I had an awesome question from a friend today. She asked, “What is your understanding of verses like Matt 13:47-50? Jesus is saying here and other parables the non believers will be thrown into the fiery furnace and will weep and gnash teeth.”
These are not easy questions to know answers to… I’m in process just like everyone else, but this is how God’s revealed it to me so far… Here is my reply to her:
The parable you are referencing here is similar to a few others… The Wedding feast in Matt 22 being another good example. Just prior to this story of the fishnet and separating the harvest of the catch, Jesus also introduces the parable of the seeds and thistles…also called the story of the wheat and weeds.
In all of these parables, there are a couple of VERY key items to keep in mind:
- 1.Jesus is speaking to an specific nation (Israel) who is in a specific covenant (Law of Moses) with God. This is NOT written to you and me… but to a nation which was being used by God to bring us the revelation of His exact nature in the man of Jesus.
- 2.Jesus is the last prophet of this Old Covenant. On the cross, he will fulfill all the demands of this Law and it will no longer be applied to Israel… The New Covenant of grace will supersede it, and include the rest of humanity (the Gentiles).
- 3.In every one of these parables, ALL are included in the invitation/harvesting. It is actually a key point Jesus continues to make… ALL are included in whatever action is taken by the “Kingdom” force represented by a farmer, fisherman, or whatever.
- 4.There is a quasi-freedom for the participants to be in or out… but the final effect (the separation) is not of their choice.
- 5.There is an assumption made by most readers that the fire/darkness, weeping & gnashing of teeth is the end… but we’re NOT specifically told this is any conclusion… only some result of their choice. In fact, revelation makes a point that these “judgement” are not necessarily final…(I’ll come back to that).
This all stated, we can look at these parables of separating in one of two ways:
If Jesus is like the God of the OT… The God that Israel thought they knew and who most western Christians believe in, then God is mad and legalistic and the bad will be separated from the good and burn in the fires of hell… being tortured, without mercy, forever.
OR… We can look at Jesus’s ACTIONS to define our post-cross understanding of such parables, believing God looks just like Jesus hanging on the cross, forgiving even the most religious who put him there.
Since we know there is a separation happening, it must be for a purification process, an action of cleansing. In Jesus’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement, Jesus made ALL holy, blameless, and in right-standing with the cross.. we are co-heirs in Christ. But, many (maybe most) are too busy working to appease God to believe such good news is true. They become the “bad fish” who think they can earn grace… Check out v.52 that follows:
“Then he (Jesus) added, “Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.”
See, the whole thing is about the legal authorities who can’t see all people as good…. They are the “bad fish“… OR, if they become a disciple of the good news of reconciliation (Kingdom Peeps), they will become the “good fish”.
These bad fish will be thrown out of the net, or as in the parable of the great feast, they will be kicked out from the party… They’ll get thrown out of the fun, and sent outside to wallow in their own self-created misery, upset at the fact that God let in all the people who they saw as unworthy riff-raff… Yep, inside of this New Kingdom those low-life folks are partying it up with the King and his son…
These “religious students of law” will have their noses pressed up against the window of the beautiful, air-conditioned mansion that is union with God, and they’ll be miserable, pointing out to all of their fellow religious people, how God’s messing up by being SO merciful… SO loving… SO inclusive. HOW DARE HE!!!
They don’t even know it while they’re out there sweating in the outer darkness, that they are in this the place of fire… It will burn them up from the inside out and cause them to face the reality of God’s goodness and mercy. They will cry and beg and plead with God to let their works, their deeds, their morality count for something…anything…
Just one more jewel, one more atta’boy, one more I love you over that whore prostitute, that sick pedophile, that wretched abortion doctor, that evil terrorist, that gross homosexual… “They’re not worthy… can’t you see… I am”… “Didn’t you see what I did FOR YOU Jesus!!! I really am a GOOD FISH!!! I really do belong in your feast… in your net.”
But in this place, Jesus will say, “I never knew you.”
This sounds harsh… But, Jesus is all good. Jesus does not know this person. He only knows the one who predates this poisoned, distorted soul… So, what will he do? He will destroy them. He will burn that perverted, religious person away until all that’s left is the one who humbly bows before the one who is perfect grace, no longer believing they are worthy because of what they have done, but rather they’re worthy because who they always have been… a child made in the image, the very imprint of God.
The Lake of fire found in the Book of Revelation, is where death and Hades, and all perversion and brokenness are thrown… We often see this as PEOPLE being thrown in… but I don’t believe that anymore. I believe those are parts of people.. those are the pieces , the parts which will prevent them from living in the garden of grace. These are the parts that people today believe define their identity… their jobs, their money, their sin, their families, their nationality… but, these never were or have been what made them who they are.
Those who comfortable with resting in the free grace and pre-creation identity that Jesus offers, well… “Welcome to the party. It’s nice to have you here”… NOT in some future “heaven”… No. RIGHT NOW. Kick off you shoes, enjoy the tunes, dance to the music of creation, and watch the King work it all out for Good!
For those who aren’t there yet… Well. You might not even realize where you are… Working your proverbial ass off, trying to gain God’s favor… or maybe you’re just pissed off at God, thinking he’s left you to rot outside… or maybe you cannot believe God is really loving and good. He must have to have just a little hate… a little condemnation in there too…
Well… Have fun in the fires of Gahanna. God’s planing on burning all that devil junk away… and the old you, well, you’re gonna die in it too… and like it or not, the new you has already been resurrected with Jesus.
The gates of this new creation are wide open… and they will NEVER close…When you wake up to the Way, Truth, and Life, know you’re welcomed in, anytime… Daddy’s at the window, anticipating your return, he’s ready to throw another steak on the grill… he’s got your robe and ring ready… He’ll never force you to come back, but he’ll literally wait for you forever.
Once you come to this renewed mind, Jesus will say,
“There you are… That’s my friend… Come on in… Good to see you back…. Wanna glass of wine?… It’s the good stuff!!!“
This is my take on the fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth from many of Jesus’s parables. Truth is, I’ve been there… sometimes I go back there. It sucks… There is no fun there… no rest there… no purpose there… no life there.
I much prefer reclining at my homecoming party, just being adored by the host!!!