Entrance into the Kingdom of God is Through a Narrow Gate
Look how Jesus continues this paradoxical teaching moving forward in Chapter 13. But notice again how this backward counter-intuitive teaching on the kingdom is starting to take hold on the Jews and how it must have sounded to them. It is a sign there is some doubt creeping into their minds.
Luke 13:22-27 (NKJV) **
The Narrow Way
22 And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are 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 you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’
**All scripture is from the New King James Version unless other wise noted
Jesus is walking and teaching as He heads toward Jerusalem. We’re still talking about Jesus heading ever steadily toward the city of His death. And He remains steadfast in His mission of getting to Jerusalem, and He is teaching along the way. His travel is purposeful. What a haunting feeling it must have been for Him to know what lay ahead and yet to keep walking without hesitation. His impending suffering and death. Jesus has known for some time what was awaiting Him on His third and final visit to Jerusalem.
Looking at the teaching itself, as it has been building over the last two posts, “The Messiah is Rejected by Israel” & “What is the Kingdom of God Like,” hopefully by now you’re starting to see the pattern emerge more clearly. Jesus is asked, “are just a few being saved?” And for a Jew, being saved meant entering the place God promised. It’s even remarkable that someone would think to ask this question. Because the typical Jewish teaching and thinking at the time was that all Jews were going to Heaven or at least all good Jews were going to the kingdom. Good Jews meant those who kept to the law and practiced it. That’s why God even promised the kingdom. For the Jew, for all Jews in their thinking at least.
So when Jesus is asked if just a few are being saved, you need to realize that the questioner was only thinking about Jews. No one in the Jewish culture expected Gentiles to be saved. To the Jew they were the only ones who were going to enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, the Jews considered the Gentiles as dogs. The Gentiles are not going to be saved. It just could not happen. Even after Christ was resurrected, Peter himself struggled with the thought that the Gentiles might be intended to participate in God’s plan for salvation. So when Jesus is asked if just a few are being saved, the implication is are only a few Jews being saved or are all Jews being saved? That was a debate of the day among religious leaders. And the likely reason the question was even asked was because of disputes between Sadducees and Pharisees over what things were required of a Jew to be saved.
But Jesus answered in a surprising way. He first confirms that only a few are being saved – but then He goes even further. And this is where it gets counter-intuitive. Strive to enter through a narrow gate. That phrase “enter through the…,” that’s an euphemistic way of saying that there is a narrow path into the kingdom and by virtue of it being narrow, it only grants entrance for a few. That’s implied. That is how He is answering the question. We’ve heard this before,”the narrow path,” “the narrow gate,” but you need to think a little more like a Jew living in a walled city in that day to really appreciate what Jesus just said. Think about major cities for a moment. In Jesus day a major city had high walls to protect the city and naturally they had gates to permit entry. Cities like Jerusalem with high walls had to have gates or you couldn’t get in. And cities like Jerusalem had a variety of gates. The gates have their own personality and history behind them. A certain look. They come in different sizes. Some were large and elaborate, that were meant to be the showplace, the way you easily walk in. And that’s sort of way a lot these elaborate gates were thought of. They were the more ceremonial way or the more fancy way into a city. They very inviting and very easy to pass through and had a wide street. So they could accommodate a large party, a lot of crowds, a lot of movement or a lot commerce maybe. Not all of them were obviously ceremonial, but the point is they were wide,inviting and easy. These wide, inviting gates obviously allowed the greatest number of people to pass through in a very efficient way and so they were by far the most popular entry points into the city.
Most cities would also have, especially if they were a larger city, smaller, cramped and difficult entry points built into the walls at various points. It was sort of a utility entrance. These narrow gates were off the beaten path and were unpopular and rarely used. They didn’t allow you to bring much baggage or bring an entourage with camels and servants and such, so it would be an easy way for a solitary traveler to get into the city from another junction point without having to make the long trip around the city to find the main entrance. If it’s just one traveler, you didn’t want to walk three-quarters of a mile around the city to get to the main entrance. Also, a small gate can be easily defended and guarded.
