God is sovereign over his kingdom. He decides who gets in and who is put out. Still he invites, entices, and pleads with people to accept the invitation into his kingdom. It is his good pleasure to give his people the kingdom (Luke 12:32). But those who are invited must respond.
Our text comes once again from the travel narrative of Luke’s Gospel (9:51–19:28). In fact, the first verse of our text is one of the key texts as Jesus makes his way up to Jerusalem (9:51; 13:22; 17:11; 19:11, 28, 41). In this section of Scripture there are many parables and many teachings on discipleship.
Enter with Effort
As Jesus journeyed southward and upward he was teaching in the towns and villages. On the way someone asked Jesus if only a few people would be saved. One would think that Jesus would respond with either yes or no. Yes, large groups will be saved (Matthew 8:5-12; Revelation 7:9). Or, no, only a few will be saved (Matthew 7:13, 14). Jesus didn’t specifically answer the question. It wasn’t uncommon for Jesus to clarify the direction of a question, or to ask another question so as to lead the conversation in another direction, or to extend the conversation to a greater spiritual reality. The last option seems to be what Jesus did here.
The answer seems to be, “Whether few or many are saved does not matter right now. What matters is doing whatever is necessary to enter God’s kingdom.” Jesus taught about entering God’s kingdom using the metaphor of a door. This door is narrow (Matthew 7:13,14) and will therefore require some effort to get through. Some will try, but they might not try hard enough. Make every effort translates one Greek word, which is where we get our English word “agonize.” When people asked what they had to do to be saved or receive eternal life, they were not told, “Nothing” (Matthew 19:17; Acts 2:38; 16:31). Effort shows faith.
Enter While You Can
Next Jesus pictured an imaginary conversation taking place behind closed doors. He continued to speak metaphorically, suggesting that there is an owner of the house where this narrow door is located. We could assume that the owner is God. Once again we see the sovereignty of God over the house (think kingdom). There comes a point when the narrow door is shut. Anyone can enter through the narrow door, but that person should not let any grass grow in getting through that door.
The imaginary conversation continued between the owner of the house and the person on the other side of the door. One can imagine this conversation taking place with loud voices. The man said, “Sir (Lord), open the door for us.” The owner stated that he did not know who the man was or from where he came. This might mean, “I do not recognize you as mine.” The man outside appealed again, suggesting that the owner and he were good friends—eating together and receiving the owner’s teaching. The owner replied with the same words and then said, “Away from me, all you evildoers!” What made this man so evil? Simply put, he did not enter the narrow door in the time that was provided him. There came a time when the door was shut (see Genesis 7:16). Any appeal after that was too late. Tom Ewald (Lincoln Christian University) once said, “Hell is truth known too late.”
Enter and Be Surprised
If verses 25-27 show who is on the outside of the door, then verses 28-30 show us who is on the inside of the door. And some of the people on the inside of the door are quite surprising. The insiders consist of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), the prophets (these could actually be Old Testament and New Testament prophets), and people from various geographies and ethnicities from the four corners of the earth. The outsiders are not identified per se, but from the following context (vv. 31-35) they might consist of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The supposed insiders will be thrown out, and there will be weeping and gnashing teeth (images related to the agonies of judgment).
Entering God’s kingdom is not automatic. Insiders are out and outsiders are in. In Jesus’ kingdom, things are not always as they seem. The last people one would expect to be in God’s kingdom will be in, and the first people one would expect to be in are actually out. This is the upside-down kingdom of God (see Matthew 19:30; 20:16). Will only a few people be saved? Yes and no!
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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