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Luke 13:22-30 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
The Narrow Door
22 And he traveled through cities and villages, teaching and continuing on his journey to Jerusalem. 23 Now a man said to him: “Lord, are those being saved few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of unrighteousness!’ 28 There is where your weeping and the gnashing of your teeth will be, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside. 29 And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 And look, there are those last who will be first, and there are those first who will be last.”
Luke 13:18-21. See also Mar. 4:30–32; Matthew 13:31-32. The kingdom of heaven. The phrases kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, and kingdom of God are frequent occurrences in the Bible. They all refer to the same thing. The expectation of such a kingdom was taken from the Old Testament and especially from Daniel 7:13-14. The prophets had told of a successor to David that should sit on his throne, 1 Ki. 2:4; 8:25; Jer. 33:17. The Jews expected a great national deliverer. They supposed that when the Messiah should appear, all the dead would be raised; that the judgment would take place; and that the enemies of the Jews would be destroyed, and that they themselves would be advanced to great national dignity and honor. It means here either devotion to the service of God in a renewed heart or the church. In either case, the commencement is small. In the heart, it is at first feeble, easily injured, and much exposed. In the church there were few at first, ignorant, unknown, and unhonored; yet soon it was to spread throughout the world.
Grain of mustard seed. The plant described here was very different from that which is known among us. It was several years before it bore fruit and became properly a tree. Mustard, with us, is an annual plant: it is always small and is properly an herb. The Hebrew writers speak of the mustard tree as one on which they could climb, as on a fig tree. Its size was much owing to the climate. All plants of that nature grow much larger in a warm climate, like that of Palestine than in colder regions. The seeds of this tree were remarkably small, so that they, with the great size of the plant, were an apt illustration of the progress of the church and of the nature of faith, Matt. 17:20. “I have seen,” says Dr. Thomson, “this plant on the rich plain of Akkar as tall as the horse and his rider. It has occurred to me on former visits that the mustard tree of the parable probably grew at this spot, or possibly at Tabiga, near Capernaum, for the water in both is somewhat similar, and so are the vegetable productions. To furnish an adequate basis for the proverb, it is necessary to suppose that a variety of it was cultivated in the time of our Savior, which grew to an enormous size, and shot forth large branches so that the fowls of the air could lodge in the branches of it. It may have been perennial, and have grown to a considerable tree, and there are traditions in the country of such so large that a man could climb into them; and after having seen red pepper bushes grow on year after year, into tall shrubs, and the castor-bean line the brooks about Damascus like the willows and the poplars, I can readily credit the existence of mustard-trees large enough to meet all the demands of our Lord’s parable.”—The Land and the Book, vol. ii. p. 101.
Young converts often suppose they have much devotion to God. It is not so. They are, indeed, in a new world. Their hearts glow with new affections. They have an elevation, an ecstasy of emotion, which they may not have afterward—like a blind man suddenly restored to sight. The sensation is new and peculiarly vivid, yet little is seen distinctly. His impressions are indeed more vivid and cheering than those of him who has long seen and to whom objects are familiar. In a little time, too, the young convert will see more distinctly, will judge more intelligently, will love more strongly, though not with so much new emotion, and will be prepared to make more sacrifices for the cause of Christ.
Luke 13:22. Cities and villages. Chiefly of Galilee, and those which were between Galilee and Jerusalem.
Teaching and journeying. This manifests the diligence of our Lord. Though on a journey, yet he remembered his work. He did not excuse himself on the plea that he was in haste. Christians and Christian ministers should remember that when their Master traveled, he did not conceal his character or think that he was then freed from the obligation to do good.
Luke 13:23. Now a man said to him: “Lord, are those being saved few?” It is probable that he was not one of the disciples, but one of the Jews, who came either to perplex him or to involve him in a controversy with the Pharisees.
Are those being saved few? It was the prevalent opinion among the Jews that few would enter heaven. As but two of all the multitudes that came out of Egypt entered into the land of Canaan, so some of them maintained that a proportionally small number would enter into heaven (Lightfoot). On this subject, the man wished the opinion of Jesus. It was a question of idle curiosity. The answer to it would have done little good. It was far more important for the man to secure his own salvation than to indulge in such idle inquiries and vain speculations. Our Lord, therefore, advised him, as he does all, to strive to enter into heaven.
Luke 13:24. Strive. Literally, agonize. The word is taken from the Grecian games. In their races, and wrestlings, and various athletic exercises, they strove or agonized, or put forth all their powers to gain the victory. Thousands witnessed them. They were long trained for the conflict, and the honor of victory was one of the highest honors among the people. So Jesus says that we should strive to enter in, and he means by it that we should be diligent, be active, be earnest; that we should make it our first and chief business to overcome our sinful propensities and to endeavor to enter into heaven. This same figure or allusion to the Grecian games is often used in the New Testament, – 1 Co. 9:24–26; Phil. 2:16; Heb. 12:1.
Narrow door. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book, vol. i. p. 32) says: “I have seen these strait gates and narrow doors, ‘with here and there a traveler.’ They are in retired corners, and must be sought for, and are opened only to those who knock; and when the sun goes down and the night comes on, they are shut and locked. It is then too late.”
