How do you guys deal with Matt 7:13, 14? I don’t see how Jesus could have addressed the question of universalism more directly.
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Well, first, contextually He isn’t addressing the question of universalism directly, in the Matthean text. (The remark isn’t given to people who are asking Him whether they can expect and trust God to keep acting to save all sinners from sin and/or whether they can legitimately hope that He will succeed at this eventually. We’ll get to that context later. ) But that admittedly may be beside the point.
The obvious question is, what does “destruction” mean? Judah is utterly destroyed in the OT, having drunk the cup of the wrath of God to the dregs; but after noting this, YHWH promises to restore Judah and to take the cup away from them. In the famous verse from Jeremiah (chp 31) about Rachel weeping for her children (rebel Ephraim, slain by God for rebellion), there is even resurrection implied in the promise from God that He has not forgotten Ephraim and will restore him in the end: for Rachel is weeping because her children (bluntly) “are not.” (Notably this prophecy ends with the riddle that YHWH will accomplish this by doing a new thing involving a woman “encompassing a man”.)
Evangelical/orthodox universalists, like trinitarian theologians, pick up and apply all kinds of strands of testimony in order to put together our exegetical case. The “kings of the nations” in RevJohn are always rebels against their rightful sovereign (YHWH, incarnate as Jesus), and very gnarly rebels, too; up until the final chapter, when they start bringing their treasures into the New Jerusalem! Before then, they had been utterly destroyed by Jesus in the final war, with their corpses strewn across the landscape to be fed on by the birds of the air (near the end of chp 19). But they’re back!–and now they’re coming into the church, not as captives or slaves, but on a parity with the ones who had already been saved from sin.
Part of our total exegetical case, then, is that there aren’t many (proportionately speaking) who won’t have to go in for some brisk eonian cleaning (to borrow a term from the judgment of the sheep and the goats). The verse you reference would be exegetical evidence of that, to us.
But we’d better not get too uppity about that exemption!–because the vast majority of what Jesus has to say about the zorching is frankly aimed as a warning against us, His putative followers and servants. In fact, we had better hope that other people will be treated the way that we want to be treated ourselves, including in regard to the salting with the fire. Which “Golden Rule” happens to be (and not by accident I suspect) the pericope saying that immediately precedes Mt 7:13-14.
Before the broad vs. narrow way/gate pericope, Jesus is reported talking about how our heavenly Father is good and gives good things to His children (especially to those who request them), not things that are frustrating or dangerous; then comes the Golden Rule. Then after the broad vs. narrow way/gate, comes a warning against false prophets who inside are ravening wolves, who can be known by their noxious fruits–and who themselves will be thrown into the fire! After which again comes the warning that not everyone who says to Jesus “Lord! Lord!” will be entering into the kingdom of God (or of “the heavens”, as is normal for GosMatt’s text, and which is a Jewish euphamism for YHWH), even though they’ve been able to do prophecies and exorcisms and works of power in His name. (And then after that, the end of the Sermon report, with the parable of the houses on the rock and the sand as an analogy to those who hear and act upon His words and those who hear the words but don’t act on them.)
So, which interpretation better fits the local and widescale context? That the destruction of the many who are going the easy way is hopeless? Or that even the destruction itself is hopeful?
As a highly instructive followup, consider the parallel over in GosLuke, where the same saying is given, but in a narrative context where someone is in fact literally asking, “Lord, are there only a few who are being saved?” (Chronologically the Matthean version happens near the end of the first portion of His ministry, right after having chosen the 12 apostles. The Lukan incident happens nearer the end, on His final mission trip through Palestine with Jerusalem and Passover and His execution and resurrection the final goal.)
Jesus’ answers may be considered in the following contexts:
“Lord, are there only a few who are being saved?” (the actual question in the text)
And He said to them, “Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.”
(Ah, right, only a few elite righteous will be saved! So, out of curiosity, who are these many condemned unrighteous failures?)
“Once the head of the household gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside…”
(uh, “you”? Is he talking to us…?)
