The Jews were insiders – the chosen race, the people of God. Israel was a light to the nations, a shining advertisement for the LORD’s grace and glory. And yet, as Jesus would often say, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (e.g. Matthew 19:30) Judgement involves dramatic reversals. Those on the inside are cast out, while those on the outside are brought in.
“I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.” (Matthew 8:11-12)
Think of the contrast. Sitting down with the patriarchs is a reference to the great banquet at the centre of biblical hope. The future is feasting – for some anyway. For others the future is exclusion and darkness.
We have studied many different biblical images of judgement:
Tomorrow we’ll consider “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But here “outer darkness” is the image: no light, no warmth, no place, no belonging, no company, no hope. Shut out, sent away, driven back, closed off, groping in the gloom. As Jude would later say, for some there “is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” (Jude 13)
And, shockingly, this fate awaits the best of the best, the elect of the elect. You would imagine that the “sons of the kingdom” would have a birth-right to heaven. Surely the feast is their inheritance. Yet their lot will be “outer darkness.” While the unenlightened heathen – the strangers to God’s words and works – are ushered into the heart of heaven.
There could not be a bigger turnaround. What would make Jesus say this?
Next Jesus encounters a Roman Centurion whose servant is “sick of the palsy.” The Centurion simply trusts Jesus and is granted the healing.
To the crowd present, these two men would have been as far from the kingdom as it was possible to be. A leper was utterly unclean. A Roman soldier was the enemy of enemies, a foreigner trampling down the people of God. Yet through Jesus they are restored, healed, honoured and affirmed.
The message is clear. With Jesus the very worst and furthest from God are brought to His very bosom. Without Jesus the very best and nearest to God are shut out forever. The issue is not your pedigree, your piety or your performance. The only thing to have is Christ Himself. If you are in Him you dwell in light and life. If you are out of Him your place is outer darkness.