Jesus says, strive to enter by the narrow gate. What He is implying is you are on the main road and the big gate is right in front of you. You’ve got twenty steps and you are in through the large, elaborate gate into the city. But Jesus says get off the road and take the three-quarter mile walk around and walk in the small gate in the back of the city. Strive to enter through the gate that few others are willing to take. Make that your goal. That didn’t make any sense to the Jews. It makes no sense to anyone who understands what it meant to walk in and out of the city in that day. That was a very puzzling kind of suggestion to make. But it has implications for us and for them (Jews) in that day. It implies among other things to ignore the attractive, easy options that every one else is prone to follow.
More importantly, He says look at what happens to the people who follow that easy option. One day in the future when that moment of judgment arrives, and in this parable Jesus actually describes that moment when the confrontation occurs. In that moment when the judgment day occurs, they are going to come before Christ because we are all promised that day of judgment standing before the judge, Christ. And they are going to be surprised to learn that the path they chose into the kingdom is the wrong path. They are going to go in that moment expecting the reward of the kingdom that they’ve been told as a Jew, for example, they were told they were going to get. Now, don’t get confused by what we are talking about here. We are not talking about believers (those saved by God’s grace). For their eternal place with Christ is already secured. But they are still expected to serve and live a life obedient to God’s command and will to build up rewards in the kingdom. However, we are talking about unbelievers, who have not put their trust and faith in whom God sent for their salvation. Who died for their sins. Their trust is in themselves or some other man-made belief that tells them there are many ways into the kingdom. Ways where “works” are required to enter and not faith.
In verse 25 we see Jesus saying I do not know where you are from, which is a way of saying, in that day “I don’t know who you are.” In that day to know somebody was to know the heritage of their family or of their tribe. Otherwise, I don’t know where you are from, you are a stranger to me. Matthew records it in Matthew chapter 25 , “Depart from me, I do not know you.” And these people appeal to Jesus on the basis of some loose association. They are going to say, “We know you! We ate and drank with you“ (referring to the Pharisees). Remember the Pharisees are the leaders who invited Jesus in and had dinner with Him. “We listened to you teach in our streets” (referring to the crowds). The leaders and the crowds. They are being epitomized in this picture as people who think they’ve got the solution into the kingdom. They are walking the wide easy path. What was the wide easy path for the Jew in that day? It was being a Jew and keeping the Law to some degree. Having a sense they are doing the right thing in some regard. But most importantly being a son or daughter of Abraham, by birth not by faith. He responds specifically calling them evildoers saying, depart from me evildoers. In other words, these people represented here by the Pharisees and crowds, but it can be applied even more generally to all unbelievers. These people could enjoy Jesus’ company all day long. And even remember His teachings and the words He used. But go back to something Jesus taught earlier. He said earlier back in chapter 12 of Luke, those who are not for Him are against Him. You cannot be a friend and not receive Him for who He said He was. No matter how cordial you think that relationship may be while He was on earth or while you sit in a pew somewhere in church.