“…and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’…”
(uh… but we’re the ones who call Him Lord)
“…then He will answer saying to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘we ate and drank in your presence, and You taught in our streets’. And He will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you are from. Depart from Me, all you doers of injustice!”"
(which is what Jesus tells the goats in the judgment against them–the goats who weren’t surprised to find Christ as the judge and who claimed not to know when they hadn’t been serving Christ!)
“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves being cast out.”
(Keep in mind that in the Matthean parallel, this judgment is pronounced in very similar terms against those who not only called Him Lord but served Him with miraculous power!)
“And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline in the kingdom of God.”
(but… … that doesn’t sound like a few elite! That sounds like many, from the pagans!! Note again that the parallel to this saying elsewhere in the Synoptics occurs as a remonstrance after the Roman centurion shows he has more faith in Jesus than God’s own traditional servants.)
“Now behold!–last are those who will be the first, and first the last.”
(the typical Synoptic retort from Jesus against people who are behaving in a self-serving manner or who are expecting special honors)
Sooooo… yeah, I’m not much inclined to be thinking about myself being one of the elite high-ranking ‘first’ few who will be ‘saved’. The guy who asks this question gets answered with snippets that either directly countervail him as being one of the few, or else are aimed in other Synoptic contexts against people who think they’re serving God/Jesus in ways that will get themselves into the kingdom but who are actually ravening wolves, doers of injustice, trees of noxious fruit headed for the chopping and the chastening fire.
(Perhaps not-incidentally, in Psalm 6, wherein King David also demands that his adversaries, the workers of injustice, depart from him; it’s because they’re depressing him with traitorous counsel that God will never have mercy on David and free him from the chastening punishment laid on him! To say the least, this doesn’t help incline me to be one of the people who counsel that God’s chastenings are ultimately hopeless… )
How are you interpreting “saved”? Saved from what?
May we look at both Matthew 7:13-14 & 8:11-12?
Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV), “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.(13) But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”(14)
Matthew 8:11-12 (NIV), “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.(11) But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”(12)
I’ve heard various evangelical Bible scholars say that both 7:13-14 & 8:11-12 describe the initial mass Jewish rejection of Jesus Christ. And we see this theme described in other places of Matthew, Luke, and Romans.
The road is narrow in all cases while many will enter in some cases such as 8:11. See also Luke 13:22-30. On top of this, the Bible teaches that Christ redeems people from the destruction of hell.
Saved from the coming judgement, that’s it…no?
Saved from our sins, and from our sinning.
But, not everyone thinks primarily in those terms. It seems to be very popular to think primarily in terms of being saved from God, or from the Father, or from the everlasting fire, or from God’s wrath, or from the judgment, or from hades and/or Gehenna, or from Satan, or from our enemies, or from death, or from sickness, etc.
But I am concerned primarily with being saved from my sins and from my sinning; also primarily, I suppose, with other people being saved from my sinning! I don’t deny most of those other salvations (except the first three, and then only where such ‘salvation’ would tend to imply something other than orthodox trinitarian theism), but I don’t consider them to be the primary Biblical focus (at least in the maturation of Jewish theology as represented in the NT as well as in places in the OT).
(I started a thread on the topic somewhere, a week or two ago. The soteriology section, if I recall correctly…?)
Well, I’m pretty sure the enquirer in GosLuke 13:22-30 was thinking about salvation from the coming judgment, one way or another. And there is something to be said in favor of being saved from the various crises God may send on or allow to happen to us. (Lead us not into the trials!–as we are taught to pray in the Lord’s prayer.)
Jesus’ answer to the inquiry, though, tends to be a rebuke about that being our primary concern and especially in an us-vs-them fashion. That kind of thinking is likely to result in us being sent into the crisising. Those who are concerned to save their own lives will lose them, etc. Make friends with your enemies and settle anything that they may have against you before you and your enemy arrive at the judging, because you are the one God will require the justice of the last farthing from.
