A gracEmail subscriber writes: “In our Bible class yesterday, we were talking about Jesus’ statement that the gate to life is narrow and ‘few’ pass through it. One class member has some relatives who believe that practically everyone will be lost, including most professing Christians, and other relatives who wonder, if that is true, why Jesus even bothered to die. Can you shed any light on this?”
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Matthew places this saying of Jesus in what we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:13-14) where it precedes a warning against false prophets whom Jesus compares to rotten trees that produce bad fruit (v. 15-20). This is followed by the prediction that on the day of judgment many will claim relationship with Jesus, only to be turned away with the disclaimer that he never knew them despite their vocal professions and religious works (v. 21-23). Jesus’ statement borrows words from Psalm 6:8, a fact that underscores the essential character of those whom Jesus will reject. Throughout the Psalms, the phrase “workers of iniquity” refers to religious hypocrites who claim to be God’s people but who actually do not know God at all.
Luke reports Jesus’ statement about the “narrow door” as a response to the inquiry “Are there just a few who are being saved?” (Lk. 13:22-24). Again this precedes a prediction about “workers of iniquity” whom Jesus will turn away in the judgment despite their claims of familiarity (v. 25-27). However, this entire section in Luke follows the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (both stressing the enormous growth of God’s kingdom), and it immediately precedes Jesus’ warning to his opponents (v. 17) that they will be excluded from God’s kingdom in the Age to Come but that Gentiles from throughout the world will sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the messianic banquet (v. 18-30).
In these contexts, the “few” who pass through the “narrow door” to life do not constitute the total number of all those finally saved. They are instead the relatively small number of Jesus’ self-righteous opponents who will actually repent, believe on him and enter into eternal life. Indeed, the Bible emphasizes from Genesis (15:5; 22:17-18) to Revelation (7:9) God’s intent to redeem a host of men and women from all nations so numerous that they cannot even be counted. God accomplishes this through Christ’s overwhelming work of redemption by which “there resulted justification of life to all” (Rom. 5:18). However, this is not an unqualified universalism, for the Bible makes plain that some will reject God throughout life and finally perish in the second death. For more on this, I recommend the work of my friend and gracEmail subscriber Neal Punt.