This is part of my Exegetical Compilation project that I’m verrrrrryyyyy slowwwllly posting up, links to which can be found collected here.
Matt 7:13-23; sometimes non-universalists will reference 7:13-14 (enter by the narrow way, the wide way leads to destruction), or 7:19-23 (every tree that does not bear good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire, and Jesus will tell those who are false servants to depart from Him as lawbreakers), or even 7:15 (beware the false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing but inside are ravening wolves), as though these count not only against Christian universalism but personally against Christian universalists.
Any preacher or teacher might of course be a ravening wolf inside, even a Christian universalist. But as a matter of principle, are universalists the ones who are saying that God’s tree will ultimately produce bad figs? (Matt 7:16-18) Are universalists the ones who are acting in such a way that ultimately some sinners will never come to do the will of the Father in the heavens? (Matt 7:21) Are universalists the ones who claim our Father in the heavens gives worse gifts than evil fathers on earth ever would? (Matt 7:9-11) Are universalists the ones who teach against the idea of all people coming to do unto others as they would have people do unto them? (Matt 7:12) Is it the universalists who deny that those outside who keep on asking and keep on knocking will eventually be given entrance, and so who teach that those thrown outside might as well not even bother knocking in the first place because they will never be let in? (Matt 7:7-8, 23)
Those who are ravening wolves inside are certainly merciless to others, and admittedly a Christian universalist might be this way inside; but does this describe Christian universalism in principle, and so all Christian universalists necessarily?
Granted, not everyone who is empowered by Christ to work miracles and even exorcisms will be acknowledged by Christ as His followers, even if they know to give Him the double-Lord title reserved only for God in the Old Testament. But when Jesus withered the tree going into the city during His last week of earthly ministry, was He denouncing those who trust in God and try to cooperate with Him in bringing all the beasts of the field and of the forest into the Temple to eat? – or those who, considering themselves the elite chosen of God, had taken over the Court of the Gentiles, preventing any fruit from growing there? (See further comments on Mark 11:11-26.)
Admittedly, the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it; and “many shall enter by the broad path and the wide gate that leads to destruction” instead. But does the good shepherd only act as the Way and the Gate, waiting for those to enter? – or does He go out after the final sheep of His flock, sweeping up vigorously after the final coin stamped with His image, until He finds and brings the lost (destroyed) one home? Are universalists the ones who deny one teaching instead of affirming both?
This saying has strong relations to GosLuke 13:22-30, where Luke reports a man approaching Jesus on the road, during His final journey up to Jerusalem, asking the question (v.24), “Are there only a few who are being saved?” and Jesus answered Him with very similar words, “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door”.
Who is the “you” whom the lord of the house is talking to outside, wailing and gnashing their teeth? The ones who fully expect many unexpected people from all the compass reclining at the table of God with the patriarchs and the prophets (as in 13:28 and elsewhere)? – or the ones who expected God to only save a few? Who are the ones who would be the first, outside wailing and gnashing their teeth? Are they the ones who refused to judge lest they be judged? – or are they the ones who expected this kind of judgment for others?
Apparently there are many more entering into life than that man was expecting who only expected a few to be saved! He himself is going down the broad path to the broad gate, not the narrow path to the narrow door, and he himself shall be wailing and gnashing his teeth on being thrown outside when he sees people coming from all quarters of the compass to eat in the kingdom with the patriarchs and the prophets.
Jesus does talk to “you-plural” when answering the man, so is addressing multiple people in the nearby traveling crowd generally; but His reply only makes sense so far as they agree with the man in wanting Jesus to affirm that only a few are being saved. Expecting (or at least wanting) only a few to be saved, is itself the broad path to destruction, not the narrow path which only a few find! (A rather normal paradox teaching of Jesus in the Synoptic accounts, notice: those who think they are the first will turn out to be the last and those they think are the last will turn out to be the first. Which, not coincidentally, is also how Jesus ends His rebuke to the man there at verse 30!)
Again, back at Matthew’s report of a similar saying during the healing of the centurion’s servant boy (Matt 8:5-13), Jesus’ whole rebuke is that “the sons of the kingdom” themselves are the ones who will be shocked to find far more people coming into the kingdom than they were expecting, while they themselves are being thrown outside where the wailing is and the gnashing of the teeth! That phrase, “sons of the kingdom”, is the same phrase Jesus uses in Matthew’s report of other teaching a few chapters later (Matt 13) to talk about people who will certainly be saved – but the contexts there continue to warn against people expecting other people not to be finally saved.
Relatedly again, back at Luke’s semi-parallel in chapter 13, he also reports the parable of the mustard seed immediately before the story of the man who came to ask if only a few are being saved; in GosMatt and GosMark that parable is directly connected with warnings against expecting hopeless punishment and being unmerciful. (Whether Jesus repeated the teaching at this incident, or Luke ported the teaching over here for topical purposes, is irrelevant.)
Who, then, being thrown outside, are the ones being judged by the standard of their judgment (Matt 7:1-2)? Who are the ones being judged by the standard that they themselves were judging? Those who are merciful even to those who are thrown outside? Or those who are unmerciful?
“Love your enemies,” Jesus says in Luke’s report of the same incident (Luke 6:35-38) “and do good, and lend, not despairing at all of receiving nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High! – for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and to the evil ones. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Now do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; release and you will be released. Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap! For by your standard of measure, will it be measured to you in return!”
It may make more sense not to regard the warnings of Matthew’s 7th chapter to be against Christian universalists after all.
See extensive comments on Matthew 13 for further connections to Luke 13.
As always, members are invited to add further (possibly alternate) commentary and discussion below, including links to discussion of these verses on and off site.
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