weeping & gnashing of teeth.
Ok, this phrase has always brought to mind images of screaming people forever burning alive in the dark, cave-like recesses of who-knows-where, evil spirits swirling about... I thought this phrase was basically synonymous with eternal damnation, hell and the infamous lake of fire. Thankfully, I was WRONG.
Here's what I found out when I studied out this famous phrase. "Weeping and gnashing" are used together 7 times total, all in the New Testament, and all spoken only by Jesus Himself. Let's dig right in and see...
1.) Matt 8:5-12 NASB
5 And when He had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, entreating Him, 6 and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering great pain.” 7 And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 “For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 10 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 “And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; 12 but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed that very hour.
Jesus is speaking to his followers, referring to the day when His kingdom will be fully established. To the Jew, reclining at the dinner table with Gentiles was strictly forbidden. Yet, Jesus is saying that on THAT day, the Gentiles (from east and west, like this Centurion) will recline at His table, but those in Israel will be cast out due to their lack of faith.
So in this case, He is connecting "weeping and gnashing" ONLY to those Jews who lack faith in Him.
2.) Matt 13:37-43 NASB
37 And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. “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, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
This is a parable, and in summary it says:
1. The Sower, Jesus himself, will sow good seed in His field. It says the field is the world, but we know that Jesus only sowed in His own people - Israel.
2. The enemy/the devil will sow weeds (stumbling blocks) in this same field - Israel/Jerusalem specifically.
3. When it's time for harvest, the angels will separate the good crop from the bad. (This will happen at the cycle of ONE harvest - the same seeds that JESUS planted are the ones that remain while the weeds get burned up. There are not several seasons, or several plantings. Just one.)
4. The good plants that have matured enter the kingdom, while the bad burn in fire. The good are those who remained faithful to Him, bearing fruit, while they waiting for harvest time. The bad are those who rejected Him and tried to choke out the good plants. The Pharisee and those who rejects and oppressed His followers. In THAT time period.
3.) Matt 13:47-50
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind; 48 and when it was filled, they drew it up on the beach; and they sat down, and gathered the good fish into containers, but the bad they threw away. 49 “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels shall come forth, and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This is a parable, which compares the kingdom to a single drag from a fishing net - filled only once and then separated. Again, same as previous parable - the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous.
4.) Matt 221-14
1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son. 3 “And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. 4 “Again he sent out other slaves saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fattened livestock are all butchered and everything is ready; come to the wedding feast.”’ 5 “But they paid no attention and went their way, one to his own farm, another to his business, 6 and the rest seized his slaves and mistreated them and killed them. 7 “But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire. 8 “Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 ‘Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.’ 10 “And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests. 11 “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And he was speechless. 13 “Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
First, we need to understand that Jesus is speaking directly to the Pharisees and they KNEW these parables we about THEM. How do we know? Because THIS is in the SAME conversation:
Matt 21:42-45 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? 43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it. 44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 45 And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.
Observations about the parable:
1. The kingdom is LIKE... being a parable, this is to point out that the pharisees are invited but refuse and ignore and get hostile. It is NOT to specifically describe Jesus and his bride, although this imagery is commonly used.
2. The king(dom) would invite his own people, friends, & contemporaries - this would be the Jewish church, the Pharisees, the current church leadership; but they REFUSED the invitation.
3. The King(dom) invited a second time, and they ignored the invite and instead persecuted and killed the servants of the King.
4. The King became angry with them, set their city on fire, and called them 'unworthy.'
5. The servants were directed to invite the common folk of all walks of life, sinners.
6. The king noticed one who tried to get in, but did not care enough to even change into proper attire, (Like the verses; I never knew you..) and promptly threw him into the fire.
7. The burning of the city, the casting into outer darkness all came at the same time as the wedding feast.
Remember, in speaking this parable, Jesus was talking TO the Pharisees and they knew he was referring to them as the unworthy ones that would be burned up with their city.
5.) Matt 24:42-51
42 “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 “For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 45 “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 “Truly I say to you, that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 “But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and shall begin to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and shall cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; weeping shall be there and the gnashing of teeth.
This time Jesus is speaking to his disciples and he's just given them the signs to look for 'his coming' in judgment on those who chose to reject Him. And just before THIS conversation, he laid out the Pharisees and repeatedly called them hypocrites. So in this warning, that Jesus assured the disciples would come within this generation, he says those who fall away and don't keep watch will end up with the hypocrites.
6.) Matt 25:14-30
14 “For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 “And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. 16 “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 “In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 “But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the ground, and hid his master’s money. 19 “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 “And the one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me; see, I have gained five more talents.’ 21 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 “The one also who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted to me two talents; see, I have gained two more talents.’ 23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours.’ 26 “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. 27 ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’ 29 “For to everyone who has shall more be given, and he shall have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 “And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Still talking to the disciples, he gives more parables about being diligent while they are waiting for his return (which he promised would be within their generation). This parable ends the same as the last. That although you started as his servant, when the the time of reckoning comes you must have been diligent or you will end up in the place of weeping and gnashing... which he has already told you ample times, was the judgement of the Jews who rejected Him.
7.) Luke 13:22-30
22 And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 “Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26 “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; 27 and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ 28 “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. 29 “And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
Here Jesus informs his listeners that those who ate and drank in His presence would be considered evil doers, and he says they would see Gentiles and the prophets would be at the dinner table, while 'YOU' (Israelites) will be cast out. The Jewish leaders were accused by Jesus several times of killing the prophets, and they consider it against their law to dine with a Gentile... This is clearly referring to the same event that all the other weeping and gnashing phrases are referring to.
Every time weeping and gnashing is used, it is referring to the time of the "coming" of the Lord in judgement against His own people that rejected him, IN HIS DAY. It must be concluded that this phrase is used only in connection with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70AD.
It is NOT ONCE referring to a place we think of as hell.
Interestingly, the word GNASHING is used one more time by itself. It is used in the telling of Stephen's stoning by those that rejected and crucified Jesus. It seems the gnashing of teeth had already begun!
51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” 54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears, and they rushed upon him with one impulse.