So it isn’t a question of whether it’s an important concern. It’s a question of whether that’s supposed to be our primary concern in salvation. I shouldn’t be primarily concerned with the mote in my neighbor’s eye when I have a log in my own; but even a mote can feel like a log–and the mote still has to come out. There is no option about this. God will not forever tolerate even a mote of evil in me; precisely because He does truly love me. (Though He may give me a lot of leash and be, as the OT puts it, longsuffering over my evil; precisely again because He does truly love me and refuses to treat me like a puppet. But, and this is important, He loves my enemies and His other enemies too!)
Was the coming judgement conceived of (in that context) as a “this-worldly” thing or is Jesus speaking of after death wrath? What clues do we have either way? What does NT Wright say?
Thank you for your time!
I don’t have J&tVoG here at the office, and it’s been several years since I read it; but I’d be willing to bet that NTW would interpret it as only referring to the coming wrath against Jerusalem in the Roman throwdown that would happen within 40 years.
If you’re asking about how the person understood salvation who phrased the question to Jesus (the pericope is GosLuke 13:22-30, for those who like me have been away for a while and need catching up ) “Lord, are there (only) a few who are being saved?”, I have difficulty believing that this person was thinking in terms of being saved from God’s coming this-worldly wrath on Israel. The popular notion was always that God’s wrath was about to be stomping on the Romans for oppressing Israel, and God was about to save Israel from her oppressors, probably bringing about the coming Day of the Lord at last (the seventh day when God rests from His completed work in creation). You should note that even RevJohn is steeped in this idea: the Romans have oppressed Christians and Jews for too long and Jerusalem and the Temple are about to be saved, finally ushering in the Day of the Lord. (Or perhaps early and incomplete but substantial foreshadowing of this in the Millennial Rule after which there will be one more super-bad rebellion that won’t even get as far as barely threatening Jerusalem before being stomped to the curb by God. Then comes the general resurrection of the evil and the good, the judgment of the lake of fire, the establishment of the New Jerusalem, etc. There are various ways of interpreting the timing of all this of course.)
The collected implications of Jesus’ composite answer, as I noted previously, is a warning that, yeah, in some regards only a few are going to be ‘saved’–and buddy, you might not be one of those few!! The shape of Jesus’ rebuttal appears aimed against an assumed exclusionary superiority of some kind in the questioner: which gives me more grounds for suspecting that the questioner wasn’t thinking in terms of God’s coming wrath on Israel. But that may be beside the point; the scope of application is principally wider than that. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there”, which is a typical hades/Gehenna after-death punishment phrase, “when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God”, which is a typical resurrection after-death promise, “but you yourself being cast out.” (And notice the emphasis there on the receiver of the answer.)
This in itself is not a fulfillment that can be very plausibly ascribed to God smiting Israel and Jerusalem with the Romans instead of the popularly expected vice versa. Though, that upcoming threat is certainly part of Jesus’ larger-scale preaching (particularly in the Synoptics–not so much in GosJohn, which is probably one of several reasons why NTW hardly mentioned that Gospel in JVG.) Even though it isn’t mentioned as a topic in this particular pericope, Luke reports that this scene occurs right before some Pharisees arrive trying to scare Jesus away from the region with threats that Herod wants to kill Him; and Luke thinks it is proper in some way to connect Jesus’ famous “O Jerusalem” lament and His equally famous “Behold your house is being left to you desolate!” to this scene or sequence of scenes–and I agree (with NTW, too, on this of course ) that those two warnings are about the Roman military destruction on the way as punishment on Israel.
