Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

132. Few Saved? (Luke 13:22-30)

The progress of Jesus through the cities and villages of the land continued. Luke brings in here the very word used to describe Israel's journeyings in the wilderness (Num. 33:2; Ps.68:24LXX). All this time "he steadfastly set his lace to go up to Jerusalem" (9:51). That was to be the end of the journey. But the route was not direct. The intention was that on the way as many places as possible should hear the personal appeal of the Son of God.

One day, in the course of his journeying, a disciple (cp.14:22) asked: "Lord, are there few that are being saved?" The precise point of the question is not certain. It may have meant: 'This is a fine theological point which the rabbis are always arguing about; what is your answer?' But more likely, it signified: 'You are not making many converts, are you?' The man wanted to belong to a flourishing movement, and was concerned to find the nation's response now so meagre.

The strait gate

In reply, as on other similar occasions, Jesus turned the enquiry to general profit. Addressing himself to all who were listening, he answered with a point-blank imperative: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." Thus there was an implied reproof of idle curiosity concerning this or any such questions. It was the Lord's way of intimating that time and effort spent on such a problem is time wasted. So also is elaborate speculation regarding prophecies of the last days, or the philosophical harmonizing of predestination and human freewill, or concerning any such questions which have frittered away countless hours—all such things are futile unless they be made subservient to the main aim of personal salvation and the glory of God. 'In your seeking for access through the narrow door, strain every nerve,' Jesus commanded. Nothing in life is more important. This must have the very highest priority.

That expression: "the narrow door,” plainly implied a positive answer to the question. Yes, there are only few who are saved. Then, yet more explicitly: "For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." The tenses are important here. They speak clearly of a certain future occasion when opportunity of salvation will have passed, and a belated eagerness will meet with bitter disappointment.

The figure of speech here is different from that of Matthew 7:14. There, the picture is one of a narrow gate giving access to a narrow path, the only route by which the broad way, leading to destruction, may be avoided. Here, there is a narrow door of a house where a banquet of great privilege and pleasure is about to be provided.

A shut door

Jesus went on to elaborate the graphic image: "When once the master of the house hath risen up, and hath shut to the door," then many seeking entry will not have the strength to get in. There is plain implication here that if, to qualify for the heavenly blessing, a man depends on his own powers and not on the gracious invitation of the Master, he is doomed to disappointment. The words were spoken with a strong note of urgency. At the best of times the door is narrow. But once it is shut to, neither battering on it nor forceful effort will budge it in the slightest.

On an earlier occasion Jesus had encouraged persistence of this kind: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened" (11:9). Yet here is no contradiction, but a salutary warning that for the man who treats present opportunity with indifference God's graciousness does not last for ever.

The time will inevitably come when those who stand outside and knock, saying "lord, Lord, open unto us," will hear only the reply: "I know you not whence ye are." This is odd, for of course he will know. Also, that word: "whence" is specially significant. It implies origin, and may be paraphrased: You do not belong to the family that I have invited, the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets (v.28,16).


"Then shall ye begin to say ..." (v.26) seems to suggest the Lord's interruption of a long self-written testimonial, in which there is a marked note of surprise and expostulation in reply to this refusal.

"We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets." All unaware, they had eaten and drunk unworthily. But, without saving faith, even sound doctrine and participation in the Breaking of Bread and encouragement of the gospel message are of little consequence. Indeed, these high spiritual privileges only serve to increase the guilt of those who have not given a dedicated loyalty to Christ: "That servant which knew his Lord's will and prepared not, shall be beaten with many stripes . . . For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (12:47,48).

So the only possible reply to the clamour of such people is a repeated disowning by "the master of the house": "Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity" (cp. Ps. 6:8,10). It is noteworthy here, and again in the parables of the pounds and talents, that to those who are conscious of their own rectitude, the Lord represents himself as austere and unyielding.

The rejected & the blessed

Those who consider that they must "qualify" for eternal blessedness by self-wrought virtue will find that for them the divine standard of admission is set far higher than any level they can hope to reach. In the day of decision th< are convicted of being "workers of iniquity". All works without faith are iniquity. All procrastination in yielding full loyalty to Christ is iniquity. All association with Christ without real faith in him, and a corresponding lack of faith in self, is iniquity. Some will learn the lesson too late, and there (outside the shut door) shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Ps. 112:10; see Study 163).

This will be at a time when those whom the Lord rejects "shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and themselves thrust out." The words imply resurrection and judgment for both classes. And the fitting retribution on these, who have hypocritically professed to be Christ's men, will be to see the blessedness of those who truly are his kindred spirits, and thus to realize the folly of a life of service which has served self in the guise of serving Christ.

The misery of rejection will bite the deeper because not only patriarchs and prophets and all the cream of faithful Israel will thus be blessed, but with them countless Gentiles from east, west, north and south will likewise be seen to "sit down in the kingdom of God." So the Lord's final answer is: Yes, those saved are many-and yet only few compared with the multitudes in the broad way to destruction.

And as Esau wept at the loss of his inheritance, so also do these castaways as they see others receive the fulfilment of the great Promise made to Jacob: "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac... thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen.28:13,14; cp. Is. 49:12; Mal. 1:11).

This solemn anticipation of the Day of Judgment, all arising out of a simple and perhaps rather superficial question, gave notice to the Lord's Jewish hearers of an impending inversion of standards, dramatic and unexpected. Despised Gentiles who were deemed to be last were to be (and have become) first, and privileged Israelites have been set last of all. And—who knows?—that day of reckoning may bring other strange reversals. The Roman Church has always been loud and confident in its claims of continuity from the first century to the twentieth. Another small uninfluential community talks rather selfconsciously about its "revival of the Truth in the last days."

Notes: Lk. 13:22-30

Are there few... ? Lk's expression here may be a Hebraism for an emphatic negative; cp. Heb. 4:5.
When once.The Gk. phrase is notably indeterminate. No one knows when this will be (Mk. 13:32).

And hath shut to the door. This is the only occurrence of this verb in NT or LXX. No other door is so tight shut as this. Yet there is one way to get it open: 1 Kgs 8:35,36. The mini-parable sketched here is hardly true to life.
He shall say. ln Mt. 7:23, "profess", which in that context must surely mean "speak plainly."
And all the prophets, men who bore faithful witness to Christ and to his kingdom; Acts 3:21; 10:43; Lk.24:27; and note Jn. 8:52

Thrust out This Gk. word seems to imply inclusion for a time, only to be ejected as unworthy; cp. Is. 65:20c; 66:24; Mt. 13:41.
They shall come. This Gk. word is beautifully chosen, for it seems always to imply divine action. For idea, cp. Mt. 24:31

Sit down; s.w.Mt. 14:19;contrastv.25:"stand".
As phrased this does not mean that o//the last will be first, nor all the first last.

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