What’s with the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” phrase mentioned in the four Gospels in almost all translations of the Bible? The terminology is so archaic–we rarely use the word “weep” in lieu of “crying” anymore, and we certainly never talk about “gnashing teeth;” yet most translators have retained this phrase. Why is that, and what does it actually mean?
“The Son of Man will send his angels [literally “messengers”], and they will remove from His Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 13:41-43 NLT)
Jesus used the phrase translated “weeping and gnashing of teeth” multiple times to attempt to convey the horror at their judgment of those who obstinately set their hearts and minds against God and refused to get right with Him in life. It is a remorse beyond comprehension–an ultimate recognition of the lunacy of a choice that can no longer be altered; of a wrong decision for which there is no do-over. This is because at that point they have fully personally experienced that “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27 NKJV).
Jesus told parables–stories about things the people were familiar with–to illustrate spiritual truths, and one was about a rich man and a poor beggar who sat at his gate. The rich man did nothing to help the beggar’s plight in life (evidencing his rejection of God), they both died, and the rich man was summarily punished. In torment, he begged someone be sent to his brothers (who were still alive, presumable living lives as oblivious of the spiritual and their accountability before God as their brother’s) to warn them of what awaited if they didn’t change course. The response was that they have Scripture–God’s testimony of the necessity of turning from our selfish ways to trusting in and walking humbly with Him throughout our time here–and that if they reject that, it wouldn’t make a difference even if someone came back from the dead.
Well, Someone did subsequently come back from the dead–Jesus Himself–and to most, it still hasn’t made a difference. And there were others; before He was killed, Jesus raised three people from the dead: a man named Lazarus, the son of a widow from Nain, and the daughter of a man named Jairus. What’s more, when He died it was recorded that, “At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)” (Matthew 27:51-53 MSG)
Even these days we have accounts–granted they are rare, but there are some–of near death experiences: people whose bodies physically died, but who subsequently came back to life and tell others what they experienced. Some write books; others simply go back to their lives, explaining to everyone they meet what happened. I personally met one such person. He came to repair our furnace maybe ten years ago, and told me that he had a heart attack and died in 1974. Since that He has been talking about God with everyone He meets, explaining to them that God is real, heaven is real, and that it’s just not true that there’s nothing beyond the physical.
Yet prejudice against anything beyond the physical is perhaps the most formidable of foes, because it’s so hard to try to convince those who simply refuse to believe that there is a dimension we struggle to understand while in these bodies–a reality not dream-like, but more vibrant and actual and intense than anything we have or will experience physically while alive, but which others who have tasted it try to convey to us.
Yes, it exists–and that is the horror, the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Once those–however you want to call them: the ungodly, the unrepentant; who wanted no part of Christ, who rejected Him; who wanted to live life without Him doing what they want; who didn’t believe, didn’t want to believe, didn’t give it the time of day; who closed up their minds and ears to what God was urging them to believe through the loving urging of others in their lives; who through their own stubborn will made themselves His enemies–have died and see firsthand the truth of what they refused before death–the incredible glory of the eternal God, the joy and beauty and goodness and love they are forever excluded from, and the torment they now have–the only response will be horror; the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
But there is an alternative–this doesn’t have to be you. It isn’t “religion;” it’s Christ–placing our destiny, our complete trust, in Him. It’s realizing that through His incredible love for us, He already made us right with God, if we will only come to Him and trust in Him enough to turn away from self-will to letting God show us how to live the lives we were meant to!
Dear holy God,
Forgive me because of Jesus; bring me to eternity safely through Him! Amen.