A few weeks ago I received several questions concerning a book recently published by a well known Christian author. The questions so concerned me that I bought the book to have a look for myself. (I’m not going to mention the name of the book or the author to avoid giving either any unintended publicity.)
Right off the bat I was shocked to read to very first sentence in the foreword, which says, “I believe that most Christians who get to heaven will be seriously disappointed.” Well, that got my attention. Imagine our Blessed Assurance being the source of serious disappointment.
The basic premise of the book is that while salvation is enough to keep you out of Hell, it’s not enough to get you into the Kingdom. Only those found worthy will become the Lord’s bride, and the rest of the Church will spend the Millennium in “the outer darkness” banished from the presence of God and disqualified from reigning with Him. In the Outer Darkness, says the author, believers will experience unimaginable regret, remorse and a sense of shame during the 1,000 years they’ll spend looking back over their unsanctified lives. They’ll remember every detail of their failures causing much weeping and gnashing of teeth. (According to recent surveys, this could be the destiny of as many as 93% of all born again Christians alive in the US today. There are no estimates available for previous generations, or for those from other countries.)
This view is not new, by the way. It’s been around for a generation or so, and is based largely on Matthew 8:11-12, 22:13, 24:50-51, & 25:30, the four places where either the Outer Darkness, or weeping and gnashing of teeth, or both are mentioned. Toward the and of the book the author refers to them saying, “Always remember the ones who were not able to inherit” and, “These passages are all talking about Christians! And yet none of them inherited the Kingdom. Yes, they were all in it. But they were in some other region, some other place -the darkness outside – and thus separated from the light of the Lord’s presence.”
As do the ones before it, the book makes it clear that all true believers are still saved and still go to Heaven, but because they did not follow Christ faithfully on Earth they will dwell in a part of Heaven away from Him and forfeit any rewards of reigning with Him in His Kingdom. It’s a middle position that was originally developed to refute the idea that you can lose your salvation, without giving believers who don’t live victorious lives a “free pass” into the Kingdom. I think of it as a kind of “half way house”, not prison but not really freedom either.
I’m convinced that those who hold this position have misinterpreted all four of the “outer darkness” passages. Here’s how I think these four references to the Outer Darkness should be understood.
Outer Darkness Reference 1. Matt. 8:5-12.
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”
Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Here Jesus is clearly speaking to Israel, not the Church. It was at least two years before Pentecost and well before Israel had rejected His offer of the Kingdom. He was criticizing them for letting a Gentile Roman soldier demonstrate a stronger faith in Him than they had. He said that their lack of faith would result in people from all over the world (Gentiles) inheriting the Kingdom, while the Jews, who were the subjects of the Kingdom, would be thrown into the outer darkness.
Israel was then (and will be again) God’s Kingdom on Earth. The Lord repeated this warning in Matt. 21:43 when He again said to the Jews, “Therefore I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” It’s obvious that the Lord believed they were the subjects of the Kingdom or else why would He threaten to take it away from them?
This reference is a warning to Israel that at the End of the Age Gentile believers, like the Centurion, would join their patriarchs at the Wedding Feast while they sat outside in the darkness for failing to recognize their Messiah.
Outer Darkness Reference 2. Matt 22:1-14
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
This is the parable of the Wedding Banquet, and the one ejected is a last minute wedding guest. The Bride is not a guest and could never be thrown out of her own wedding.
To accept the author’s view that this parable is about the Church you have to start with the belief that some of the Church is the Bride of Christ and some isn’t. But the Bible never even implies that. You can only come to that conclusion by departing from a literal interpretation if Scripture to make it say what you want it to say.
For example the Lord has imputed our righteousness to us by faith, and not works (Romans 4:5) Isaiah described man’s righteousness as filthy rags (Isa 64:6) and the Lord’s as “garments of salvation” and “robes of righteousness” (Isa 61:10) where the acquisition of these qualities is likened to clothing given us at a wedding. But the author wants us to believe that there’s a difference between Salvation Righteousness, which comes from belief, and Kingdom Righteousness that comes from the works we do on Earth. Therefore the guest was a born again believer who was not only excluded from being the bride but was thrown out of the banquet into the outer darkness because he had no Kingdom Righteousness.