(Incidentally, from a narrative-harmonization analysis perspective, I understand Luke to be attaching these verses because in the original tradition from which he is reporting they were passed along as signifiers that this scene was taking place somewhere near and around Jerusalem. Luke doesn’t introduce the pericope sequence with anything more definite than Jesus was passing through one city and village to another teaching and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem, although Luke is more definite about the second half of this pericope occurring in some kind of close subsequent conjunction with the first half. Consequently, in my harmonization project, I place this incident after Jesus has arrived in the local vicinity of Jerusalem but before the Triumphant Entry; though not long before it. It makes excellent sense for Jesus to have toured the suburbs around Jerusalem after arriving before focusing on ministry in Jerusalem; but of course that kind of detail wouldn’t have been the primary reason or focus for remembering the paired event related here. Not surprisingly, then, the historical detail is left as a tacit linkage. Luke doesn’t pick up on the implications, and/or prefers to sort the material topically before Jesus arrives at Jerusalem, and so he ends up putting the material back here at the end of what we now call the 13th chapter. Note by the way that Herod (plus Pilate) would have been having his own triumphal entry into Jerusalem at about this time!–one that Jesus would be trumping soon. I seriously doubt Herod wanted to kill Jesus, though; nothing else in the story indicates this, anywhere. I expect, to put it bluntly, this particular group of Pharisees was lying to try to keep Jesus away from Jerusalem and its environs during this Passover season.)
What do you think of the view that it only referred to the time that Jesus was answering the question?: “few there are that are finding it”.
Sorry for my delay; slowly catching up.
I’m not sure I understand which position you’re asking about. “Few there are that are finding it” as referring to the time that Jesus was answering the question…? Are you asking about the position, that Jesus meant ‘few are finding the narrow way right this moment’?
If that’s what you’re asking about: there is one piece of data in that scene I can think of offhand, which would hint in this direction. Namely, the fact that in order to protect from sieges, the road into Jerusalem would be much narrower and less obviously the right road, than a broad way leading to the flaming garbage dump at Gehenna (doubtless used by all the surrounding suburbs). Consequently, someone going up to Jerusalem for the first time without a guide, might easily find to their surprise that they had arrived at Gehenna instead! But (and this is important, insofar as it might be analogically extracted as a continuation of the imagery), they wouldn’t keep on going: they’d turn around and find the less obvious road leading into Jerusalem instead.
So the imagery actually has some built-in comic value; it must have been terribly amusing to the locals for the occasional person to miss signposts and so forth and arrive at Gehenna instead. The ironic inversion would be that instead of most people choosing the right path (thanks to guides, signposts, following the crowds, etc) and a few people ending up in the wrong place, most people are currently heading to the wrong place!
However, that’s probably still true today: the condition Jesus is speaking of is perennial. So while ‘right this moment’ (during Jesus’ answer and His ministry more broadly) would naturally be included, I don’t see anything in the form of the answer to indicate that ‘right this moment’ was supposed to be the primary meaning. On the contrary, the structure of the answers reported by Luke (which I think I’ve previously discussed) indicates that Jesus had something else more primarily on His mind as a theme than relative timing about when there might be more people taking the narrow road than the broad one. Jesus is warning the questioner that the questioner himself is under serious threat of ending up in Gehenna instead of Jerusalem. And while a call to repentance by the questioner, to take the narrow road instead, would be part of Jesus’ answer, the thematic thrust seems to be about why the questioner is himself (ironically) under the threat.
I know you weren’t asking me, but in the similar verse of Luke 13:23, the Greek has “are those being saved few?” - which may refer to those being saved at the moment the question was asked (as opposed to those who will end up being saved). Or at least that is what I’ve read in JW Hanson’s work. I haven’t actually seen the Greek for myself.
Is there a similar wording in the Matthew account?
Actually, it was that Lukan pericope, that I’ve been discussing for a while. Where I also translated it “who are being saved”. I would (and did) argue that the wider context doesn’t involve restricting the question to the application of the immediate moment.
And no, none of the Matthean parallels to the sayings in that Lukan pericope, involve someone asking about how many will be saved.
I have read a book about a vdream a guy called Rick Joyner had. In it he talks about people b eing on the path of life. What it means is that the people are either on the good course that God has for them or they are off course. This dopesnt mean that they arent saved if they are off course but just that they are missing out on the fullness of life. However, it is very common for people to veer off course so for that reason few people find it. In the dream evryone failed to receiev their reward in full so in a sesne they were all off course. In some ways they experienced destruction. His dream did not contain universalist ideas but remember that the prophetic is not 100% accurate and there may be good reasons for God to keep the majority in the dark about this issue.