Weeping and Gnashing

“Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 25:30).    

- Matthew 25:14–30

Scripture distinguishes those who die in sin from those who die in faith, and it assigns a different fate to each. Sarah is among the many old covenant saints who “died in faith” (Heb. 11:11, 13), and her death provides an occasion to examine what happens to sinners and saints when they die. For the next few days, we will explore this topic using Hell and Heaven, two teaching series by Dr. R.C. Sproul.

We begin with hell, the place for those whose names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 20:11–15) because they never trusted in Christ alone for salvation. At the outset we must recognize that hell can be a difficult subject to address because it is distressing to think unsaved loved ones will suffer forever for their sins. Many “evangelicals” let this heart-wrenching feeling control their doctrine and contend that unrepentant sinners will be annihilated instead of having to endure an eternal, conscious punishment. 

Most of our information on hell actually comes from Jesus. As we will see, the images He uses to describe this place vary, including fire, darkness, a pit, and many other symbols. Dr. R.C. Sproul suggests that we not take these descriptions literally, because doing so produces contradictions. For instance, if hell is a place of literal darkness, how could it also be a place with literal fire since flames produce light?

Instead, Dr. Sproul teaches, the language about hell is symbolic and points to a reality much harsher than we can imagine. Consider today’s passage. Those cast into the outer darkness gnash their teeth (Matt. 25:30), meaning that their unjust anger at the Lord for their just punishment grows more intense every moment. Stephen’s audience angrily gnashed their teeth at his witness to Christ (Acts 7:54).

Likewise, darkness (Matt. 25:30) symbolizes God’s curse. The plague of darkness fell on Egypt for enslaving Israel (Ex. 10:21–29), and it became dark when the Father cursed our sins in Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:33–39; Gal. 3:13). Darkness indicates the Almighty’s curse, and hell is described as a place of darkness. The Lord is in some way present in hell to curse the sinner. Hell is not the absence of God’s presence, it is only the absence of His benevolent grace.

Coram Deo

Take some time today to consider the reality of hell. How does its existence affect your life? Do you take it so seriously that you are looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with others so that they might escape its punishment? Spend some time today meditating on the passages selected for further study and ask the Lord to impress their reality upon your heart. Let the knowledge of hell’s existence motivate you to share the Gospel with non-believers.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 78:66
Jer. 23:23–40
Matt. 25:31–46
2 Peter 2:4–10

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.