A Study of Luke 13:23-24
“Then said one unto him; Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:23-24)
On another occasion the disciples asked a similar question in this regard as follows: “When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25) It seems crystal clear to us that His small group of followers were fully persuaded that not many were to gain the bliss and immortal glory in heaven. Right or wrong, they viewed the mass of mankind as lost, and believed only a remnant was to be saved. For our part, we completely agree with their conclusions, and find nothing in the answers or teachings of the Lord to dissuade us from that view. We are keenly aware that some of our dear brethren do not wholly share our views here, and we hope that if indeed they cannot agree with us they will be satisfied no offense is intended.
When the disciples asked “Are there few that be saved?” the Lord’s response was that they were to strive to enter in. Where? At the strait gate. Why? Because many would seek to enter in, (at the strait gate) and would not be able. It is totally missing the point to say this many that could not enter in are the elect of God not in the “church”. The disciples were inquiring about salvation, singular, the only kind they knew about, and the Lord answered them about that salvation. We have then, the few the disciples believed would be saved, and the many the Lord said would not be saved. It would be a terrible violation of sound interpretation to make this subject one of gospel, or time salvation. There is nothing at all in the context, or elsewhere in the Bible, for that matter, to give liberty for such conclusions. In fact, we are persuaded that “time-salvation”, as advocated by the limited predestinarians, is nothing more than a promotion of universalism.
Few or many in heaven? It could depend on how you view it. We are told in the Scriptures that the number of the redeemed is great. “After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9) This same redeemed host, clothed in white robes, is described as an army in the following text: “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” (Revelation 18:14) There are many other texts to show that the redeemed comprise a vast, limitless number. No one can successfully contend that the number in heaven is a “paltry few.” There is, however, another necessary way to view the number, and that is by comparison.
Compared to the number of the wicked, the righteous are a small number. Few, that is. Several Old Testament examples are as follows: Noah alone found grace in the eyes of the LORD, and the rest of the inhabitants of the earth were destroyed. “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” (I Peter 3:20) There can be no question this is a figure of a greater salvation, for the next verse calls it a “like figure” or a similar figure like baptism is now a figure of our salvation by the washing of regeneration. Noah and those with him represent a like figure. Just like water baptism is a figure. (We do not envy those that attempt to make a case for those destroyed in the flood.) Next, Lot, called just, (II Peter 2.7) was delivered. The remaining host inhabiting the cities of the plains were destroyed. They were described as being unjust in verse 9, and were reserved to the day of judgment to be punished. Not many would attempt to plead the cause of Sodom and other cities devastated at that time. David described Israel in Caanan as few, very few, and strangers in the land (Psalm 105:12). The various nations about them were vast in comparison. Surely those wicked tribes cannot represent any but the many that know not the Lord. Solomon spoke of a little city with few men in it besieged by a great king (Ecclesiastes 9:14). No matter how we identify the few in this little city, as being the church, the kingdom, or all the elect, the comparison between few and many remains. The few were blessed with a mighty deliverance and the great king and his hoard were routed.
And so it is throughout the Scriptures. A few find favor with God, and the many, having no hope, are destroyed. We are well aware there are those that attempt to make the word “destroy” mean a timely destruction. We plead to be excused from following them. A brief comment on that word will be made at the end of this article.
To make a comparison based on our limited knowledge may not be altogether improper. We know, for instance, that the earth contains several billion people at this present time. There have been billions more that have already passed from the scenes of time. If say, only a small percentage of the family of man is saved by grace that could still be a vast multitude. If only 10% (an arbitrary number, to be sure) of those that have lived, or do live on this earth, are included in the election of grace it would still be a number well beyond a billion; probably far more. That is a significant number, yet it is only a few when based on the percentage of the whole. Thus we say few or many might well be how you look at it.
Leaving now the realm of conjecture, what does the word of the LORD say about it? “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) This, we feel certain, is the same strait gate as the one in our text at the heading of this article. There are, compared to those that enter through the wide gate, few that enter. So says our Lord. Are we then bound to the interpretation of universalists? They say only a small number would be in heaven if our view is correct. As a percentage of the whole, that would be correct, but certainly not according to the Lord’s reckoning.
If there is any one word in this text that should forever determine the issue, it is the word destruction. Those on the broad road will be destroyed. Those in the narrow will be delivered. Does this simply mean a timely destruction? If it does, there is not a trace of evidence in this passage to suggest it. The general use of the word destruction in the Scriptures indicates the severe judgment of God on the adversary. Further, the text says that those few in the narrow way are approaching life. What else can “leadeth unto life” mean? That this life promised in the text will be obtained at the end of the narrow way is what was meant. Since both those in the broad way and the narrow way now have natural life, then life m heaven must be the life at the end of the narrow way, for the second death awaits all that fail of heaven. Those in the broad way, described as many, are the same many in verse twenty-two that cry “Lord, Lord”. And what of their end? The Lord said He never knew them, and commanded them to depart, for they were workers of iniquity. Certainly the Lord was aware of them, as all things are open and naked before Him, but they were never known or embraced in the everlasting covenant. All those works the many thought would commend them to Jesus only condemned them to an eternity banished from His presence.
Nothing shall be sweeter to the little flock, those few the Lord loves with an everlasting love, than to hear those glorious words, “Come, ye blessed of my father.” (We are satisfied those few are a host that cannot be numbered.) May we suggest then, that nothing will be more dreadful than when the many hear the awful words, “depart from me.”
J.F. Poole – 1992