This past Sunday, as if to drive the point home, my Sunday School teacher taught on the subject of the Kingdom of God. Funny thing is, there was no mention about "going to heaven". Before I get into my pet peeve, let’s review the Bible passage, then go over some of Jim’s comments.
Luke 13:23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, 24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. 25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: 26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. 27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. 28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. 29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
Comments from Jim:
I love how Jesus decides that the person’s question is not the question that needs answering, and so He – as He has done time and again – answers His own more important and relevant question. The question is not: "Will those who are saved be few?" The question is: "How can I be saved?"
"Narrow door" seems to imply that there will be few in the kingdom. While this may be true – compared to how many are not there – I think the emphasis here should be on the deception that the path to the kingdom is wide open or that there are many paths to the kingdom. In Jesus day, this deception was held by Jews – they thought their genetic makeup would get them in. In our day … well you can see it all around you.
"I do not know where you come from…" These are the kinds of words that create dread in the pit of your stomach. Imagine living your life under the illusion that you are a citizen of the kingdom. Upon arriving at the door, you find it locked. Upon knocking, you hear the words that you are not known by the King and you cannot enter. All this time you’ve believed you were a citizen, and all this time you never were.
"People will come from east and west, and from north and south…" Amazing! These people – who believed they were God’s chosen – would not be eating at the kingdom feast with their fathers. But that’s not the amazing part. The amazing part is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be eating the kingdom feast with people from all over the world – including Gentiles. Can you imagine how offensive this image would have been to Jesus’ audience?
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Jim has captured the essence of this parable without adding the modern day "pop theology" lingo. Jesus was teaching about His kingdom which would be established here on the earth. When someone asks about "being saved", Jesus begins teaching about His kingdom. Being saved is entering the Kingdom of God. The imagery is one of a walled kingdom with only one gate into which entry can be obtained. There are only two categories of people: those on the outside of the kingdom who have NOT entered through the narrow gate, and those on the inside of the kingdom who HAVE entered through the narrow gate.
At some point, the Master of the house rises up and shuts the gate. Some on the outside (who thought they could get in the kingdom some other way) begin to knock at the door to try to get into the kingdom. The scene is so striking. Inside this kingdom are the patriarchs and prophets, and on the outside, many Israelites who think they belong in the kingdom, but were NEVER a part of it. [quick flash to the larger picture of prophecy] The promise of the resurrection guaranteed that the patriarchs would be brought back to life to live in the promised land since those promises had never been fulfilled to them in their natural lifetimes. The language of "They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south" is reminiscent of the language used by the prophets when foretelling of the regathering of Israel* to the promised land at which time there would be a resurrection (Ezekiel 37:12).
Because so many preachers are drilled to speak about "going to heaven" the tendency is to think that this short story is talking about our souls entering heaven. Jesus was not speaking about going to heaven, but about entering the kingdom of God. This was His theme from His very first message, "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand." Jesus came, drew a circle around Himself, and said, "The kingdom of God is here. Repent and come on in." The only thing that held the twelve disciples together was their relationship to Jesus. They had no other bond. Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to continue the work of the kingdom here on earth. Jesus will return to the earth to consummate the kingdom.
It is true that when a saint dies, they are ushered into the presence of the LORD. This is not their final resting place, though. The LORD has plans to return to earth WITH all the saints. Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now. Great lesson, Jim. You really got me thinking.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
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*Isaiah 43:5-6, 49:11-12, Psalm 107:2-3 which shows this Psalm will be fulfilled millennially (not that anybody cares) and I’ll even list Matthew 8:11.