Are They Few That Are Saved?

And one said unto him, “Lord, are they few that are saved?”
And he said unto them, “Strive to enter in by the narrow door: for many, I say unto you, shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:23-24).

It seems to be the perennial question: who will be saved? “How many will be saved?” seems to immediately follow. It shows how people’s concern is squarely with the result of life and its corresponding judgment.

As Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, Luke records a question from someone in one of the crowds who had gathered around Jesus as He taught: this person wanted to know if it were only a few that would be saved (Luke 13:22-23). We can imagine many reasons why this person would ask such a question. Perhaps he felt as if he were one of those who was going to be saved and either felt smug about it or was concerned about the welfare of others. Perhaps he was worried that he would not make it if only a few were to make it. Regardless, we must understand this person’s question in light of the history of Israel: after all, God chose small Israel out of all the nations on earth (Deuteronomy 7:6-11), and even then, it was only a remnant of Israel that had endured to the time of Jesus (Ezekiel 6:8, 14:22, Micah 2:12, 4:7). In the grand scheme of things, comparably few had been saved; in light of what Jesus warned about the future of Israel, it made sense to wonder just how few would make it (Luke 13:31-35, 19:41-44).

Yet Jesus has none of it. He does not answer the question so as to provide the result; instead, He focuses on the process and means to the result (Luke 13:24). Those who hear Him should strive to enter by the narrow door (Luke 13:24); many will beg for entrance once the door is shut, but the Master of the house will not know them because of their iniquity (Luke 13:25-27). The conclusion of the matter would astonish the audience: they would see themselves, Jews who professed faithfulness to the God of Israel, excluded, while people from all the nations would recline at the table with the patriarchs and the prophets (Luke 13:28-29). Such was a grand reversal indeed (Luke 13:30)!

We do well to consider how Jesus addresses this question. He does not just come out with a yes or no answer; what good would that have done? People would either believe they were in the few by virtue of their belief in their standing before God and thus would persist in smugness or they were in the many because of their lack of confidence in any standing leading to despair. Such an answer would simply reinforce the status quo, and the status quo could not be tolerated!

Instead, He talks about seeking the narrow door, akin to seeking the narrow gate to the difficult path in Matthew 7:13-14. Yes, as He says, “many” will seek to enter in and will not be able. One might be tempted to take this, along with Matthew 7:13-14, as simply a “yes” answer to the question that was asked. Yet Jesus approaches the situation very carefully and for good reason: the way you get to the result is what matters.

In the grand scheme of things, the few will be saved, and not the many, as seen here and in Matthew 7:13-14. Yet it is not because God has some particular favor for the few over the many, or that God has chosen few over many. Far too often these passages are used by smaller groups to justify their smallness: “see, Jesus said that few would find the right path. There are only a few of us compared to everyone else. Therefore, we are clearly on the right path!”. The challenge is, of course, that every group with every conceivable doctrine, whether numbering in the tens or in the billions, falls prey to the same argument. Ask anyone; they all went through the narrow gate, or they all search for the narrow door!

Nevertheless, as Jesus teaches, the result comes on the basis of the process and the means by which one comes to the result. Those who are saved will not be saved because they aligned themselves with the right group; they will be saved because they put their trust in God in Christ and sought to serve Him, or will be condemned because they failed to do so (Romans 6:15-23, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). This is the warning Jesus seeks to provide to the Israelites: you will not be saved merely because you are an Israelite. You will not be saved just because you happened to live at the same time as Jesus did, and happened to listen to Him teach and preach. You will only be saved if you did something about it and followed His teaching and preaching!

To use the imagery of Matthew 7:13-14, we do well to focus on navigating the difficult path rather than analyzing the narrowness of the gate; in terms of Luke 13:24 here, we do well to focus more on entering the door as soon as possible rather than the specifications of just how narrow it might be. It will not be left open forever, and no one gains access because they “know a guy” or “know a guy who knows a guy.” We can only enter because we are known to Jesus the Master, and we are only known by Him when we have proven willing to follow after Him and serve Him no matter what.

