Question / Comment - Is weeping and gnashing of teeth for unfaithful believers or unbelievers?
I am doing a study on the weeping and gnashing of teeth noted in the parables. I have long held that the weeping and gnashing of teeth describes the place where unfaithful believers are sent during the millennial kingdom but will spend eternity in heaven after the 1000 year reign. Those unfaithful believers are those who stand before the judgement seat of Christ after the rapture and don’t get to hear “well done good and faithful servant” in Matthew 25:30. They are the ones who are saved as though through fire in 1 Corinthians 3:15. They are the virgins who weren’t ready with their supply of oil at the groom’s return for His bride. As an OT example I think of the Israelites in the wilderness. All saved because they all passed through the sea and were under the same cloud 1 Corinthians 10:1 but never made it to the promised land. Recently I was talking with someone who said this idea of the weeping and gnashing of teeth isn’t biblical and isn’t part of the millennial kingdom. Could you please share what your thoughts are? I looked for an article on it with your millennial kingdom posts but didn’t see anything. Thank you so much!
yeah this is a topic that has been debated for some time. People have written theological papers and books on the wider themes involved and it has actually caused a lot of discussion and even grief within the Christian community. My introduction to it was around 14 years ago when Chuck and Nancy Missler wrote a book called 'The Kingdom, Power & Glory -- The Overcomer's Handbook'. Among other things, they believed the the 'weeping and gnashing of teeth' was the experience of believers and combined with 'outer darkness' was a condition and experience of saved believers who were unfaithful, unrewarded and excluded from the Messianic Kingdom. For me it came up because some fellow leaders in our church bought the book and asked what I thought of it. I didn't agree with it. And far more important people than I didn't either. That is not to say that I don't like Chuck Missler - I do! He was an awesome, well loved Bible teacher... but I don't believe he was right here. 'The Berean Call', (founded by the late, and in my opinion 'great', Dave Hunt) wrote a letter to Church Missler on this here if interested:
Anyway, in short, I agree with your friend on this topic. Well... the term is biblical obviously but I do not believe that 'the weeping and gnashing of teeth' or 'outer darkness' is a condition or experience of any saved believers in Christ. Not now or in the future. It is the experience of those sent to hell/hades.
Gnashing of teeth - definition and usage
It is important to first look at the meaning of the phrase. We all know what weeping is but what about 'gnashing of teeth'? According to the Complete Word Study Dictionary, the Greek word translated gnashing is 'brugmós' meaning 'to grind, gnash, crunch the teeth together. A grating or gnashing of the teeth... The image is drawn from a person in a fit of envy, rage, pain.' Outside of the Gospels it is only found in the verb form where the religious leaders gnashed their teeth in rage at Stephen before stoning him:
Act 7:54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.
Gnashing of teeth or grinding them together isn't a sign of regret or sadness. It is a sign of pain, rage and great anguish. It is not the right expression for a believer that is saved but unrewarded. It is the expression of an unbeliever that is now in the place of anguish and pain.
Verses on weeping and gnashing of teeth
So let's look at the verses using this phrase weeping and gnashing of teeth. There are six mentions in Mathew and one in Luke. It is often connected with the phrase 'outer darkness' which is mentioned in three of these verses. We'll just look at those in Mathew as Luke 13:28 is the essentially the same as the first reference in Matt 8:12
- General teaching on Gentiles being saved
Mat 8:10-12 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. (11) "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; (12) but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Here it is used by Jesus to describe how Gentiles will make it into the Kingdom to sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob yet many Jews (the sons of the Kingdom) won't. The passage doesn't specifically say what happens to those not in the Kingdom.
- Parable of the tares
Mat 13:40-42 "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. (41) "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, (42) and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is in the parable of the wheat and the tares and the tares (the false within his kingdom) will be separated and thrown into the fire for burning. This is a clear reference to hell. There, in hell, they will gnash their teeth.
- Parable of the net
Mat 13:49-50 "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, (50) and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Again, the evil are removed from Jesus' kingdom and put in the fire - a reference to hell.
- Parable of the wedding feast
Mat 22:11-13 "But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, (12) and he *said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And the man was speechless. (13) "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
The man cast out did not have the wedding garments (represent the garments of salvation) that were provided by the King. He came in his own garments (representing his own works which all likened to 'filthy rags' in scripture) and was bound and thrown out into outer darkness. He didn't have salvation or the garments of salvation and was cast into hell.
