Restoration & Praise
Christian Fellowship Center
ENTERING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Devotional Reading: Psalm 1
Background Scripture: Matthew 7:15-23; Luke 13:22-30
LESSON SCRIPTURES: Luke 13:22-30
Exerted from: Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2017-2018).
22 And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
23 Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
24 Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
25 When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:
26 Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
29 And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
30 And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. State attitudes and actions to be practiced and avoided.
2. Explain the position reversal of the first and the last.
3. Create a written plan to resist a cultural hindrance to inclusion in the kingdom of God.
"Getting In" Trouble
An old joke tells of the man who, while touring through New York City, asked someone, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The response: “Practice, practice, practice.”
Admittance into an exclusive organization or institution is not easy. One usually has to have a certain amount of money, friends, and/or special abilities for that to happen. Take, for example, the baseball Hall of Fame. Nomination to be counted part of such an elite group must be earned. A player has to have the statistics to prove that he is worthy of belonging.
Entrance into God’s kingdom (the subject of today’s study) is quite a different matter! There is no way we can earn admission. Our “statistics” are dismal; Romans 3:23 states that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We can never measure up on our own.
To make it, we need help. In baseball terms, we needed a pinch hitter—someone to go to bat for us. That person is Jesus. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). But He has a caution for us in today’s lesson, a caution we must heed.
Luke 13:22 (the opening verse of this lesson text) marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the territory east of the Jordan River known as Perea. The Lesson Background of last week’s lesson offers information on Perea, so that material need not be repeated here.
22. And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
The cities and villages mentioned here are those in Perea as Jesus proceeds southward through this region. The trip narrative toward Jerusalem and, ultimately, crucifixion begins in Luke 9:51. Many teaching opportunities are recorded along this journey of 10-plus chapters. As best as can be determined, Jesus has not visited Perea before now. As early as Luke 4:43, Jesus had stated, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent.” That urgency still compels Him.
Steadfastness characterizes Jesus’ urgency in accomplishing His mission. The centerpiece of that mission will be His sacrificial death for all humanity.
23a. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved?
Luke’s Gospel includes different occasions when it appears that individuals within Jesus’ audience raise questions or make comments spontaneously. That is much as a student might do in a classroom setting today.
Sometimes the questioner desires clarification of something Jesus has said (12:41). At other times the question or statement becomes the springboard for further teaching from Jesus (10:25; 11:27, 28; 12:13-21). On still other occasions, individuals desire Jesus to comment on a current event (13:1), while others take offense at something Jesus says (11:45).
When an individual asks Lord, are there few that be saved?, we are not given any information as to the motive for this question. Perhaps it is asked simply out of curiosity.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of “few” who will find the “narrow” way leading to life while many will follow the “broad” way to destruction (Matthew 7:13, 14). But He has also spoken of the great growth of God’s kingdom, as in the parable of the mustard seed recorded just a few verses before our text (Luke 13:18, 19). So perhaps this individual is seeking some clarification from Jesus. How can it be “few” if the kingdom is to grow so spectacularly?
23b. And he said unto them.
One person has asked the question; the answer is directed to them, implying that a group (or crowd, as is typical with Jesus) is present. The answer is crucial enough that Jesus wants more than just the questioner to hear it.
24. Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
We notice that Jesus does not answer the question with a direct yes or no as it has been posed to Him—nor is He obligated to do so. But the question is valuable in that it offers opportunity to establish a more important teaching point. The first order of business is not to inquire about how many or few will be saved; rather, the first order of business is to make certain that we are among those striving to be saved.
It is easy to raise questions and generate discussions over a host of religious matters. It is another thing to take such matters out of the realm of abstract ideas, make them personal, and consider their bearing on one’s personal relationship with God. The result should be to know what one must do (Acts 2:37; 16:30; Titus 3:14; etc.).
The word strive translates a Greek word from which we get our word agonize. It was used in reference to Greece’s athletic games in describing the kind of determined effort that is necessary to achieve victory (compare 1 Corinthians 9:24, 25, which uses the same word). Jesus is saying that a similar degree of commitment is needed to enter the kingdom. This Greek word also occurs in 1 Timothy 6:12 as both a verb and a noun, being translated “fight the good fight.”
What Do You Think?
Considering that we are not saved by works, what should striving to enter the kingdom of Heaven look like?
Strait refers to something that is narrow; think of the Strait of Gibraltar. Thus a strait gate is one difficult to enter, requiring persistent effort. Jesus also refers to the “strait gate” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13, 14). There the emphasis seems to be on finding that gate; here the emphasis shifts to the difficulty of actually entering through it. Thus it is at this point that the question in Luke 13:23a is answered. But why will many not be able to enter? Jesus proceeds to elaborate.
25. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are.
The word picture of a house with the door having been shut signals the end of the day. The scene depicted is similar to that of the parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:10-12). In both cases, those who are still outside the house when the door is closed plead to be let in.
But the pleas in both cases are to no avail. The response I know you not whence ye are is quite alarming and similar to Matthew 7:23 (“I never knew you”) and 25:12 (“Verily I say unto you, I know you not”). In all cases, Jesus is describing what will happen to the disobedient on the Day of Judgment. The declaration I know not whence ye are by the master of the house indicates that those on the other side of the door clearly do not belong in the kingdom of God.
26. Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.
Those on the outside are stunned, perhaps a bit incensed, at the owner’s words. How can the master of the house claim not to know them, given all they—ve done in his presence? This verse describes how public Jesus’ ministry has been and how much He has interacted with people by sharing meals with them.
27. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
The owner repeats his denial and, echoing Psalm 6:8, adds the yet more ominous depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. While there will be many who claim to know Jesus, the knowledge He is talking about is far more than just a familiarity with Him. Those on the outside knocking at the door are people who lack a sound understanding of who Jesus is and the nature of the kingdom He came to establish. They may have dined in Jesus’ presence—perhaps they were even the beneficiaries of His miracles such as the feedings of thousands—but their overall commitment to matters of His kingdom is no more than superficial.
The condemnation depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity is quite similar to Jesus’ words “depart from me, ye that work iniquity” in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-23. There Jesus was describing those who on “that day” (apparently the Day of Judgment) will try to be admitted to the kingdom of Heaven by pointing to the prophecies, exorcisms, and various miracles they did in Jesus’ name.
Here in Luke 13, however, Jesus says nothing specific about what those to be excluded will claim as credentials; He merely calls them workers of iniquity. We can discern what this means within Luke’s context by looking back a few verses to Luke 12:45-47. There we find characteristics and behaviors of a condemned servant (who should know better) alongside his penalty.
In short, the one condemned is the one who does not do the will of God. Thus the message Jesus taught and preached during His Galilean ministry at the Sermon on the Mount is entirely consistent with the message now being taught and preached during His Perean ministry.
What Do You Think?
What has to happen for us to know that we are not fooling ourselves with regard to being a genuine follower of Christ?
28. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
Comparing this verse with Matthew 8:11, 12, we again see absolute consistency between Jesus’ teaching in His Galilean and Perean ministries. In both addresses, exclusion results in weeping and gnashing of teeth. Such language is associated with the outer darkness that characterizes the punishment of those who have no place in the kingdom of God (Matthew 22:13; 25:30).
Seeing Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom will add to the misery of those excluded. Their position may be likened to that of the rich man who could see the beggar Lazarus with Abraham on the other side of the “great gulf” that separated the places to which they were consigned (Luke 16:19-31; see lesson 4).
Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, especially the religious leaders, assume that their natural ties to Abraham give them automatic entry into the kingdom of God (Luke 3:8; John 8:33). That they can be denied entrance to the kingdom and not be in the company of their renowned ancestors is unthinkable. The standard of judgment, however, is one’s personal relationship to the Lord and faithful obedience to Him. Physical or ancestral ties mean nothing; the obedient ones make up the Lord’s true family.
What Do You Think?
How do you answer objections to Jesus’ statement regarding what awaits the wicked?
29. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
The language of coming from all points of the compass echoes Psalm 107:3. Inhabitants of the kingdom of God will come from everywhere! This signals the inclusion of people with no ancestral ties to Abraham (compare Matthew 8:5-12). This scene may be likened to that described in Revelation 7:9 of “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” gathered before the throne of God in Heaven.
It is worth noting that the covenant God established with Abraham included a plan to bring all nations to Him, not to limit His blessings to certain individuals. That covenant concludes with the words “and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). In Galatians 3:8 Paul notes that with those words God “preached . . . the gospel” to Abraham. The church now has the responsibility of continuing the fulfillment of that promise by taking the gospel to “all nations” as Jesus commissioned (Matthew 28:19, 20). To be a spiritual descendant of Abraham, not a physical descendant, is what counts (Galatians 3:29).
What Do You Think?
What, if anything, does this verse say about your church’s current focus on cross-cultural evangelism?
30. And, behold, there are last which shall be first; and there are first which shall be last.
Jesus makes this paradoxical statement elsewhere. We see it twice in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 19:30; 20:16) as well as in His encounter with the rich young ruler (Mark 10:31).
These contexts highlight a crucial principle: those who consider themselves first or in a privileged position regarding the kingdom of God are in great danger of finding themselves last. They need to make serious changes in their thinking, and they must begin to view people through Jesus’ eyes. Those whom the haughty Jewish leaders view as last, including publicans, harlots, and Gentiles, will find themselves at places of honor in the kingdom because they have chosen to enter on the King’s terms (compare Matthew 21:31).
What Do You Think?
What steps can we take to avoid the error of seeing ourselves as spiritually superior?
At this juncture we would do well to return to the question of Luke 13:23, at the beginning of our lesson text: “Are there few that be saved?” In one sense, the answer is yes; compared with the multitudes of people who have lived over the course of history, few will enter the kingdom of Heaven. In another sense, the answer is no; for many from around the world, representing a variety of nations, people groups, and languages, will be included in Jesus’ kingdom.
It cannot be stressed enough that the more important issue is that each of us should “strive to enter” the kingdom (Luke 13:24) as we maintain a life of faithful obedience to the Lord. Doing so means ordering our lives around the King’s priorities and viewing people as He sees them.
Thinking in Reverse
“Nice guys finish last” is an oft-used expression. But after considering Jesus’ teaching in today’s text, the saying could be reversed (and also modified) to read “Last people finish nice [first].” This illustrates Jesus’ promise of a reversal of the way that the world often views people and situations.
The first/last reversal further illustrates the extent to which Jesus’ kingdom is, as He told Pilate, “not of this world” (John 18:36). Those considered movers-and-shakers or headliners in the world’s estimation do not carry such weight in the eyes of God. He is looking for those who acknowledge their spiritual poverty, the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), those who know they can never earn a place in the kingdom of God and do not have a sense of entitlement.
Consider what happened to the prodigal son in Jesus’ classic parable. This young man arrogantly took his father’s wealth and wasted it, then found himself in such desperate straits that he was relegated to feeding pigs. When he “came to himself” (Luke 15:17), he determined that he would return to his father and prepared what was a very humbling speech.
Father, help us not to lose our sense of needing to put forth our best effort in serving You. May we encourage one another to remain faithful servants. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thought to Remember
We must abide by the King’s terms to enter the kingdom.
Standard Lesson Commentary KJV (2017-2018).