The phrase "outer darkness" is mentioned three times in the Bible. These three times are:
- Matthew 8:12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- Matthew 22:13 Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- Matthew 25:30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
First, I look for parallel passages that would help define outer darkness. An interesting connection is found in the phrase, gnashing of teeth, which occurs exactly seven times in the Bible. Here they are.
Three times the phrase is found in the verses that mention outer darkness.
One time in Luke 13:28. This passage (Luke 13:28-29) is a parallel passage to the outer darkness reference in Matthew 8:11-12. In Matthew, the children of the kingdom are cast into outer darkness. In Luke, Jesus refers to His audience and states, "and you yourselves thrust out." Both passages are referring to the kingdom when people will come from all directions to meet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But these hypocrites who consider themselves a part of the kingdom will be cast out. So, the "outer" in "outer darkness" probably refers to being outside the kingdom of God.
- One time when the unfaithful servant is appointed his portion with the hypocrites (Matthew 24:51).
- Two times when the wicked will be gathered from God's kingdom and cast into a "furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42, 50). Evidently, outer darkness can also be called a furnace of fire.
All evidence points to outer darkness being identical to hell. It is called "outer" because it is outside God's kingdom. Those in outer darkness have been thrust out of the kingdom. It is called darkness because it is a place of darkness. But how can a place of fire be a place of darkness? Does not fire emit light?
First, the Bible teaches that the places of judgment (whether hell of the lake of fire) are also places of darkness. Consider these verses:
2 Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
2 Peter 2:17 These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.
Jude 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
Jude 1:13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.
Second, experimental science demonstrates that the purer the flame and the hotter the fire, the less light will be emitted from the fire. Certainly, this is the case with hell. Even the appearance of God on Mount Sinai combined a burning fire with great darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11; 5:22, 23; Hebrews 12:18).
I conclude therefore that "outer darkness" is yet another synonym for hell. It is a place of darkness. It is also outside the experience of God's grace. For, although God bestows His grace on both the just and the unjust while on earth (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17), none of the gracious presence of God is to be found in the place of outer darkness. May we trust in the Son of God who can and will deliver us from this place. May we warn others of the evil of this place.