Being saved: how many

narrowdoorHow many will be saved? Jesus does not answer directly, but urges his questioner and others (“Strive” is plural) to make sure that they are in the number, however large or small it proves to be (v.24).  The word “strive” is derived from a technical term for competing in the ancient Olympiad pointing to a full-hearted effort. This word is in the present and contrasts to comparison to those who “will attempt to enter” but when the door of opportunity is finally shut it will be too late (v.25). People must strive to enter now. There is inevitably a time-limit on the offer of salvation. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door – The gospel text continues to indicate that the time is short, the kingdom is arriving even now, and thus it is important that a decision be made. Jesus’ parable of the narrow and soon shut door makes it clear that making a decision, and the right one, is crucial.

How many will be saved? The question was relevant in Jesus’ time when there was a growing divergence of religious views. There is evidence that it was widely discussed (e.g. 4 Ezra 7:55ff.), and that the rabbis held widely differing views (e.g. Sanhedrin 97b). But it seems to have been firmly held that all Israel would be saved, except for a few blatant sinners who excluded themselves (Sanhedrin 10:1). In our day, this same question speaks not only the individual decision, but also to the proclamation of the community.  Here at the beginning of the third millennium, especially in the West, many people believe that there are many ways to God – perhaps.

Jesus envisages some of those rejected as pleading that they had known the Lord (v.26). They ate and drank where he was; he taught where they were. They cannot claim that they ever entered into compassionate understanding of what he was teaching. There was no acceptance, no response; their response was insincere, if at all. It is a sad case that, in every age, there are people under the illusion that they were following Jesus.  While they claim that they ate and drank with him, the fail to understand they had no intimate fellowship; they heard his teaching but did not accept it as the word of God to be put into practice (8:21).

In consequence in the end they will know complete rejection. The householder says that he does not know where they come from and he brands them as you evildoers(cf. Ps. 6:8). No specific evil deed has been mentioned, but in the end there will be only two classes, those inside and those outside. Since these people did not take the necessary steps to get inside, they are to be numbered with the evildoers outside.

Rejection means weeping and gnashing of teeth, the pain that comes from knowing one has been excluded from blessing (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Contrary to some popular perceptions of God, he can and will say no. Those on the outside will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and then know that God has, in every age, provided his Word of salvation – but in these last days has given us a Son. The pericope warns us not to assume membership in the kingdom on the basis of knowledge of Jesus, attendance at church, or on the basis of elect ethnic origin. The patriarchs of Judaism will be there, but that does not mean every physical descendant of Abraham will. Only the true spiritual descendants of Abraham will be at the banquet.

There is another surprise: people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. This means that all the nations will be blessed at God’s table. The blessed of God will come from everywhere (cf. Isa. 45:6; 49:12). The disciples did not immediately grasp this truth and its implications. The special vision of Acts 10 was needed to reveal how it would work. Even though Israel has a special place in God’s plan, others are not excluded from blessing. We all have equal access to God’s blessing through Jesus (Eph 2:11-22). Even the promise to Abraham stressed how the world would eventually be blessed through the patriarch’s seed (Gen 12:1-3).

So Jesus closes his words of warning with a note of eschatological reversal. Expectations are overturned as there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. Many will get to the table, including some surprises. All are on the same footing. In today’s context the warning of this passage might be that those who are first (who have exposure to Christ through attendance at the church) may turn out to be last (excluded from blessing) if they do not personally receiving what Jesus offers through the community. Simply put, Jesus is the key to the door of salvation

Luke’s Gentile audience would listen eagerly to these words, but they would also be challenged not to take for granted themselves their eating and drinking with Jesus at the Eucharist. The pronouncement closing this speech guards against both presumption and despair; as long as the journey is underway, some may fall away and others may still join.


Notes

Luke 13:25 arisen and locked the door: This recalls the image from Matthew 25:10-12 (parable of the foolish virgins).  In Luke there are two terms used for “rise” – anistēmi for the sense of rising in order to accomplish something (cf. 1:39; 4:29; 6:8) – and egeirō for “rise up” which is the term Luke uses here and for the prediction of the resurrection (9:22). Is this then an intentional allegory?

Luke 13:27 I do not know where (you) are from: The answer given to those who stand outside the door appealing to the householder as contemporaries who shared food with him and who listened to his teaching, has two parts, both containing OT allusions. The statement in 13:27a, “I do not know where you come from,” recalls OT passages that speak of people being known by God (Jer. 1:5; Hos. 5:3; 13:5; Amos 3:2)—that is, people who are chosen by God (cf. Ps. 138:6). The second part, ‘Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ alludes to Ps. 6:8 (6:9 LXX), “Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping,” to emphasize not only that Jesus does not know them, but also that he positively excludes them.

Luke 13:28-29 when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God…at table in the kingdom of God: The image of the joyous banquet of the kingdom echoes OT passages that describe, first, a gathering of Israel from all corners of the earth (Ps. 107:2–3; Isa. 43:5–6; 49:12; Zech. 2:10 LXX); second, the worship of Yahweh by the Gentiles (Isa. 45:6; 59:19; Mal. 1:11); and third, the eschaton as a great banquet (Isa. 25:6–8; 55:1–2; 65:13–14; Zeph. 1:7).

Luke 13:28 wailing and grinding of teeth: This corresponds to the woe in 6:25, penthesete kai kalusete, “you will mourn and weep.”  The expression found in this verse is more common in Matthew (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13’ 24:51; 25:30) but found only here in Luke. The “gnashing of teeth” appears in the LXX as an expression of hatred (Job 16:9; Ps. 34:16; 36:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16), here resembling Ps. 112:10 (111:10 LXX) more closely: “The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing.”

Luke 13:29 from the east and the west: The ingathering of the people in a prophetic motif (see Isaiah 11:11-16; 60:1-22) which Luke refers to in Act 2:5-13.  will recline: this is the image/posture of the banquet

Sources

  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 215-9
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 528-33
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) p.961
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 243-4
  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) p.335
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at www.crossmarks.com
  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985) – Foerster, “sōtḗr,” VII, 980-1012
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
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