Are Only A Few People Going to Be Saved? #338
Happy Lord’s Day, friends! I know I sound like a broken record on Sundays, but I do want to invite you to join our live broadcast from our church on Facebook at VBC Salinas, we will be continuing our series on the parables of Jesus and this week learning about God’s wisdom in pruning His people from the parable of the True Vine. We kick off at 11am, and I hope you can join us! 2 more readings in 1st Chronicles today, chapters 26 and 27, plus Micah 4, Luke 13 and 2nd Peter 1. Our focus is going to be in Luke again, but I do want to say a quick word about Micah 4. From time to time I go through a phrase of really getting into Messianic Jewish worship music. If you aren’t familiar with Messianic Jews, they are Jewish people who are Christian followers of Jesus. Messianic Jewish worship is quite strikingly different in tone from a lot of modern worship songs, and I really like it. Some of my favorite worship songs are from Micah 4, because it is an awesome last day’s passage. I’ve posted one on the Biblereadingpodcast.com page from Chris Nesbitt, and it is beautiful:
Today’s Big Bible question is rare in that it is a word for word question that is asked of Jesus in Luke 13, and thus we have His EXACT answer to our question today. Let’s read Luke 13, and listen together.
22 He went through one town and village after another, teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. 23 “Lord,” someone asked him, “are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able25 once the homeowner gets up and shuts the door. Then you will stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up for us!’ He will answer you, ‘I don’t know you or where you’re from.’26 Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you’re from. Get away from me, all you evildoers!’28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that place, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown out.29 They will come from east and west, from north and south, to share the banquet in the kingdom of God.30 Note this: Some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.”
This is obviously not a direct answer to the question – a tactic Jesus often uses when asked questions such as this, because He did not come to answer all of our questions, but to save us from our sins and to overcome the works of the devil, and so that we might have abundant life. That said, I do believe we can find some Scripture clues to help us answer the question. We get a partial clue from Matthew 22:14, ““For many are invited, but few are chosen,” but this doesn’t fully answer our question. Probably Matthew 7 comes the closest:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it.14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.
This is a sobering passage, and spells it out pretty plainly – few find the narrow gate that leads to life, though many are invited. What does that mean, exactly? William Boekestein helps us understand:
What about Jesus’s insistence that “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14)? The comment is part of his parable of a wedding feast. Since many invitees refuse to attend, the master turns to the highways to find guests who will. Jesus is speaking to those builders who had rejected the Christ (21:42). The parable illustrates what Paul later observes: “Not all have faith” (2 Thess. 3:2). Those invited are more numerous than those who actually attend. It’s bad exegesis to read the last phrase of Jesus’s parable—many are called, but few are chosen—as a technical theological commentary using Pauline vocabulary of “calling” and “election.” John Calvin cautioned that Jesus’s words here ought not prompt us to enter into “the question about the eternal election of God.”
That doesn’t answer our question. Will only a few be saved? I don’t think so…because we read in Matthew 20 that the Son of Man came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28), so we probably shouldn’t think that there are only a small handful of faithful people running around the earth, something Spurgeon strongly cautioned his church about over a hundred years ago:
I do abhor from my heart that continual whining of some men about their own little church as the “remnant”—the “few that are to be saved.” They are always dwelling upon strait gates and narrow ways, and upon what they conceive to be a truth, that but few shall enter heaven. . . . I believe there will be more in heaven than in hell . . . because Christ, in everything, is to “have the pre-eminence” (Col. 1:18) and I cannot conceive how he could have the pre-eminence if there are to be more in the dominions of Satan than in paradise. Moreover, it is said there is to be a multitude that no man can number in heaven; I have never read that there is to be a multitude that no man can number in hell.
The thing is that Jesus does say the way is narrow, and few FIND it…but He also says that the Son of Man came to SEEK and to SAVE the lost, so it is not up to lost people to find the Savior, but the Savior finds them. Boekestein concludes:
The question, “Are there few who are saved?” (Luke 13:23) presented Jesus an ideal opportunity to say, “Yes, sadly, only a few.” But he purposefully didn’t answer. Such passages prove, Warfield maintained, only that “salvation is difficult and that it is our duty to address ourselves to obtaining it with diligence and earnest effort. We can never learn from them how many are saved.”
And if Scripture doesn’t allow us to say that the elect are few, it doesn’t help to appeal to experience. In the days of the apostles, a tiny fraction of earth’s population were church members. But today nearly one-third of the world’s population, an estimated 2.2 billion people, adhere to the Christian faith. And what if the church is still in its infancy? What if the astounding growth of Christianity from the first to the 21st century is only the first small segment of a vastly longer timeline of church history? We simply lack the perspective to quantify the elect.
I will say that Boekestein is more optimistic on this question than I am. I realize that most people in the U.S. profess to be Christians, but I do not believe that the majority of people in this country are actually genuinely saved followers of Jesus…but I don’t know that for sure, it is mere speculation, and I think our question is somewhat unanswerable because Jesus did not directly answer it. So -why ask the question? Because I want to point you to the dangers of following the broad road, just as pastor David Platt did in his sermon to the church at Brook Hills a few years ago:
Warning number one from Jesus … the danger of spiritual deception: We gravitate towards that which is easy and popular. Again, we gravitate towards that which is easy and popular. The wide gate, the broad road, is the easy road. It’s inviting; it’s spacious; it accommodates the crowds; it’s attractive, it’s inclusive to whoever wants to come. There are few rules, few regulations, few requirements involved on the broad road.
Now, don’t miss this: It’s a religious road. The context here is that Jesus is speaking to a religious people. Don’t be fooled; this is a religious road that doesn’t require much of you. It involves grandiose promises at very little cost to you. Contemporary picture … the broad road … all that’s required to go on this road is a one-time decision for Jesus. A one-time decision to pray to Jesus, and after that, you don’t need to worry about the commands of Jesus, and you don’t need to worry about the glory of Jesus anymore. You have a pass to get you to heaven, and your sin will be tolerated along the way.
Lest you think that’s an exaggeration, that’s exactly the kind of gospel that has been sold to many people in our culture today … in our, supposedly, “Christian” culture. Jesus says, “Many will go on that road,” and then, He says, “Enter through the narrow gate … small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life.” What’s really interesting is that He uses two different words for narrow here in the original language of the New Testament. The first time you see it there in verse 13, “Enter through the narrow gate …”, the word, literally, means, “to groan as if you’re under pressure; to be pressed on all sides.” Narrow gate.
It’s not easy to go through the narrow gate. The second time He uses it, “… small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life …”, the word that’s used there is the verb form of the noun that is used all throughout the New Testament to talk about tribulation, most often persecution. What Jesus is saying when He talks about the narrow gate, the narrow road that leads to life, is He’s saying that the way of Christ is hard to follow. We gravitate toward that which is easy and popular, but the way of Christ is hard to follow.
David Platt, “The Gospel: Why It’s Important,” in David Platt Sermon Archive (Birmingham, AL: David Platt, 2008), 1261–1262.