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“Will Only a Few Be Saved?” (Part 2)

02 Jun

We began this three-part discussion by recognizing that there is a new challenge facing Evangelicals by a

"Hi, there. We're the NEO-UNIVERSALISTS!"

group I’m calling the neo-universalists.  Unlike classic universalists like Karl Barth, C.H. Dodd, John A.T. Robinson, and Nels F.S. Ferré, these neo-universalists are rather militant about their belief that God will (must) save all.  God’s very greatness, says Rob Bell in Love Wins, depends on God’s getting what God wants — and He wants all to be saved.

Part of the neo-universalist argument is that Evangelicalism is stingy, teaching a fewness perspective in which only a limited number will be saved.  The neo-universalists argue for endless opportunities after death to believe the gospel and mock the Evangelical perspective as “toxic” and as a “hijacking” of the Jesus story.

We suggested in Part 1 of this discussion that God is under no obligation to save any.  And His greatness is true with or without man’s salvation.

We then noticed that Jesus Himself was asked a very specific question about how many would be saved in Luke 13.  Let’s look at the whole passage:

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.”

We made several observations as we began our study of this biblical text.  To summarize those earlier points, we noticed that Jesus addresses His answer to the people, rather than to the individual who raised the question.  And He immediately launches into an analogy about a narrow door, a house, and a houseowner.

We saw in verse 24 that Jesus challenges the people to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Salvation in Jesus’ analogy sounds difficult:  the door is narrow, “every effort” is required to get into that house, and the many who try to enter (and won’t be able to) appear to present an obstacle to the ones Jesus commands to “make every effort to enter.”

Additional Observations:

1.  Moving on in the text, we notice that the one who is to make every effort to enter is faced with a greater challenge.  There is an owner of the house who may get up at any time and close the door!  What?!  Doesn’t God want His house filled?  How could He ever get up and close the door?  The neo-universalists argue that salvation’s door should remain eternally open.  Let’s notice exactly what Jesus says:  “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.’”

"This is MY house, right?" (God)

Notice the term “once.”  Jesus seems to be saying that the opportunity to enter through that narrow door into salvation’s house is limited.  It is limited by the Owner Himself!   He, as the homeowner, has every right to get up and close the door to His own house, doesn’t He?

Why does a homeowner get up and close the door to his house?  Perhaps the open door has made the house drafty?  Perhaps he’s keeping out wild animals?  No!  In this text the open door is shut because the time for people to enter is over!  It’s His house. It’s His door.  It’s HIS prerogative to close that door when He chooses to do so.

2.  But those who find themselves on the outside, on the other side of that door, do not simply go away.  The verse says,  “you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’”  The “you” is plural.  Those outside don’t give up.  They continue knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.”   Apparently, they are unable to break down the door, or jimmy the lock, or go into the house through a window.  This door is the only way into the house, and if the houseowner doesn’t open the door, they won’t get in.

3.  There is then a discussion through the door.  The houseowner responds to the pleas of those outside who are asking for entrance.  We read, “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from.'” (v. 25).  Those asking for entrance are strangers to the homeowner.  They have no familial connection with the owner; He owes them nothing.   The owner of the house gives them two reasons why He is not going to open the door to them:  (1) “I don’t know you.”  and (2) “I don’t know where you are from.”

4.  But in this analogy Jesus says the conversation will continue.  He says, “‘Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'” (v. 26).  So they did have a connection with the homeowner.  They enjoyed at least one meal with Him and heard Him teach in their streets!  These outside have moved from asking for entrance to demanding entrance based on these factors.  But these do not qualify them as having a relationship with Him.  His response is shocking in its unqualified rejection.  Let’s carefully notice His response:

5.  Jesus says the homeowner will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from.  Away from me, all you evildoers!” (v. 27).  Their claiming to have eaten and drunk with Him and to have heard Him teach in their streets was completely insufficient in providing a reason why He should re-open the door.  The homeowner repeats exactly His rejection:  “I don’t know you or where you are from.” (v. 27).  He then brings the conversation to a shocking and abrupt conclusion by saying, “Away from me, all you evildoers!” (v. 27).  So these pleading for entrance are not just strangers to the homeowner, but evildoers.  And no sane person is going to knowingly allow an evildoer into his home!

6.  We then have Jesus’ conclusion to the matter.  Remember, this conversation began with someone asking Jesus a specific question: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”  Jesus concludes His analogical response by saying, 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.”

