Luke 13:22-24 (NIV) 22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.
On verses 22-24: What is this narrow door that Jesus is talking about? The narrow door is trusting in Jesus Christ. It is “narrow” in that not as many people go through it. As Jesus says in verse 24, instead of trusting in Jesus, many people unsuccessfully try to be saved by their own good works (“many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to”). When Jesus says, “make every effort to enter through the narrow door”, don’t misunderstand this to mean that somehow we must by our own effort and strength reach God on our own; rather, we must make every effort to hang onto faith in Jesus, rather than slipping into the trap of trusting in ourselves. Jesus says something similar in Matthew 7:13-14.
Does Jesus answer the question asked of him in verse 23 about “are only a few people going to be saved?” Not directly, I don’t think. But elsewhere the Bible repeatedly describes heaven as being populated by “a great multitude”, one “that no one can count” (Revelation 7:9). Indeed the people of God are the largest, most diverse, most inclusive family that has ever existed or ever will exist. So when you get to heaven, don’t expect little company.
Luke 13:25-27 (NIV) 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
On verses 25-27: If going to heaven is about a personal relationship with Jesus, here Jesus tells a parable to illustrate what a personal relationship with Jesus is NOT. Attending a church service or reading your Bible doesn’t necessarily mean you have a personal relationship with Jesus (“we ate and drank with you”). Listening to a sermon doesn’t necessarily mean you have a personal relationship with Jesus (“you taught in our streets”). In the end knowing Jesus personally is about believing in Him. For you can sit in a service and listen to a sermon and still choose not to believe and still not be saved. But when you respond in faith to Jesus, that’s when you “know Jesus” and are saved.
Luke 13:28-30 (NIV) 28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
On verses 28-30: The prevailing belief among many Jews was that the kingdom of God was their exclusive possession. Yet here Jesus shows that actually some Jews will not belong to the kingdom of God, despite them having received such a great spiritual heritage from men of faith like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the Old Testament prophets (v28). At the same time, Jesus says that the kingdom of God will include non-Jewish people everywhere from every nation (v29). Thus, though the Jews were “first” in that they were God’s chosen people, by rejecting Jesus many of them would be last. Meanwhile, though the Gentiles were not chosen like the Jews were, many of them would embrace and accept Jesus and be among “the first”. Thus Jesus says, “there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
As an extension of this point, you may be surprised to find that some who are A listers in our world today, who enjoy a great deal of power, fortune, prestige and respect among people, may have no standing in heaven, whereas those you’ve never heard of before may be generals with great standing in heaven.
Luke 13:31-33 (NIV) 31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day–for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
On verses 31-33: Jesus would not be intimidated or deterred by fear. The most courageous man to ever live, Jesus was bold and determined about fulfilling His mission: to drive out demons, heal people, go to Jerusalem to die (just like the prophets before him – “for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” – v33) and ultimately to rise again. The “third day” (v32) is a reference to His resurrection, which was his “goal” and which would happen on the third day after his burial.
Likewise, when you step out in faith to pursue God’s call on your life, you will face opposition and intimidating circumstances. But don’t be afraid. Like Jesus, “keep going” “in any case”. As Paul would say, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Luke 13:34-35a (NIV) 34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate…
On verses 34-35a: Here Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, knowing that as much as He loves this city and the people living in it, most of them would reject Him as Messiah and be “desolate” (v35) as a result.
Similarly, Jesus is grieved when the people whom He loves and to whom He holds out His hands reject Him. He is grieved for their sake, knowing that those who reject God will have a desolate (bleak, empty) future.
Luke 13:35b (NIV) 35 …I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
On verse 35b: Though Jesus would enter Jerusalem and be greeted with chants of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (a quote from Psalm 118:26), the future event Jesus is talking about here is probably not Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Rather Jesus is most likely referring to His second coming. He’s basically saying, “You will not see me until I return to earth in glory, this next time as king.”
Lord Jesus, knowing You personally is so much more than just going to church or listening to a sermon. It’s trusting You, believing in You. Help me to know You more. Just as You weren’t deterred by fear, may I courageously follow the calling You have for more my life. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!