Many, I tell you, will seek to enter. Many in various ways manifest some desire to be saved. They seek it but do not agonize for it, and hence they are shut out. But a more probable meaning of this passage is that which refers this seeking to a time that shall be too late; to the time when the master has risen up, &c. In this life, they neglect doing the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21-23; 24:14; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8) and are engaged about other things. At death, or at the judgment, they will seek to enter in; but it will be too late—the door will be shut, and because they did not make the will of the Father the primary business of their life, they cannot then enter in.
Will not be able. This is not designed to affirm anything respecting the inability of the sinner, provided he seeks salvation in a proper time and manner. It means that at the time when many will seek—when the door is shut—they will not be able then to enter in, agreeable to Matt. 7:22. In the proper time, when the day of grace was lengthened out, they might have entered in; but there will be a time when it will be too late. The day of mercy will be ended, and death will come, and the doors of heaven barred against them. How important, then, to strive to enter in while we have the opportunity, and before it shall be too late!
Luke 13:25. When once the master, &c. The figure here used is taken from the conduct of a housekeeper, who is willing to see his friends, and who at the proper time keeps his doors open. But there is a proper time for closing them when he will not see his guests. At night it would be improper and vain to seek an entrance—the house would be shut. So there is a proper time to seek an entrance into heaven, but there will be a time when it will be too late. At death, the time will have passed by, and God will be no longer gracious to the sinner’s soul.
Luke 13:26. We have eaten, &c. Comp. Matt. 7:22-23. To have eaten with one is evidence of acquaintanceship or friendship. So the sinner may allege that he was a professed follower of Jesus and had some evidence that Jesus was his friend. There is no allusion here, however, to the sacrament. The figure is taken from the customs of men and means simply that they had professed attachment and perhaps supposed that Jesus was their friend.
You taught in our streets. You did favor us, as though you did love us. You did not turn away from us, and we did not drive you away. All this is alleged as proof of friendship. It shows us—1st. On how slight evidence men will suppose themselves ready to die. How slender is the preparation which even many professed friends of Jesus have for death! How easily they are satisfied with their own Godly devotion! A profession of devotion and loyalty, attendance on the preaching of the word or at the sacraments, or a decent external life, is all they have and all they seek. With this, they go quietly on to eternity—go to disappointment, wretchedness, and woe! 2d. None of these things will avail on the day of judgment. It will be only true love to God, a real change of heart, and life of Godly devotion of doing the will of the Father that can save the person from death. And oh! how important it is that all should search themselves and see what is the real foundation of their hope that they shall enter into heaven!
Luke 13:27. I never knew you. That is, I never approved your conduct, never loved you, never regarded you as my friends. See Psa. 1:6; 2 Tim 2:19; 1 Cor. 8:3. This proves that, with all their pretensions, they had never been true followers of Christ. Jesus will not then say to false prophets and false professors of religion that he had once known them and then rejected them; that they had been once Christians and then had fallen away; that they had been pardoned and then had apostatized—but that he had never known them—they had never been true Christians. Whatever might have been their pretended joys, their raptures, their hopes, their self-confidence, their visions, their zeal, they had never been regarded by the Savior as his true friends. I know not a more decided proof that Christians do not fall from grace than this text. It settles the question; and proves that whatever else such men had, they never had any true religion. See 1 John 2:19.
Luke 13:28-30. Many shall come from the east, &c. Jesus takes occasion from the faith of a Roman centurion to state that this conversion would not be solitary; many Pagans—many from the east and west—would be converted to the gospel and saved, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were. The phrase “from the east and from the west,” in the Scripture, is used to denote the whole world, Is. 45:6; 59:19. In the original, the phrase, shall sit down, refers to the manner of sitting at meals, and the enjoyments of heaven are described under the similitude of a feast or banquet—a very common manner of speaking of it, Matt. 26:29; Lu. 14:15; 22:30. It is used here to denote felicity, enjoyment, or honor. To sit with those distinguished men was an honor and would be expressive of great fortune.
The children of the kingdom. That is, the children, or the people, who expected the kingdom, or to whom it properly belonged; or, in other words, the Jews. They supposed themselves peculiarly the favorites of heaven. They thought that the Messiah would enlarge their nation and spread the triumphs of their kingdom. Therefore, they called themselves the children or the members of the kingdom of God, to the exclusion of the Gentiles. Our Savior used the manner of speech to which they were accustomed and said that many of the Pagans would he saved, and many Jews lost.
Shall be cast out into outer darkness, &c. This is an image of future punishment. It is not improbable that the image was taken from Roman dungeons or prisons. They were commonly constructed underground. They were shut out from the light of the sun. They were, of course, damp, dark, and unhealthy, and probably most filthy. Masters were in the habit of constructing such prisons for their slaves, where the unhappy prisoner, without light, or company, or comfort, spent his days and nights in weeping from grief and in vainly gnashing his teeth from anger. The image expresses that the wicked who are lost will be shut out from the light of heaven, and from peace, joy, and hope; will weep in hopeless grief, and will gnash their teeth in anger against God murmur against his justice. What a striking image of future woe! Go to a damp, dark, solitary, and squalid dungeon; see a miserable and enraged victim; add to his sufferings the idea of eternity, and then remember that this, after all, is but an image, a faint image, of hell! Comp.