MONDAY MINUTES With Pastor Chris McCool (March 7, 2022)

In Luke 13:23-24, we read the following passage:  “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” What does this mean? Is this a reference to something eternal, to a “broad way” that leads to eternal hell and a “narrow way” that leads to eternal life? Or is it applicable to something else that is “here and now,” a reference to a “life” that children of God must seek “here and now?” Let’s look at this passage for a few minutes.

Before we go any further in our analysis, let’s recall a few important foundational considerations when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture. Fruit of all, remember the basics of scriptural analysis: content, and context.  That is, we must ask, what does the content of the verse actually say, and what conclusion does the context demand? Secondly, we must NEVER forget the fact that man in nature is spiritually dead in sins – which means unable to function spiritually, or in the spiritual realm, in any way until he is born again – and that whenever we see the word “saved” in scripture, we must ALWAYS ask, “Saved from what?”  Remember, there are two different types of salvation taught in the Bible:  eternal, and temporal (that is, salvation in “time” – “here and now”).  The best example of this is when Peter was sinking in the waves after he jumped out of the boat and was walking to Jesus, and he cried “Lord, save me!” (Mat. 14:30).  No one could legitimately argue that he was asking the Lord to save him eternally; rather, he was asking to be “delivered” here and now!

Also, in examining this particular passage, we cannot help but remember that Jesus made a similar statement in another place in the gospels.  In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, He said:  “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  I believe it’s important to look at both together, because Jesus would not say something in one place that had a particular meaning, and then repeat it later but mean something different!

With these principles in mind, let us look first at the context of Luke 13.  This chapter begins with Jesus being asked about some Galilieans who had been murdered by Pilate, and some other people who died when a tower fell upon them.  Some of the people who were listening to Jesus had the idea that these people must have been great sinners, otherwise such a tragedy would not have befallen them.  

But Jesus used this opportunity to remind these disciples that a prideful, self-righteous attitude can lead to grave consequences in this present life. He warned them that, if they themselves did not repent, they would “all likewise perish.”  (Luke 13:1-5).  Some try to make this an “eternal salvation” verse, but notice that He warned them about “LIKEWISE” perishing.  How did these Galileans and other people perish?  They died PHYSICALLY; that is, their death was NOT eternal and spiritual, but temporal and physical.  In actuality, Jesus is speaking of the Jewish nation here, and the fact that ultimately if they did not repent they would be destroyed – which in fact happened in 66-70 A.D., during the Jewish War (as it is called by the Romans) when they were defeated by Rome and the city of Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.

So we see that the chapter begins with a focus on earthly, or temporal, matters.  He goes on to share the parable of an unfruitful fig tree, and then He heals a woman on the Sabbath day.  Once again, the focus is on the earthly and temporal, not the heavenly and eternal.

In verses 18-21, He shares the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven.  The parables explicitly apply to the “kingdom of God” (see ve. 18).  He essentially says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like [my paraphrase].”  What kingdom is He talking about?  It’s the same kingdom He and John the Baptist preached about, when they said the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven) is “at hand” – that is, it is here and near you.  One reason I do NOT believe this is the eternal Kingdom of God, is that it is not “here and near.”  It is a place we will be going to live one day, but in the meantime we are living right here and now in this earth.  Jesus was bringing a spiritual kingdom to earth, and was teaching them how to live and prosper in this spiritual kingdom.  Once again, the focus of Jesus was on the “here and now,” and NOT on eternal things.

And by the way, it is clear from scriptural context that the “Kingdom of God/Heaven” He is preaching about is the visible aspect of the Kingdom, that is, the church.  In one sense, of course, the Kingdom of God includes all children of God everywhere.  But that Kingdom could NOT be “at hand,” because all children of God everywhere will be all together in one place until we get to eternal heaven.  Thus, it cannot be “at hand” in this world.  Instead, He was teaching us about a spiritual kingdom whose visible aspect are local bodies of called-out, baptized believers who are publicly worshiping God in the way He desires them to worship Him.

Now, getting to verses 23-24, with the context of the rest of the chapter being a focus in earthly things, Jesus does not now change His focus!  Rather, He is giving the disciples instructions on how to enter into this spiritual kingdom (the church kingdom).  And when the disciples ask Him if their is only a limited number of people who are “saved,” He pretty much confirms that this is so!  He says, “many . . . will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:24).  Over in Matthew, where He is preaching an entire sermon (the Sermon on the Mount) about the temporal aspect of this same Kingdom of God, He puts it this way:  “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:  Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”  Mat. 7:13-14.  

Notice in both passages, it appears that the people who enter the “strait gate” are “few.”  (By the way, there’s a whole sermon on why many do not find their way into the kingdom, but that is for another day!)  Whenever we start trying to interpret a passage of scripture, we have to remember that our interpretation, if it is the correct interpretation, will NEVER conflict with other scriptures!  So, if we interpret this passage to be referring to “eternal salvation,” how does it match up with the rest of the Bible?

If these verses are eternal salvation verses, then the clear conclusion that we must reach is that there are only a “few” in heaven.  “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and FEW there be that find it.” (Mat. 7:14).  “. . . for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”  (Luke 13:24).  Does this mesh with the rest of the Bible?

In Revelation 7, we find the following passage:  “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”  Rev. 7:9-10.  Notice it says that, even in John’s day, when John is given a “sneak peek” into heaven, there is already “a great multitude, which no man could number. . . .”  This doesn’t sound like a “few” to me!  I can count pretty high, into the billions or even trillions and quadrillions if I took the time, and this looks like a multitude that even greater than I can count!

Clearly, there are, at the very least, millions of people in heaven.  This is NOT consistent with a view of Luke 13:23-24 and Mat. 7:13-14 that only a “few” make it into eternal heaven.  We must discard this interpretation for a better one that IS consistent with the rest of scripture.

So what IS this passage talking about?  Again, as I’ve already stated, it is Jesus’ prescription for how to enter into the spiritual kingdom of heaven that exists here on earth today:  the church.  If you want to be a profitable and prosperous member of the spiritual body of Christ on earth, you must seek and enter the “strait” (or “narrow”) gate.  It is much easier to get onto the “broad way,” because that is where our fleshly natures naturally incline.  But when we press into the kingdom – against our fleshly natures – we find great comfort, peace, and rest.

I hope these thoughts help us to understand that there are verses that apply to the spiritual Kingdom of God on earth (the Church), and other verses that apply to the eternal Kingdom of God in Heaven. When we can rightly divide the word of God to see which verses apply to which Kingdom, it will help us greatly in our discipleship!

May the Lord bless you is my prayer.

Elder Chris McCool, Pastor