Matthew 8:12, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

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.”

//Today’s lesson from Jesus follows on the tail of story about a Gentile who comes to Jesus to be healed. Jesus is impressed by the man’s faith, and utters these words.

Matthew has a thing about “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” and we commonly think of the phrase as describing torment in hell, while others go to the “kingdom” up in “heaven.” But that is not at all what Jesus was saying.

The “kingdom of heaven” … or, more precisely, the “kingdom of God” … was never thought in Jesus’ day to be a place up in the sky. It describes the arrival of a new age on earth, when God will rule justly. Jesus is saying, in this verse, that when the kingdom arrives, Gentiles will be a part of it while those Jews who were anxiously waiting for its arrival would be excluded. “Gnashing of teeth,” here and elsewhere in the Bible, refers not to torment but to extreme anger. The Jews, excluded from the kingdom they sought because of their hard-heartedness, would be regretful (weeping) and angry (gnashing their teeth).

Oddly, none of the Gospel references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” make sense in the context of heaven and hell! How did we ever connect this phrase to a distant afterlife? You may read them for yourself:

Matthew 8:12

Matthew 22:13

Matthew 24:51

Matthew 25:30

Luke 13:28

1 Comment

  1. Good point on the gnashing of teeth! I had never made the connection to anger.

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