by John is thrown over against the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This truth becomes immediately apparent when one realizes that it was said to a mixed audience, some of whom wanted the truth and would accept Jesus their Messiah when John pointed Him out. The great majority, however, did not long for the facts concerning Christ and did not accept Him as the Messiah upon His coming into prominence. The process of separating the wicked from the righteous and the pronouncement of the doom which will, at the revelation of Jesus come upon all on the earth, are further set forth in the language, "And he will gather his wheat into the garner, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire." It is clear that the word
fire in vs. 10 refers to the literal fire which burns bushes and trees. The fire mentioned in vs. 11, so far as its context is concerned, may either be literal or figurative. If the former, it is unspeakably horrible. If, however, it is the latter, it is far beyond our comprehension for the figure cannot fully set forth that which is signified. In vs. 12, as the facts of the passage show, reference is made to that which is called fire in vs. 11. It is true, however, that the term fire is borrowed from the literal fire used in burning chaff, but when the adjective "unquenchable" is used in connection with it, immediately it becomes apparent that this fire is not an ordinary one.

Further light on this subject may be gathered from the parable of the tares in Matt. 13:25-30 and our Lord's explanation in vss; 36-43. In the parable of the tares, they are bound in bundles to be burned (vs. 30). In the interpretation He stated that the tares, "the sons of the evil one," shall be cast "into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (vs. 42).

Since our Lord interpreted the burning of the tares as the casting of the sons of the evil one into the furnace of fire, and since He explained the whole parable literally, we must accept this portion of His exegesis as literal unless there is absolute and positive evidence that the context demands a figurative or symbolic meaning, or unless such an interpretation flatly contradicts the plain, unmistakable teaching of some other passage. Since there is no evidence in this passage demanding a departure from the literal interpretation, and since such a common-sense explanation does not contravene any other known passage, we are forced to interpret the furnace of fire literally.

The Doctrine of Hell

I am well aware that in this day and time the doctrine of a literal hell is very unpopular. I may not and cannot see the philosophy altogether of such an institution. Since, however, the Scriptures, wherever it has been possible to test them, have been found to be literally true, it behooves us to accept all other statements of doctrine as meaning literally what they say.

We can, however, get a glimpse of the reasonable basis for such an institution as hell from the following fact: in all civilized countries there are prisons in which dangerous characters are incarcerated. They become a menace to civilization; hence it becomes necessary to place these lawless ones in a position so that they can no longer harm an organized, orderly, peaceful society. From this simple illustration we can see why it will be necessary for those who reject the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, trampling his bleeding, dying body under their unhallowed feet, to be relegated to some place so that they may not in any way mar the happiness and the joy of those who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ and have surrendered to do His will.

We have seen from these passages, and could examine many others, that the Bible teaches that there is such a place as hell or future punishment. All who are willing to receive the Biblical testimony are forced to accept the idea that the Scriptures do teach a place of future retribution. These verses which have been investigated do not determine the duration of the chastisement, however. This will be discussed in a later chapter when we examine the force of the word translated