If we have correctly understood Jesus’ analogy as referring to eternal salvation, then His conclusion emphasizes several matters:

(a) Jesus describes the outside of the house as a place of “weeping . . . and gnashing of teeth.”  Those who

The agony of those outside . . .

don’t get into that house are on the outside and it is not a pleasant location!  It is characterized by weeping and teeth-gnashing. Edersheim, referring to the expression ““weeping and gnashing of teeth”” (used in Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; and here in Luke 13:28), points out that ““weeping”” is associated in Rabbinic thought with sorrow, but ““gnashing of teeth”” almost always with anger (not, as generally supposed, with anguish). [Is it not, therefore, reasonable to assume that those who reject the work of Christ, if they were offered the opportunity to leave hell, would rush to spread their sin and unbelief among the blood-bought children of heaven?]  Those outside the house are not in spiritual or eternal neutrality.  They experience terrific pain.

(b) Those who are outside will see the celebrated leaders of Judaism (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets) in the kingdom of God.  [This reminds one of the rich man’s experience in Luke 16:19-31 who sees Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom (heaven)].

(c)  Those outside will not only see Israel’s leaders in the kingdom of God.  But Jesus says, “you yourselves [will be] thrown out.” (v. 28).   (TO BE CONTINUED)

Discussion Questions:  When Jesus says in John 1:12 that one receives the RIGHT to be called a child of God, how do these pleading to be let in assume a RIGHT they do not possess?  How ought the fact of the owner of the house getting up and closing the door to His house motivate every believer to systematic, strategic, intentional evangelistic efforts right now?

 

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2 responses to ““Will Only a Few Be Saved?” (Part 2)

  1. Nathan T

    June 2, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Larry, you ask “He, as the homeowner, has every right to get up and close the door to His own house, doesn’t He?”

    Very true. Except for one fundamental problem: I didn’t ASK to be created. Sure, God can exclude whoever he wants. But is that really the God that you want to serve? A God who creates life just to banish the vast majority to eternal torture?

    When I “create” life (ie, my children), am I under any sort of obligation to nurture them and teach them Truth? Maybe I could just say that I only like the pretty ones and the “lucky” ones. The rest I’ll just toss out onto the street (with weeping and knashing of teeth!). Heck, maybe I’ll just abort all the ones I really don’t want. IS THAT THE KIND OF GOD WE SERVE??? Really?

     
  2. Gerry T. Neal

    June 5, 2011 at 3:55 am

    An interesting point to consider is that in pre-Christian pagan religions, it was accepted that everybody would go to hell. Our English word “hell” comes from the Germanic/Norse underworld, named after the goddess who ruled it. With the exception of the bravest warriors, taken away by the Valkyries to Valhalla to serve in the army of Odin, everybody, righteous and unrighteous, went to hell. This is true of the Greek hades as well. It was a dark and gloomy place that everyone went to. It was only fairly late in the history of pre-Christian Greece that the idea that the wicked would be punished alongside the Titans in tartaros and the virtuous rewarded in the Elysian Fields developed. Even in Judaism, everyone went to sheol, and apart from a hint or two in Job and the Psalms, it was only really in the last writings of the Old Testament that the concept of a future resurrection was spelled out.

    Compared to that, Christianity’s offer of eternal bliss in the beatific vision of God’s eternal presence, to anyone who put their trust in the provision God has made for salvation in Jesus Christ, is most generous indeed.

    Part of the problem with contemporary challenges to traditional and Biblical teaching about hell, is that we lack a proper sense of our sinfulness. We stand indicted before a holy God for our sin. If we truly understood that, we would not be attempting to impugn the character of God over His exercising His right to judge sin, but would be crying out for His mercy. As C. S. Lewis put it: “The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock.”

    Having said that, while the Scripture makes it clear that the only way of salvation is Jesus Christ, it does not clearly state that only a few will find salvation in Jesus Christ. Passages that might suggest that understanding, look differently when we look at them through Jesus and the Crucifixion and Resurrection. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the road to life was narrow and few walk on it, and the road to destruction was broad and there were many who walk on it. This occurs, however, in the context of a works-oriented Sermon. When we consider these verses from that perspective, the “few” would seem to be One, Jesus Himself. He is the only one Who merits life rather than destruction on account of His deeds. All the rest of us are sinners, and therefore on the road to destruction. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, however, we can be placed into Jesus, and therefore on the road to life. John’s Gospel makes clear that Christ is the Savior God gave to the world, not just to a select handful. While universalism would seem to be precluded by the teachings of the New Testament, the idea that the numbers of the saved in Christ will be many and not few, is not.

     

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