The term “outer darkness” is a peculiar phrase used by Jesus in Mathew 8:12, 22:13, and 25:30 while speaking prophecy in a parable to the Jewish people. In all three instances, the Lord refers to a particular aspect of the judgment that awaits those who reject Him. For many years I wondered about the nature of this judgment. Precisely what did “outer darkness” mean…what was the force of the term?
Of all places, I found my answer in a cave. While vacationing in Virginia, Sandy and I spent a day visiting the “Luray Caverns” in the Shenandoah Valley. The tour guide took us deep down into a series of natural underground chambers, which contained a small clear lake that reflected eerie forms of stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the cave, a truly spectacular sight.
Then, at the end of the tour, the guide switched off the lights to demonstrate the depth of darkness that far underground. Never before or after, have I ever experienced such total darkness. After a minute or so, my amazement gave way to discomfort. At that point, I realized darkness to be more than the absence of light; the blackness was palpable to the point of distressing. A darkness that was more a presence or force than a physical condition. Then a horrible thought occurred, what if the lights failed to come back on.
On the way back to the hotel, the Lord brought to mind a verse in Exodus where Moses, in the form of God’s judgment, caused total darkness over the land of Egypt. The verse describes the pitch blackness as “…darkness which may be felt” (Exodus 10:21). I then decided to look up some other verses concerning darkness in the Scriptures.
The Lord directed my attention to Job 10:21-22, which I believe is a companion verse to Jesus’ reference to “outer darkness” in Matthews’s gospel.
“Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and the shadow of death, without any order, and where light is as darkness.”
To spend eternity separated from God, enveloped in pure, penetrating darkness, would be an unimaginable terror. Yet, that’s what Jesus said would be the fate of those who foolishly reject God’s love and forgiveness.
Another enlightening portion of Scripture is found in Psalm 49, which again describes the horrible destiny of people who choose material wealth above God: “For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away: his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lived he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light.”
The purpose of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection: “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:18)
“…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)
“I lived my life in darkness, and refused to see…then my life ended, and darkness was my eternity.”
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Picture credit: View Shenandoah Valley
A. W. Weckeman
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