- Parable of the wise and evil servants
Mat 24:51 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 evil servant is one that took the name of Christ, more than likely said 'Lord, Lord, did I not do this and this' but showed by his actions that he was not a true believer. He was one that will hear on that day 'Depart from me for I never knew you' (Matt 7:21-23). What we need to realise is that so many of Jesus' parables have this feature or theme of a separation of the true and false from within His kingdom. Evil is allowed to continue in His 'outward' kingdom in this day as seen by the parable of the wheat and tares, the net, the leaven, the wedding feast etc. But when He returns there is a separation and those that are professors of Christ only, but not possessors, will not find salvation. In this parable the evil servant is 'cut in pieces' and assigned a place with the hypocrites. . No saved believer in Christ, of whom there is now no condemnation (Rom 8:1) will be cut in pieces or sent to the place where hypocrites (another name for unbelievers here) are. He is sent to hell.
- Parable of the Talents
Mat 25:30 "Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is similar - this worthless servant thinks that his master is a 'hard man' and doesn't use his talent. He had no faith in the master and wasted what had been given him. Again it is picturing those in the outward kingdom who make some type of profession but have no love for the Lord and are not of the true faith. He is 'cast' (a term used for hell) into outer darkness where there is anguish and pain.
Why it matters
It matters because it has a bearing on how you see God, Jesus, grace, salvation and the judgment to come... and these are important topics! A true born again believer is one that will never be separated from Christ (1 Thes 4:17, Rom 8:38-39). Not now or in the future. We are not those that are 'cast' into darkness, separated from Jesus, 'cut in pieces', excluded from His Kingdom... while we wait out those days (1000 years!) in anguish in some type of Protestant purgatory! A born again believer is one that it is accepted 'in the Beloved' and is not condemned - because of grace:
Joh 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned
Joh 5:24 I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.
Rom 8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
Eph 1:6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.
The thought of a true saved believer being separated from the rest of the body of Christ, and Jesus Himself, in pain or deep regret or anguish, in darkness, is totally foreign to the scriptures. Degrees of reward? Absolutely. Are there some that will have nothing to show for their life as a Christian, as those 'escaping through the flames'? Unfortunately, yes and we would encourage all to be sure of their salvation and make their life count for the Lord. But these ones are still saved, are still accepted and are not cast into some darkness for second class Christians! They are still part of His bride and body. Why? Because they trusted in Jesus for salvation and were born again by His grace. I think many Christians would be fearful if they thought they could still be punished and cast out, separated from Jesus in darkness etc. Yet when Jesus returns the Bible says that for believers it is 'without reference to sin'. Why? Because He took it all and paid the price for it all at His first coming upon the cross:
Heb 9:28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Old Testament Pictures
Just a final note about using the Old Testament pictures... You wrote:
"As an OT example I think of the Israelites in the wilderness. All saved because they all passed through the sea and were under the same cloud 1 Corinthians 10:1 but never made it to the promised land."
I love pictures in the Old Testament and write about them often. The stories help us to understand spiritual truth. But we need to be careful to separate the 'shadow' from the 'substance'. The Old Testament stories and laws were a shadow of the good things that were to come. They were outward examples pointing to the 'substance' or 'spiritual reality' in Christ. They were generally saved physically (like with the Israelites leaving Egypt, or at the Red Sea, or when bitten by serpents). This was a picture of being saved spiritually which came through Christ but it doesn't mean that the Israelites were themselves all saved spiritually. It is important to draw that distinction. As an example, the Israelites that left Egypt went through the Red Sea and were saved physically from Pharaoh and his army. This is a great picture of salvation/baptism into Christ, but it doesn't mean that everyone who went through the Red Sea was saved spiritually. Many of them didn't really have faith and were grumbling within a few days and died in the wilderness. Likewise when they were bitten by serpents and Moses put a bronze serpent on top of the pole - those that looked to it were healed physically. Jesus used this as a great picture of the cross and the need to look to Him for spiritual healing in salvation (John 3:14-15, Num 21:4-9). But that didn't mean that any Israelites that looked to the bronze serpent on the pole were eternally saved spiritually speaking. It was simply a physical temporal healing - but one that did picture the spiritual salvation that comes through faith in the work of Jesus.
Also think about Moses - he didn't make the Promised land because of his disobedience but definitely was saved, was seen at the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus and will be in the Kingdom age. Anyway... probably getting side tracked! : ) But we also know that we, as Church age believers, have better promises and a better covenant, that any before us! (Heb 8:6). He won't leave or forsake His own... or cast them away into darkness! : )
That is enough anyway : ) Others have written far more than I on this topic. I remember when it first came up about 14 years ago I got the couple on leadership in our church to read the following links. It helped them see the issues and error in the book and I'm pleased the links still work. If you want to go into it in more depth I'd recommend having a read of these:
All the best and hope this helps!