Here’s how I see it. In Rev. 16:15, just after the 6th Bowl judgment and long after the church has departed, the Lord said, “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
He was alluding to the fact that the Doctrine of Eternal Security expires with the Rapture, a fact that Jesus taught in the Parable of the 10 Virgins. Tribulation believers will be responsible for keeping themselves saved. Still, their righteousness is symbolized by clothing.
The man ejected from the banquet was a last minute guest, a tribulation believer not part of the Church. He was trying to receive the blessing of those invited to the wedding feast (Rev. 19:9) at least 7 years after the Rapture. He hadn’t kept himself pure and had lost his salvation. When the Lord returned, he tried to gain entrance into the Kingdom in his own clothing (on the strength of his own righteousness) without the righteousness imputed to him by faith (the wedding clothes). He was discovered and ejected. Notice that the Bride is never mentioned in this parable. It’s not about us. It’s about the guests at the end of the age.
Outer Darkness References 3-4. Matt. 24:50-51 And Matt. 25:30
Matt. 24:50-51 concludes the parable of the wise and wicked servants, and Matt. 25:30 does the same for the Parable of the Talents. I’ll mention them together because they both contain judgments, but they don’t take place in Heaven at the Bema Seat where the Church will be judged. Along with the Parable of the 10 Virgins which they bracket, the location and timing of the judgment is identified as being on Earth after the Lord’s return. This was established as early as Matt. 24:29-30 making every thing that follows pertain to believers on Earth at the 2nd Coming. In other words, these parables describe the destinies of Tribulation Survivors who didn’t keep the faith. Again, they don’t involve the Church. You can easily confirm this by looking at Matt. 24:36-37, Matt. 25:1, & Matt. 25:14.
As I said before, the Doctrine of Eternal Security expires at the Rapture, and so Tribulation believers are in danger of falling away and losing their salvation. (Rev. 14:12 & 16:15) These passages in Matthew demonstrate that fact in no uncertain terms. The Lord’s final Olivet Discourse teaching, the Sheep and Goat Judgment, which also takes place on Earth after the 2nd Coming, closes His case on the disposition of Tribulation Survivors. (Matt. 25:31-36)
To apply any of these teachings to the Church, one would have to believe that the Rapture and Bema Seat judgment take place after the 2nd Coming, but a detailed color chart in the book clearly shows that the author believes in a pre-Tribulation Rapture which is followed immediately by the Bema Seat judgment.
All that said, I think the biggest problems with this “half way house” view concern certainty and motivation. To accept this position you have to be willing to believe that the Lord is not going to give you any assurance about how you’ll spend the next 1000 years until after it’s too late for you to do anything about it. For example, in the author’s take on the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, the guest thought he belonged there and was speechless when told that he didn’t.
And 1 Cor. 4:5 says the Lord will judge the Church according to the motives of our hearts. How could our motives ever be pure if we know that our works here will determine our participation in the Kingdom? Our hearts are incurably wicked and will always go to self interest. Greed would replace gratitude in every believer’s heart and make it even less likely that anyone would survive the judgment intact.
In Ephesians 1:13-14 and 2 Cor 1:21-22 Paul said that our inheritance was guaranteed the moment we first believed. Was the inheritance he spoke of 1000 years of unimaginable regret, remorse and a sense of shame unless we work to improve it? Is that what we’re assured of?
I have no problem with there being a certain amount of inequality in the Kingdom. Not every one can live next door to Jesus, or be the king of some country or even the leader of a small group. And although the Bible clearly admonishes us to go beyond salvation to achieve victory over this world, there’ll be many who won’t win the crowns that are promised to believers for doing so. But to say that most of us won’t even participate in the Kingdom Age, but will be consigned to 1000 years of abject misery defies reason. How does that equate with the promise that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life? (John 3:16) Who would want such a life, even if it only lasted 1000 years?
Through out the history of the Church scholars have held that there are two possible destinies for humanity, Heaven or Hell. To introduce a third one, where we’re saved from the worst but kept from the best, after the fate of all but one generation of believers has been sealed, is remarkable to say the least. And I must confess I’d give a lot more credence to this view if there wasn’t such a complete disregard for context and timing in providing supporting verses. That tells me that there aren’t any that really fit. And that makes it bad theology.