by George Sidney Hurd
The Following is an excerpt from the book, The Triumph of Mercy.
“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.’ 28 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, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:13-14)
The passages we are examining here are the response of Jesus to the question: “Are there few who are saved?” Something very important to keep in mind in the teachings of Jesus is that, even though He was the mediator of the New Covenant, He still ministered under the Old Covenant. And if the law was the ministry of death (2Cor 3:7), some of the sayings of Jesus were like the nails that closed the coffin once and for all to those who hoped in salvation by works. To those who said that they had never killed anyone, Jesus said that they were in danger of Gehenna for just saying damaging words to others. To those who boasted that they had never committed adultery, He said that just looking at a woman with sexual desire constituted adultery. He took the law, which is humanly impossible to keep and made it infinitely more impossible for man to fulfill.
To some, who already recognized their need for salvation, Jesus revealed that salvation was by grace through faith alone. To Nicodemus, He compared salvation to the healing of the rebellious Israelites when they were saved from dying of snakebites by just one look of faith in the direction of the serpent of bronze (Jn 3:14-16). To others, who still considered themselves to be righteous, He pointed out something in their life where they were lacking in order to remove all hope of being saved by their own works.
When the rich young ruler in Mark 10 asked Jesus: “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” Jesus responded by mentioning one by one the 10 commandments. The law promised life for those who observed it perfectly, which obviously no one has ever been able to do except for God Himself in the person of Christ. Nevertheless, the rich young ruler, thinking that he was righteous according to the law, responded saying: “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.” Then Jesus, in order to destroy any illusion that he could save himself by his own works said: “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.
What was Jesus’ intention in making such a demand upon this man? Was He reinforcing his belief that salvation depended upon his own works? No. He had followers like Lazarus and others who were rich and yet He did not place this requirement upon them. The motive of Jesus is obvious. He wanted to remove from him all hope of saving himself, causing him to seek the grace and mercy of God as his only hope of salvation. When the rich young ruler asked: “Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?” Jesus began His response by emphasizing that there is no one good except God alone. His motive was to commit all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all (Rom 11:32).
Why did Jesus say that “those who are well had no need of a physician, but those who are sick, and that He didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance?” (Mark 2:17). Because those who consider themselves to be righteous don’t sense any need of mercy. A person only begins to seek God when he becomes aware of his condition as a sinner. All are sinners, but for an individual to seek salvation he must first come to see his need. He must realize that his only hope of righteousness is the righteousness of God in Christ, received as a free gift of grace, apart from works (Rom 3:19-25).
We see that Jesus put no demand upon the criminal being crucified beside Him. The criminal simply said to Jesus: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” and Jesus replied: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42,43). And He extends the same invitation to all: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37).
He offered salvation freely to the Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was presently living with a man out of wedlock, saying: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). In contrast, when speaking to the self-righteous, He made salvation by self-works even more hopelessly impossible. Why? To exclude them? No, but rather to commit them all to disobedience in order to ultimately have mercy on them all.
After His conversation with the rich young ruler, Jesus said to his disciples in so many words that it was impossible for a rich man to be saved. In Matthew 19:25 we see their reaction to the demand Jesus made to the rich young ruler: “When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?” In Jesus’ reply we discover what it is that He wants all of mankind to understand concerning their salvation: “But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (v. 26).
Jesus didn’t just say this in reference to the rich, but to all. What Jesus wanted to make clear, before going to the cross and initiating the New Covenant in His blood, was that self-salvation isn’t just difficult – it’s impossible. But for God nothing is impossible, and He desires that all be saved, and so shall it be. Nevertheless, the prostitutes and the tax collectors will enter the kingdom before the self-righteous religious people. Why? Because the self-righteous religious people are the last to recognize their need for God’s mercy and salvation (Matt 21:31-32).
“For God has committed all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.” (Rom 11:32)
Returning to the passage in Luke 13 where Jesus answers the question: “Lord, are there few who are saved?” there are some very important observations which we should make. In the first place, it is clear that those who are lost are not eternally lost, as is traditionally taught. What Jesus says is that some will not be permitted entrance into the kingdom of heaven initially, but He makes no reference to eternal exclusion. On the contrary, what we see in verse 30 is that those esteemed as being the first candidates to enter, such as the Pharisees and religiously self-righteous, will actually be the last to enter, while those least expected to enter, such as the harlots and tax collectors, will enter first (Matt 21:31-32). The word “first” in Greek is protos and in this context refers to those who are first in time or sequence. Also, the word “last” is eschatos which here refers to those who are last in sequence to enter. “First” and “last” are not necessarily referring to importance in the kingdom but rather to sequence. Jesus elsewhere refers to first and last in importance but uses different terms: “least” elachistos and “greatest” megos (Matt 5:19; 11:11). If the exclusion of the lost were eternal, then Jesus would not have spoken of some who would be the first to enter and others who would be eschatologically the last to enter.