When it comes time for judgment, you are either in or out – there is no in-between. We know there are going to be many people who are going to choose the wide gate. Not just in Jesus’ day, but equally in our day as well. What does that wide gate look like? We are surrounded by people even today, even in the church and maybe your own church who are looking for the easy, popular way to secure their future with God. Whatever they view easy and popular to be in their mind. Many of those wide, easy paths are paths that have
nothing to do with Jesus and the gospel message (Beliefs like Islam, New Age mysticism, Buddhism, Taoism, Wicca, you name it). Something that is easy in the sense that it appeals to the flesh. It lets them do what they have a proclivity or interest in doing. Whatever seems to be popular, hip, new and making inroads in their world. And it is the big, wide open door everyone around them seems to be following. So they say, let’s go that way. That path or paths that are out there seem to offer a variety of ways to earn God’s praise and therefore to earn entry into the kingdom. Even if those people wouldn’t express it as kingdom or trying to enter Heaven. Even if they have some other vision of what they are achieving, it is really along the same line spiritually. This is not to say these paths are easy because they don;t have sacrifice. A lot of these faiths or false religions impart tremendous sacrifice on the part of people who will follow it. They demand tremendous kinds of self-sacrifice to be a part of that particular religion. It’s not because they don’t involve effort, in fact many of them involve a lot of effort because they are usually “works based.” So we are not saying they are not easy. We’re not saying there is not work or effort in a human sense. We are saying and this is the point of the scripture, we are saying they are wide and easy because they do not involve a work of God. They are easy because they don’t involve a changed heart. And they are easy because they don’t depend on or relate to the suffering death of God’s only Son. They are easy in the sense that they are cheap, and meaningless ways in trying to approach God. They are not true in their direction or in their intent, in their focus and most of all in their faith.What they are is human derived ways to enter the kingdom on an easy basis, they are not striving for the narrow gate. They are on the road to destruction. What’s hard of course, was God’s work on the cross.
But what’s even sadder to consider is that for many who sit in the pews of Christian churches every week, the same can be said. They are looking for the wide and easy gate. There are many in the church – perhaps many in your church-‐ who are like these people represented in Jesus’ parable. They are regularly eating and drinking with the savior, we call it communion or working to be in fellowship with other Christians. They are regularly sitting next to us taking in a pastor’s or church leader’s teaching, anytime the Word of God is taught in their presence in the church. But when it comes to their ticket into the kingdom, nevertheless they have chosen a wide and popular door in some way.
Perhaps they have come to Christianity through a false Gospel like the Prosperity Gospel. Or perhaps they have been pulled into one of the many false churches like the Mormon church which preaches a distorted and false view of Jesus and the salvation He brings. Or perhaps they have merely never believed anything, and they just fill a spot in the pews and they have some earthly physical value they receive, such as the common fellowship with the people they like for reasons we don’t even understand. The fact that they feel they are doing the right thing on a Sunday morning instead of sitting at home. Who knows what’s in their heart, but the fact remains when they face Jesus on judgment day, He says, I didn’t know them because they came through a painless, popular way and not the one and only way Jesus said all must come to enter God’s Kingdom. In another way they epitomize another parable, The Sower and the Seed. These are the people for whom the seed fell on hard soil. Or fell in soil so shallow that at first testing it died. Where there was no real root or real faith in their life. It was merely the appearance of faith, something that was outward and overt of their own effort not a true change of heart. They know of Jesus, but they don’t know Jesus. It’s not what you do but who you know. And by knowing and believing in Christ and what His death, burial, and resurrection meant for us, we by God’s grace have received faith and are saved. It is a gift from God.
9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
To be saved is to turn your backs on the wide gates promising the world false entry into the kingdom and placing your trust in what is in reality a very small insignificant gate that most people are overlooking or rejecting outright. . A man who died 2,000 years ago on a cross as a common criminal. A very unlikely place and person to place your trust. In comparison to what the world will tell you what you should do. These people know about Jesus. They spent time in the company of His children (the Church) and they feel safe and secure. But one day when they reach the end of their life journey and they stand before Jesus, they will be surprised to learn their fate. They wonder how they could be excluded from the kingdom. But despite their surprise, they will be excluded because Jesus never knew them. The security that you and I enjoy as Christians (knowing that we will be a part of God’s promise both today and forever) comes not because of what we do, but because of who we know. We know Jesus as our savior, and we trust that He will save us because we believe he has already bought our ticket. And we know we have decided to enter into… no, must enter into that relationship through the narrow gate, through the door that is Jesus Himself.
Coming up next is the conclusion of The Narrow Gate Into The Kingdom
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”