Some local Hebrews in the First Century asked Jesus whether the people entering the kingdom of God would be few. They were not likely thinking of all the people in the world. They were likely focusing on themselves, the Hebrews who identified as God’s people when they asked that question.
I get the impression that the questioner might have believed what Jesus was preaching. He (or she) may have been picking up on some clues that God’s standards are much higher than he might have once believed, and that many (even of the Hebrews) might not meet that standard.
Indeed, this seems to be the point Jesus intended to make in the famous Sermon on the Mount. He said, “You have heard it said, ‘Don’t commit adultery.’ I tell you that anyone who looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart! Jesus said, “You have heard it said “Don’t commit murder.’ I tell you anyone who is angry at his brother has murdered him in his heart!” (See Matt. 5:21-48)
Jesus ratcheted up the standard. He upped the ante. If you walked away from this message without thinking you don’t measure up, you missed the point!
Paul the Apostle would later say, “All have sinned and fallen short!” You have to read the whole message to get to the ultimate point – that we do not measure up, and we never will measure up, but God has provided a way for us into His kingdom nevertheless. (See Romans 3:21-26)
On the one hand, Jesus seemed to be saying that virtually no one was able to enter the kingdom of God. On the other hand, God seemed to be swinging the gate wide open to anyone and everyone.
When Jesus answered the question I opened with, he didn’t really answer it. He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. Because many will seek to enter, and the door will be shut to them.” (Luke 13:24)
Did Jesus affirm that the people entering the kingdom of God would would be few? Not really. He didn’t say many would enter either. He focused the questioner’s attention on the questioner himself.
Jesus often did that. Why are we concerned about everyone else in the world when God gave us responsibility for ourselves, and no one else?
We aren’t ultimately even responsible for our own children, as they make their own choices and go their own ways. We have some influence over them which can be good or bad, but they ultimately are responsible for themselves.
Consider, again, the audience: they were First Century Hebrews. For many centuries, their ancestors lived with the identity that they, alone, were the people of God, chosen by Him, and destined to be His people. These are the people to whom Jesus made the following statement:
“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. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” (Luke 13:28-30)
Maybe it was a genuine, sincere, and humble question. Maybe the question was posed by a elitist with an elitist attitude seeking confirmation of his elite position in the world.
We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter because the answer is the same: Jesus came for the Hebrews, and he came for everyone else. God became flesh and came for “his own” people (John 1:11), and He came for the whole world. (John 3:16-18)
However, only those who receive Him are the people who are considered His children (John 1:12-13) who will become the kingdom of God. The invitation stands:
“I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:20)
Can it be that the entrance to the kingdom of God is both narrower than expected and wider than expected?
We don’t gain entry simply be being born Hebrew (or Russian, or American, or Catholic, or Baptist). We don’t gain entry by being good. (No one is truly good except God!) We don’t gain entry by simply desiring it, and we don’t gain entry through any human institution.
God has set the way, and it is through Jesus – through what he did for us in the cross and his offer of forgiveness by grace (and grace, alone, lest we boast).
If we come to God seeking justification for what we have done, we will find the way blocked to us, because our own efforts do not have the power to gain us entry. None of us has lived a perfect life that would qualify us to enter God’s kingdom on our own merit.
If we come to God seeking entry for who we are, the family we were born into or the legacy we claim, we will find the way shut before us, because that is not the way in. No family, no people group, no nation lays any special claim to God’s kingdom.
Not even the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gain entry to the kingdom of God by virtue of their physical DNA.
If we come to God as a member of a grand association of people – whether it be the Salvation Army, Hasidic Jews, Franciscan monks, or the Red Cross – it will not be our “ticket” to heaven. If we think these things will gain us entry, we will find ourselves standing on the outside looking in.
When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one gets to the Father except through me”, that way seems narrow indeed! Yet, our conception of what that means may be too narrow.
Some things I noticed in this exchange between Jesus and First Century Hebrews steeped in their heritage as “God’s chosen people”, is Jesus didn’t really answer the question: “Will only a few be saved”. He turned the question focus of the question from “them” to “me and you.
e suggested that the way is extremely narrow when he seemed to suggest that many, even among God’s people, will wail and gnash their teeth on the outside looking in. then, He ended with this:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” Luke 13:34-35
In one breath, Jesus laments the apparently inevitable end that the Hebrews, collectively, will be forsaken by God. In the very next breath, though, He says something just as startling:
“And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”
In one breath Jesus is saying the Hebrews are being forsaken, and in the next breath he is saying not forever, because they will someday see him and say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
I think we spend too much of our time and energy worrying about who will be saved and how few they may be, and maybe we don’t spend enough time focusing on ourselves and our own condition and relationship to God. Jesus directs us inward when we ask those questions.
I also think we are too quick to judge others. We don’t know the beginning from the end, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says. We don’t judge people as God does – by the heart. We can only judge by appearances.
We can’t see what God can see in the future or in peoples’ hearts. As a consequence, we fail to understand that the entryway into the kingdom of God is much narrower than we might suppose. At the same time, it is also much wider than we might suppose, as “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
4 thoughts on “The Entrance to the Kingdom of God Is Both Narrower and Wider Than We Might Expect”
Many thanks for this helpful article.
div>Blessings from Sydney Australia.
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Your post makes me think in a good way, so I like it. In my thinking the Kingdom Of Heaven is Heaven itself, and the Kingdom of God is here on earth like a commonwealth of Heaven or maybe an Embassy of Heaven. Those who dwell in the Kingdom of God here on earth will be automatically transported to Heaven when their physical body dies. Specifically the Kingdom of God is not something to come in the future, but it is here now. Neither is it anywhere in this physical world, but it is inside of people as King Jesus Christ did say here, Luke 17:20-21
Authorized (King James) Version
20 “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” I state that I myself do live in the Kingdom of God that is within me. My question to you is, “Do you live in the Kingdom of God within you? and how do you know if you do or not?” Thank you for your article and your time to read this. I’m hoping to find some fellowship with someone who has also entered into the Kingdom of god within them in reality. Blessings to you.
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Thank you! My thinking continues to evolve as time goes on. I think you are right about the now and not yet aspect of “the”
kingdom. Interestingly, when Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) Christ followers, likewise, are “in the world but not of the world”. I am seeing heaven a little differently these days, though. John describes heaven coming down to earth in Revelations: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (Rev. 21:1-2) The phrase, “heaven and earth”, typically refers to the physical universe, but the new Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven” might mean what we think of as heaven (as being distinct from the physical universe). Either way, we see that God’s end game seems to be fulfilled right here (on earth)! Maybe we don’t “go” anywhere. Maybe both we and “the heavens and the earth” (the physical universe) are transformed! Maybe heaven “comes down” to us; rather than us going to heaven. We won’t really know for sure, of course, until we “arrive”.
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These are good thoughts. I might add just this. I have come to see, in my own opinion of course, that when King Jesus Christ spoke of both the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God; the Kingdom of heaven is heaven itself wherever that may be right now, and the Kingdom of God is here on earth specifically inside of people. He spoke of this here: Luke 17:20-21
King James Version
20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” This is as I presently see it. Thank you for your comments and the time taken to respond. I appreciate you. Blessings