Neither do we see eternal perdition presented in the parallel passage in Matthew 7:13-14. Due to the traditional dogma of an eternal hell, we unconsciously assume that the word “destruction” (apoleia) means eternal destruction. But how can destruction be eternal if Jesus said: “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost [apollumi “destroy or lose”?] (Luke 19:10). Will He somehow not be able to do what He came to do? Jesus used the same word in both cases; “destruction” being the noun form and “was lost” being the verb form. He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep in the fold to seek the only lost one until He finds it (Luke 15:4). Is it possible that, in spite of this, some will be eternally lost? No! A thousand times No! He is the One who said: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (drag) all unto Myself” (John 12:32). Is it possible for Him to have said it and not be able to do it? Percentage wise, the traditional view often presents Christ as ultimately eternally losing 99% percent of those He died to rescue, with only the 1% safe in the fold. Did not the Good Shepherd lay down His life for the whole world?
In the second place, when we compare the passages concerning the narrow gate with the last chapters of Revelation, beginning with the Second Coming of Christ for His Bride, we see that the initial exclusion of the majority from the kingdom of heaven is not an eternal exclusion. Those who are not already His at His coming will not take part in the wedding feast and therefore will not be of the Bride of Christ, the Lamb’s wife, and they will not dwell in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:9-10). However, that is not the end of the story.
After the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20, which takes place a thousand years after the Second Coming, those who did not enter by the narrow gate and are not found in the book of life, will be cast into the lake of fire. Tradition would tell us that from this point on all will have gone to their final destiny where they will be forever, without any possibility of restoration for those who are in the lake of fire. All the saints will be in heaven and all the rest will be in hell forever. However, in Revelation we see a different scenario.
In Revelation 21 we see the New Jerusalem, the wife of the Lamb, descending out of heaven upon the new earth. At that point another distinct group of people is introduced – the nations who will walk in the light of the New Jerusalem - the habitation of the Bride, the wife of the Lamb (21:24).
Now we no longer have just two groups – the Church in the New Jerusalem and the condemned in the lake of fire – but also the third group - the saved of the nations (21:25). Who are they? Obviously, at first they will only consist of those found written in the book of life at the Great White Throne Judgment. They will be made alive and glorified at that time, but since the wedding already took place a thousand years prior to this judgment, they will not make up part of the wife of the Lamb who inhabits the New Jerusalem, but rather they will walk in the light of the New Jerusalem (21:24).
However, we also see others of the nations in the outer darkness who cannot enter the New Jerusalem while they remain unclean and do not yet have their names written in the book of life (21:27). The book of Revelation ends with the Spirit and the Bride of the Lamb extending the invitation to all those who are outside and are thirsty and want to partake of the water of life to enter and drink freely. Her gates shall not be shut. However, they will remain outside in outer darkness until they repent and wash their robes in order to be able to enter. Nevertheless, the invitation continues to be extended to all those who are thirsty and wish to enter, just as it is now.
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Rev 22:14-15 NIV)
Some who are in outer darkness will enter sooner, while others will be the last to enter, but when all is said and done, God will be all in all (1Cor 15:28) when, in the dispensation of the fullness of time, both those in heaven and those on earth will be reunited in Christ (Eph 1:10). After the Great White Throne Judgment, those being made alive and glorified will be made alive on an individual basis - “each one in his own order” (1Cor 15:22-23). But in the end all will have submitted to Him, bowing the knee and confessing Him as Lord to the glory of God. Then the time will have finally come when all will have entered in by the narrow gate which leads to life.
In the third place, in the context of the passage concerning the narrow gate, Jesus wasn’t speaking to individuals who already recognized that they were sinners and in need of salvation as many think, but rather He was confronting the Pharisees and self-righteous religious people who trusted in themselves. They were the ones unwilling to humble themselves low enough to enter by the narrow gate. They are the ones who will be standing outside and knocking when it is too late to enter into the marriage feast. In Luke 18:13-14 we see that it was the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, who was received by the Lord. Jesus explained the reason saying: “…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Only the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of God, because only they are willing to humble themselves and enter by the gate which is too uncomfortably narrow for the self-righteous.
Therefore, there is nothing in Christ’s teaching about the narrow gate which implies eternal perdition. To the contrary, what He taught is in harmony with the final restoration of all, beginning with those who early recognize their need of God’s mercy.
The Inerrency of Scripture
The Love of God
The Fear of the Lord
The Question of Evil
Understanding the Atonement
Homosexuality and the Bible
Answers to Objections:
Has God Rejected Israel:
God's Glorious Plan for the Ages
The Manifest Sons of God
The Trinity and the Deity of Christ
Eternal Preexistence of Christ
Preterism vs. Futurism
The Two-Gospel Doctrine Examined