Are Only a Few People Going to be Saved?
Luke 13:23-24, “And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
One of those in the company of Jesus, as he made his final journey to Jerusalem, asked, “Lord, are there few that be saved?
It was the prevalent opinion among the Jews that although “all Israel” would be saved, only a few Gentiles would make it intoheaven. Within the context of the general tone of Jesus’ teaching on the subject of the future of his kingdom, the vision of many of the Jews had been disturbed because they loved to dwell on the exclusion of all save the chosen race from the glories of the world to come.
The words of the Second Book of Esdras, written perhaps forty or fifty years after this time, well reflect this selfish spirit of harsh exclusiveness that was so typical of the Jew in the days of our Lord. "The Most High hath made this world for many, but the world to come for few" (2 Esdr. 8:1). "There be many more of them which perish, than of them which shall be saved: like as a wave is greater than a drop" (2 Esdr. 9:15, 16).
Whether the man’s question was sincere or one with a hidden agenda, we can’t be sure. But one thing is for sure, this question is still frequently discussed and debated in Christian circles. Just last Sunday, a brother was telling me about how a relative had challenged his optimistic view of the gospel’s success by reminding him that Jesus had stated that “only a few would be saved.”
This text in Luke 13:23-24, along with Matthew 7:13-14 and 22:14, is often used to prove that the ultimate number of those saved will be comparatively small. It is claimed that if one believes in the power of the gospel to convert far more to Christ than those believing Satan’s lies and going to Hell, then they are directly contradicting the clear teaching of Jesus at this point.
Many Christians have the attitude that the saved are, “me and my wife, my son John and his wife – us four and no more”!
In all three of these passages, Jesus is dealing with the state of affairs as it then existed. They are best understood in the context of Jesus' own earthly ministry. There were very few Jews who believed in Him during his 3 ½ years of ministry. Most of the Jews became more and more hardened in their rejection of Jesus until they finally crucified their Messiah. This passage simply does not address the question of many people will ultimately accept or reject Christ.
Also, nothing in these passages indicate that it is describing a permanent state of affairs. As Professor B.B. Warfield notes, there is no reason to think "that the circumstances intimated or implied are necessarily constant and must remain forever unchanged." In other words, the passage is descriptive of the current situation and not prescriptive of all future generations.
The use of these passages to refute a hope-filled expectation of the gospel’s success fails because they must be taken out of their historical context and made normative for the entire present age in order to contradict a final harvest more numerous than man can number (Rev. 7:9).
Ken Gentry would remind us that “we must note, first, that in other places the Bible speaks of the vast number of the redeemed. Interestingly, just a few verses later — and apparently soon after stating the words of Matthew 7:13–14 — the Lord speaks seemingly contradictory words in Matthew 8:11: “And I say to you that many [polus, the same word in Mt 7:13 for the lost] will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Revelation 7:9 speaks boldly of a great number of the redeemed: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” And of course, we should recall those prophecies which speak of “all nations” flowing into the kingdom (e.g., Isa 2:2–4; Mic 4:1–4).
“Certainly the gate to heaven is narrow: Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life (Jn 14:6). “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12). But the Lord’s statement in Matthew 7:13–14, 22:14, or Luke 13:23-24, does not imply that always and forever he will only save a few people in each era. In fact, Scripture frequently indicates that great multitudes will be saved, that all nations will be discipled, that the world as an organic system will experience the redeeming work of Christ, that all of his enemies will be subdued - to the “ends of the earth.”
“Adam’s fall exacts an enormous toll upon the human race, to be sure. But Christ is the Last Adam (1Co 15:45), whose resurrection and ascension will surely outstrip the effects of Adam’s fall as history unfolds. Indeed, “as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1Co 15:22). In fact, “if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many” (Ro 5:15).”
Because of the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, this is the age of the triumph of the Gospel. The plain indications of Scripture are that the tendency of the nations, over time, will be toward conversion. The saved will vastly outnumber the lost. Throughout the Book of Revelation, as in the rest of the Bible. we find Satan continually defeated before the great army of the elect. Even when Satan appears to be dominant, he knows that "he has only a short time" (Revelation 12:12). The period of Satan's seeming triumph is counted in days and months (Rev. 12:6; 13:5), and even then it is nothing more than a mad, futile scramble for fleeting power; in marked contrast, the period of the saints' dominion is measured in years - a thousand of them— and from first (Rev. 1:6) to last (20:4-6) they are designated as kings. Jesus is Victor! He has come to save the world, to redeem the nations, and He will not be disappointed: "He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand" (Isa. 53:20).
Get ready, the gospel harvest has come, is coming, and will continue to increase in number as the Lamb of God receives the reward for His sufferings!
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