Sadly, those who will be saved will be few; this is not because it is the Lord’s will, but because precious few prove willing to enter the narrow door while there is time or to take the difficult path. Let us not be conceited, automatically assuming we have entered the narrow door, but let us put ourselves to the test and prove willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads us. Meanwhile, let us exhort all people to follow the Lord Jesus while there is yet time and thus join the number of the saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Are They Few That Are Saved?

Salvation

“And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

In Hebrew (as well as Aramaic), names mean something. God calls Abram Abraham because He will make him a “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). Jacob’s name involves cheating, consistent with his character and tale in Genesis (cf. Genesis 27:36). One can discern the saga among Jacob, Rachel, and Leah based upon the names given to their sons (cf. Genesis 29:31-30:24).

Jesus’ name also has meaning: as Y’shua or Yehoshua, it means “YHWH saves” or “YHWH’s salvation.” Thus the angel Gabriel charges Joseph to name the Child which Mary is carrying from the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:21). His name sets the stage for the one thing with which Jesus is most often associated: “Jesus saves,” or, more properly, God saves people through Jesus. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of the Gospel message.

Accordingly the term is used frequently in “religious” language. Preachers frequently speak of “salvation.” People will often talk about the moment at which they “got saved.” Not a few spiritual songs focus on salvation and how it comes from Jesus. Since the word is so common and so frequently used, it would be natural to assume that people really have a good idea of what it means.

Yet what is salvation, really? From what are people “saved”? Why should they be “saved”? For that matter, how can a person be “saved”?

It is tempting to describe salvation in terms of another description used in the New Testament: sacrifice, redemption, or something of the sort. Yet such really does not tell us what “salvation” means or why Jesus would be named Jesus, “YHWH saves,” and not something akin to “YHWH redeems.”

This challenge is compounded by the fact that the English language also uses the idea of “saving” to describe the preservation of resources: we try to save money, save our computer files, or something like that. It is tempting for many people to think that they save money at the local big box retailer and then go to “get saved” at the local church building!

The idea of salvation in the Bible is akin to deliverance or rescue. We would do well to read in “rescue” when we read about Jesus “saving” or providing “salvation.”

The concept of salvation as rescue helps to explain what it is and why it is necessary. “Rescue” does well at communicating the difficulty of the situation in which people find themselves. After all, no one ever needs “rescuing” when they are in a pleasant situation. One only needs “rescuing” when the situation is dire: they are caught up in a natural disaster, adrift at sea, stuck in a burning house, held prisoner unjustly, or something of that sort. Very few people want to find themselves in a situation in which they would need rescuing! And so it is with humanity: Jesus came to rescue us, as the angel Gabriel says, from our sins (Matthew 1:21). Scripture shows how dire our situation is when we remain in sin: we are separated from God, hostile toward Him and toward each other, and reserved for condemnation (cf. Isaiah 59:2, Romans 6:3, Titus 3:3).

While there may be a few exceptions, in general, we do not talk about “rescue” as something we do for ourselves; if we need rescuing, it normally must come from the energies and resources of others. Thus, salvation as rescue also underscores our inability to save ourselves. We find ourselves in the dire predicament of sin, and we cannot escape through our own efforts or resources (Romans 3:20). If we will be rescued, it will be on account of the resources of God, freely given despite our unworthiness (Romans 5:6-11).

Nevertheless, in all of this, we must want to be rescued! If we do not believe that we are in any danger, we will not think that we need to be rescued. If we think that we can get ourselves out of this mess, we will not think we need rescuing. It is only when we come to the realization of the imminent spiritual danger we face and our inability to fix that problem ourselves that we prove willing to turn to God and find salvation by the rescue accomplished through Christ. God never forces anyone to be rescued/saved; God is love, and love does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5, 1 John 4:8)! The opportunity for rescue is provided for us: Jesus died so that our sins could be forgiven. We can obtain that forgiveness, be reconciled back to God, and learn how to serve Him (Romans 5:6-11). The means of rescue is there; we just have to take advantage of it!

