22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” – Luke 13:22-30 ESV
Luke makes it clear that Jesus has a destiny in mind: The city of Jerusalem. He is slowly making His way to the city of David, where the disciples hope He will establish His kingdom, once and for all. But Jesus has a different destiny in mind. He has repeatedly revealed to His disciples that suffering, arrest, and execution await Him in Jerusalem.
And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” – Mark 10:32-34 ESV
Jesus had first introduced this unsettling topic while He and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi.
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. – Mark 8:31 ESV
And He had reiterated the same depressing news while they were still in Galilee.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” – Mark 9:30-31 ESV
And Mark revealed that the disciples “did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32 ESV). Their inability to process this information is understandable because it did not fit their expectations of the Messiah. They had been anticipating a conquering king, not a suffering servant. And it seems that they were not the only ones who were perplexed by Jesus’ increasing use of strangely foreboding rhetoric concerning death, judgment, and the coming kingdom of God.
One of the things we fail to remember is that many of those in Jesus’ retinue had been with Him since His sermon on the mount. These followers had heard Him deliver countless messages on a variety of topics, and they had been trying to put all the pieces together. So, it is not surprising when Luke records, yet again, someone in the crowd asking Jesus a clarifying question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23 ESV). Perhaps this individual had been present when Jesus gave His sermon on the mount and had heard Him discuss the narrow gate:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14 ESV
Or they could have been an eye-witness to Jesus’ encounter with the rich man who had asked Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17 ESV). Jesus had told the man to “sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21 ESV), but the man walked away disheartened and disappointed because he had great wealth. Which had led Jesus to proclaim:
“How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” – Mark 10:23-26 ESV
Jesus seemed to be presenting a kind of salvation that was exclusive and far from universal. To the Jewish way of thinking, rich people were obviously blessed by God, so if they were restricted from entering the kingdom, what hope was there for everyone else. If the gate was narrow and only a handful would make it through, then what hope did the average Jew have of ever entering the kingdom of God? Yet Jesus responded to his questioner with words of encouragement.
“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” – Luke 13:24 ESV
He picked up the same message He had delivered during His sermon on the mount, reiterating the exclusivity of the kingdom, but promoting the value of striving after it. While not everyone would be able to enter the narrow door, it was still worthy of pursuit. And the time to seek entrance was now because the day would come when that door was no longer open. Jesus infers that there is a limited opportunity and time frame during which access to the kingdom will be available.
Years later, the apostle Paul would urge the unbelievers in Corinth to understand the timeliness of the gospel and respond while they had the opportunity.
As God’s partners, we beg you not to accept this marvelous gift of God’s kindness and then ignore it. For God says, “At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.” Indeed, the “right time” is now. Today is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 NLT
Jesus makes it clear that the day will come when the door of opportunity will shut. The day of salvation will come to an end and time will run out, leaving many standing outside the door begging, “Lord, open to us” (Luke 13:25 ESV). But it will be too little, too late. The Lord will answer them, “I do not know where you come from” (Luke 13:25 ESV).
Once again, Jesus reaches back into His earlier sermon on the mount, reintroducing the same concepts of exclusivity and accessibility regarding the kingdom of heaven.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23 ESV
Jesus reveals that the day will come when many will find themselves standing outside the kingdom demanding entrance. They will be shocked to discover that they lack the proper credentials for entrance into the kingdom. Their Hebrew heritage will not suffice. Their lengthy list of good deeds done in Jesus’ name will not be enough. Even their ability to emulate the works of Jesus will fail to help their cause.
Jesus even suggests that their good deeds done in His name will be exposed as nothing less than evil. The words of the prophet Isaiah will be proven true.
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT
And Jesus drops another truth bomb on His audience that must have left them shaking their heads in confusion and consternation. He reveals that not only will there be many who think they deserve entrance into God’s kingdom standing on the outside looking in, but their predicament will be permanent and painful. And His message seems to be directed at those Jews in His audience, like the Pharisees, who believed they were guaranteed a spot in the kingdom. He breaks the news to them that their destiny will not be what they were expecting.
“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” – Luke 13:28 ESV
And if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus informs them that there will be others who occupy the places they thought would be reserved for them. People from outside the confines of Israel will be sitting alongside Abraham and the patriarchs, enjoying fellowship in the kingdom of heaven, while card-carrying Jews will find themselves unwelcome and unworthy to join in the festivities. And Jesus informs His audience that power, prominence, and prestige in this life are no guarantee for entrance into eternal life.
“…some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” – Luke 13:30 ESV
The apostle Paul would later reveal the only requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God, and it would have nothing to do with ethnicity, religiosity, or works of piety.
…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13 ESV
So, the answer to the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” is yes. But the good news is that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” As Jesus told His disciples, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
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The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson