Right Here, Sometime Later

The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” belongs with the New Testament description of Hell. Because of our cartoonish view of Hell, we think of “weeping” as being connected to burning, and “gnashing of teeth” as a painful grinding of sorts, but these words aren’t about physical torment. After studying all of the places where this phrase pops up, Kim Papaioannou concludes that, “the weeping represents disappointment at the thought of being excluded from the kingdom, and the gnashing of teeth denotes anger towards the master for having excluded them.”1

Jesus talked about Hell a surprising amount in the gospels and I think this is a big part of the reason why. He understood that a day was coming when Yahweh would come and judge every single person in the world (including his own followers) and that no one would want to be on the wrong side of judgment that day. For him, living your best life now is not the point, but living your best life later. There is a flip-flop coming where the poor will become rich and the rich will become poor; where the last will become first and the first will become last; where the woeful will become blessed and the blessed will become woeful.

It can be easy to get caught up in the right-hereright-now, but Jesus built more of a focus on the right-heresometime-later. Just as he rode the clouds up to Heaven, so he will ride them back down later to renew the earth. And when he does that, John says in Revelation that “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him.” On that day, the flip-flop will begin as all humans are held to account for their lives. It’s a scary moment for sure, but it’s one every person on earth has asked for, saying, “God, why don’t you do more about injustice?”

God’s answer to us is, “One day, I will.” And that’s the day Jesus wanted everyone to be ready for so that there might be no sadness in weeping or wailing, and no gnashing in anger. God’s desire is for all to be saved by his son. Indeed, Revelation shows us that this unjust age has partially been allowed to go on for so long because God wants to make sure anyone who is willing to be saved from that day, will be saved.

That day is not a day where we want to be found wailing. But if we’re willing to experience wailing now in the loving sufferings of following Jesus, our woes will turn to blessing when that day comes. For God has allotted Jesus a say in how that day goes.

1. Papaioannou, Kim. 2013. The Geography of Hell in the Teaching of Jesus: Gehenna, Hades, the Abyss, the Outer Darkness Where There Is Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications.

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