Salvation as rescue also nicely illustrates the “now, not yet” aspect of salvation. In the New Testament, many passages speak of salvation as a present condition (cf. Romans 10:10, 2 Corinthians 6:2), but other passages speak of salvation as obtained on the final day (cf. Hebrews 9:28, 1 Peter 1:5, 9). This has caused no end of consternation for many believers: how can salvation be present and yet future? When we understand salvation as “rescue,” the picture is a bit clearer. When we turn to the Lord, we are rescued from the sentence of condemnation and from the penalty of sin (cf. Romans 6:16-23). Nevertheless, we still live in the world with its many temptations to sin; we still remain in spiritual danger (1 Corinthians 5:10, Hebrews 10:26-31, 1 John 1:8-10, 2:15-17). Therefore, we await the day of our final rescue, when “full” salvation will be manifest: the day when there will no longer be any stumbling-blocks or temptations to sin, the day on which sin and death will be fully defeated and destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:22-58, Revelation 20:1-22:6).

Therefore, it is right for the Lord to be called Jesus, “YHWH saves.” Through Jesus we all can be rescued from sin and death, obtaining the victory through Him. Let us praise God in Christ for salvation, be rescued from sin, and be preserved through faith until the day when salvation is fully revealed!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Salvation

Betrayal

For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have borne it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; Then I would have hid myself from him:
But it was thou, a man mine equal, My companion, and my familiar friend.
We took sweet counsel together; We walked in the house of God with the throng (Psalm 55:12-14).

The Psalmist is in great distress. He cries out to God, hoping that He will hear (Psalm 55:1-2). His pain is great, and his heart is in anguish (Psalm 55:3-5). He wishes that he could fly away and find rest, for in the city there is contention and strife (Psalm 55:6-11).

Yet his heart is not pained by just any old trouble or difficulty– that could be better tolerated. Instead, the Psalmist is feeling the distress that comes from betrayal.

There is always pain when one is spoken evil of, or has injury committed against him or her, but we come to expect it from enemies. Everyone expects their enemies to cause them problems. After all, an enemy that does not act in hostile ways is not much of an enemy.

Yet the pain caused by betrayal is doubly deepened. Not only is there the distress caused by the injury suffered, but the one causing the injury is a trusted friend! That person might be one with whom we share the faith. We may have poured out our soul to that person. We may have confessed our sins to him or her (cf. James 5:16). And now they have turned against us, perhaps even using that information given in confidence against us. Pain, fear, and disappointment surely follow.

The Psalmist knows these feelings well. He wishes for the destruction of the betrayer (Psalm 55:15). Nevertheless, he focuses his energy toward God, knowing that He is faithful and will save him (Psalm 55:16-19). Even if others are deceptive and cruel, we ought to cast our care upon the LORD, and He will sustain us (Psalm 55:20-22). In the end, God will condemn those who are wicked; it is for us to trust in God (Psalm 55:23).

If we live long enough we will experience the pain of the Psalmist. And that is why this Psalm is in the collection– it gives us a voice to express our deep frustration, disappointment, and pain. And yet it is also a reminder that even though our fellow humans will let us down at times and may even betray us, God is faithful. God will save us. We should always have our hope and trust firmly anchored in God. He is able to sustain us.

Whenever we develop close friendships we expose ourselves to the possibility of betrayal. That should not stop us from developing close friendships, but it should lead us to be circumspect and to be close friends with people of high integrity. Yet even if we are betrayed we should still communicate with our fellow man and strive to encourage him. In all of this we must remember that only God is completely trustworthy, and that is why we must always look to Him first and foremost in our lives. We must always confide in Him. We must confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9). Even if man may disappoint and betray, God will not. Let us keep our trust firmly in God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Betrayal