Jesus spoke about the “outer darkness,” so what is the outer darkness? Is that hell or only a temporary state?
Living in Darkness
Do you remember the movie called, The Matrix? It was a world where humans only believed that they were living in the real world, when in reality, their bodies were being used as electrical generating systems. Everything seemed fine, but the problem was, the people thought they were in the streets, at work, or at home, but in reality, they were only part of a program…a program called the Matrix. They were held captive without even knowing it. In a similar fashion, the Bible says at one time, we were all held captive by the god of this world, Satan, who had blinded our minds to the gospel, and being dead in our sins, we couldn’t see the Light of the World. Dead men and dead women can’t see. The Apostle Paul writes that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2:1-3). That’s not very flattering to our humanity, is it…but it is the truth. So what changed? It was “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph 2:4-5). A good analogy would be like trying to share the gospel with Lazarus…but Lazarus was four days dead, so how could he possibly hear? The only possible way was to hear Jesus’ cry out, “Come forth Lazarus” (John 11:43). Jesus didn’t say, “Okay Lazarus, if you blink an eye or twitch your toe, I’ll do the rest.” No, Jesus as God has resurrection power in His Words, and so Lazarus couldn’t have “come forth” without Jesus commanding it. In fact, Jesus has such resurrection power as God (John 11:25-26) that if He had not specified Lazarus by name, perhaps all in their graves may have “come forth.”
Seeing the Light
Need more convincing that we cannot see the Light of the World on our own? Once again Paul says, and very bluntly, that “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:3-4). We were not better than those who are presently blinded, because we were once like they are now (1 Cor 6:11). This takes all the boasting away (Eph 2:8-9). When we are being drawn to Christ by the Father (John 6:44) by the work of the Holy Spirit, we not only see Jesus for Who He is, but we see ourselves for who we are, and once again, it’s not very flattering. The Bible says none of us are good….and that means, not even one, and we’re not even able to seek after God (Rom 3:10-12), and we all fall infinitely short of God’s glory, so we were all living in darkness at one time…in the darkness outside of the kingdom, so the outer darkness Jesus spoke about must have to do with being separated from God. Some scholars believe that being in a place of outer darkness is only temporary, only ending after the millennium, or after the marriage feast of the Lamb of God, but most scholars disagree.
The Outer Darkness
Jesus spoke only three times about the place of outer darkness, and each one is in the Gospel of Matthew, but who was He speaking to when He said these sobering words? On one occasion, Jesus was telling this to a Romans Centurion who had asked for healing of his servant. That’s when Jesus said that “many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:11-12). If you’ve ever been angry, you’ve probably gnashed your teeth or clinched your jaw, so “weeping and gnashing of teeth” sounds like utter regret and mental torment, possibly anger, but the place that they are is just as important, because it is a place of outer darkness, meaning it must be away from the presence of God, because God is light and in the New Jerusalem, God enlightens the future kingdom by His sheer glory (Rev 22:5). We know there is no darkness in God or in the kingdom, so those in the outer darkness must be separated from God and the New Jerusalem. Jesus again speaks of the outer darkness, and again, in reference to the marriage feast of the Lamb of God, saying, “when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’” (Matt 22:11-13), so those without the proper wedding garment obviously must not have the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). This shows there is a clear difference between the lost and the saved, those who’ve already been living in the light and those who’ve already been living in darkness. Jesus finishes His statement by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen,” (Matt 22:14), so the context is about God’s judgment and those chosen to attend the banquet, and those thinking they were going, but in fact, may have been false converts.
In the final mention of the outer darkness, Jesus places it within the Parable of the Talents. The first two servants doubled the talents Jesus had given them, but the last servant simply buried it. In other words, he never used the talent given to him, and Jesus rebukes him by saying, “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents” (Matt 25:26-28), now “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:29). Can it be true, as some have speculated, that those in the outer darkness will be allowed into the kingdom after the millennium and/or the marriage feast of the Lamb, where the church, the Bride of Christ, weds the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ? It simply doesn’t fit the context of Jesus message because the outer darkness refers to a time of judgment. It is never within the context of entering the kingdom, but rather it appears to be about their exclusion from it.
Someday, this mystery will be solved, but for now, as Paul said, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). If we focus on sharing Christ and living out Christ then we might draw others to Christ, where then the Spirit of God can reveal the Son of God and then give birth to the children of God. Whether the outer darkness is only temporary or not, (I doubt it is temporary), let us not walk in the darkness, but as the children of light, for in Him, there is no darkness (1 John 1:5).
Here is some related reading for you: What Does the Bible Say About Judgment? 
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.