One of the arguments used by the neo-universalists (such as Rob Bell, Thomas Talbott, Philip Gulley,
CarltonPearson, etc.) is that the traditional gospel is STINGY, representing a God who is NOT generous and does NOT want all to be saved. Evangelicals, it is charged, are guilty of holding to a fewness doctrine in which only a limited number will be redeemed.
First of all, I reject the notion that God is under obligation to save any! Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read of God’s obligation to rescue any of us from our sins. Jesus’ rescue mission flowed out of LOVE, not DEBT. Bell argues that God’s very greatness is dependent on His melting every human heart. He writes, “How great is God? Great enough to achieve what God sets out to do, or kind of great, medium great, great most of the time, but in this, the fate of billions of people, not totally great. Sort of great. A little great.” (Love Wins, 97-98).
Did Jesus ever face this question of whether FEW or MANY (or ALL) will be saved? If so, what did HE say?
We read in Luke 13:
22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
Several observations are in order as we look at this biblical text.
1. This specific question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” was directly asked of the Lord Jesus. Are we really interested in hearing His answer?
2. The question is asked by “someone.” We are not given any more specifics than that. We are not told that it is a trap by the religious leaders. “Someone” asks Him this most critical of all questions: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
3. It sounds very much like the questioner is a believer in Jesus, for they seem to expect Him to be able to answer the question! And the way the question is worded sounds like the assumption is that “only a few people” are going to be saved.
4. We are told that “Jesus said to them . . .” Apparently, He used this question as an opportunity to continue His teaching ministry to the people of the towns and villages He was traveling through as He was making His way to Jerusalem.
5. To a simple, although profound, question (“Are only a few people going to be saved?”) which could have been answered with a straightforward “yes” or “no,” Jesus’ answer is neither. He launches into a personal appeal to those listening to His answer. Jesus does not deal in hypotheticals. Instead, He issues a personal challenge to those listening to Him to make sure they are going to be saved: “24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”
6. As is so often His way, Jesus immediately employs a figure of speech, a metaphor, to communicate His answer. He discusses a door and a house and a homeowner. One point might be that the house of salvation does not belong to us! It belongs to Someone else who has every right to set the conditions for welcoming people into His home.
7. And Jesus says that the door to that house is a “narrow door.” Why would the door to salvation be narrow? Doesn’t God want His house filled (refs?)? Why isn’t the entrance into salvation a wide, rapid, moving sidewalk that will accompany any who want to step onto it?
8. Note that Jesus’ challenge is “Make every effort to enter . . .” It sounds as if getting into salvation’s house is difficult (see issue of rich man & “with man this is impossible”– who then can be saved?). Perhaps those efforts to enter are difficult because of the “many” that “will try to enter and will not be able to.” What in the world would keep people who want to enter that house from not being able to?! This part of Jesus’ answers sounds like He is saying there will be FEW who will get into that house because MANY are trying to get in but won’t be able to!
9. If Jesus’ answer stopped at this point, it would be very discouraging. He appears to be saying that the most important matter is to make sure you are making every effort you can to get through that narrow door because many are trying to enter and aren’t able to. (TO BE CONTINUED)
Discussion Questions: How can we show from the Scriptures that Jesus’ expression “Make every effort” does not mean that we are saved by our good works or by our best efforts? Before we consider the rest of this text, do you get the impression that salvation is hard or easy? That it is intended for the MANY or the FEW?