Will Only A Few Be Saved? How Did Jesus Answer? What Did Jesus Mean? (Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:22-24)

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Will Only a Few Be Saved?  How Did Jesus Answer? 

There are two places in the New Testament where Jesus is recorded as teaching about the narrow gate,
or the narrow door to life, and then states that few people find it.  In Matthew 7, in the same chapter as the Sermon on the Mount, we have a teaching from Jesus that reads in the English NIV: 

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

This teaching has tugged on me for some time, because I've seen it used out of context for various purposes, but I had not studied it enough to know why it was "nagging on me" or tugging on me to dig deeper. However, For example, a bit later in Matthew 8:11 and Matthew 20:18 - both have Jesus saying that many will be coming from the north, south, east, and west into the kingdom. Also, in Luke 13, right after Jesus talks about the narrow door and only a few finding it,  he again emphasizes that people will arrive into the kingdom from all over - from the north, south, east, and west. So Jesus says "few" will find it; but then shortly thereafter,  he reports that many will be enjoying the kingdom. Hmm...

I finally got to spend time this past weekend to dig deeper. By digging into the original language, some true gems were gleaned. By sharing more about the context and the underlying Biblical Greek we begin to grasp a fuller meaning. Here it is in an expanded way in order to capture more of the nuances in the original Greek language. It would go like this:

To all of you -  Enter through the narrow gate. Because the wide and spacious road is leading to ruin* A great many people are being led to enter the wide road.  But narrow and  pressured is the gate that is leading to life*; and only a small number of people are finding it. 

Let's start with two of the underlying word choices:  The underlying word for ruin or destruction; and the underlying word for life. 

*truin - the underlying word is sometimes used to imply leading away from what could or should have been
*life - this is the word zoe (pronounced zoe - ay) and combines the concept of both phyisical and spiritual life

 Some more aspects to notice:  First, when Jesus says "Enter the narrow gate;" the verb used is the verb for the plural you imperative.  He is not just replying just to one person who asked a question. He is addressing all the listeners. 

Then, here is something I find to be insightful. It is a nuance in the underlying Greek language that is not carried over into most English translations. In the original language, the wide road is active and the people on the wide road are described as passive. The wide road is actively leading away to ruin, but the great many people who are entering the wide road are doing so passively. 

In contrast, the gate to life is also actively leading to life; but the people who find it are actively finding it. No one is passively finding and entering this narrow gate. 

So the first sentence about the wide road - the road is actively leading; the people are passively going onto is. The second sentence about the narrow gate; the narrow way is also actively leading; and the people are also actively having to search for it and find it. 

As you can see, in the modern English, this passage is often taught as if there are two gates,  or two paths, and the burden is on the individual to make the right choice. In the Greek, however, there is recognition that - the perspective of Jesus as he was teaching - there is a great many people on the wide path during Jesus' time are not there because they chose it; rather - the language indicates they are passively on the wide road leading to ruin, because it's what the majority seem to be doing. It may be what society is telling them is best to do. These people being taken on the wide road perhaps don't realize that there is another way.   They don't realize that they are living a wasted life leading far away from what could have been based on God's plan for them. 

For me, the image that this creates brings to mind the verse from Romans 10:14 about "How will they know if no one tells them?"  Who will tell them about the better way? It also brings to mind the words and perhaps the perspective of Jesus from the cross, when he looks down at the soldiers with compassion and calls out, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." Jesus understood that these men who were killing him were on the wide road without knowing there was another way.  They did not know there was another way.  Jesus even wanted his executers to know the way to life. 

Oh, as an aside, are you aware that the earliest followers of Jesus in the Bible did not call themselves Christians? They called themselves "the followers of the way." It's throughout Acts, as you can see in Acts 9 and Acts 19 where there are two examples. 

Let's go back and remember the question that Jesus was asked in Luke:

Jesus was asked, "Lord are only a few going to be saved?"

Jesus did not answer the question. 

I agree with New Testament scholar, Scott McKnight(1), that this teaching is not about literal numbers, statistics, or percentages. Jesus was using a technique of rhetoric; he was using "an exaggerated rhetoric" in order for the listeners to be faced with a choice, to better understand the circumstances, and to question their own walk of life. (1) 

Jesus didn't answer the question. Instead, he described the the circumstances. He gave a command and a description that would have caused the listeners to develop more important questions. 

After hearing Jesus' reply, I imagine that some of the people were prompted to ask many questions of themselves.  We may also ask these questions of ourselves too. Questions such as...

"Am I one of the many who are on the wide road leading me away from the good things that God has planned for me?"   
"Do I believe what Jesus is teaching, that following him is the way to this life, this zoe life,  he speaks of?"
"What might I lose or miss out on if I choose to follow Jesus? Will this life he speaks of truly be worth it?"
"Do I reject this, and keep doing what I'm doing? Or do I accept it and follow what Jesus is teaching?"

Finally, we know that the conditions Jesus spoke of are still the same conditions in place today. There is a wide, spacious, and supposedly easy road. Many are on it, and now - it is true now - that many are purposefully choosing it. Many have had the truth shared with them but have not believed it.  Others are unaware that they are being led along the wide road; they had no one to teach them the way as they grew up. They are unaware that there is another way.

The good news is that there is a well defined way, defined by Jesus, that leads through the gate to spiritual life,  a rich, spiritual life that is for both now and in the future. It's the life of which Jesus taught. It's the way that Jesus commanded his disciples to continue in the way and to teach it to everyone they could. It's not an easy way necessarily; but it is a good and rewarding path.   Is the spirit of Christ calling you to persevere on the narrow path or to return to his way if you have left and chose to go the wide way? You won't be alone on the narrow way. You will find many others along the way to join you in community and to encourage you. Even more importantly, Jesus promises that his Spirit will be with you all the way on it. Even to this day, he is calling us  to follow him on the well defined and narrow path to the spiritual life and purposes that only He can lead us to. 


If you would like to learn simple, practical ways to walk with God every single day, then you would really enjoy Closer to God: Simple Methods, Starting Today

If you need motivation to eat healthier or lose weight while also growing 

closer to God, then you would enjoy Weight Loss for Christians, An 

Extraordinarily Simple Way to Conquer Cravings

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If you want to learn more deeply and fully about what Jesus taught, then you would enjoy He Called: 56 Daily Studies and Reflections with the Words of Christ. 

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