Just a Few to be Saved?

The road to hell is wide and many go there, according to the Bible, and the road to heaven is narrow and few go there. Why wouldn’t a merciful God reverse that?

I assume the question is a reference to what Jesus said in the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel when someone asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

It’s important to note that Jesus actually uses the present participle, which is more accurately translated by the NASB like this: “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” Not, “who will be saved,” but “who are being saved.” The focus is on the speaker’s contemporary situation. In other words, the person who asked him this had his own generation in mind. No doubt he noticed that relatively speaking Jesus had very few followers. The great majority of the Jewish people at the time did not regard Jesus to be the Messiah. And the one who questioned Jesus was concerned about this. Can it really be that there are just a few who are being saved?

And Jesus’ answer addresses this historical situation.

Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets” (Lk. 13:24-26).
You see here how he has the historical situation of his own day in mind. It is only those who lived in Jesus day who could say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.”

It’s true that in Jesus’ day there were very few who were being saved. But it doesn’t follow from this that this is the way it’s always going to be. In fact, Jesus told a couple of parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew, which indicate that in the end there could well be far more people who are saved than are lost.

He compares the kingdom of heaven to a grain of mustard seed, which he says is the smallest of all seeds, but when it is grown, it becomes larger than all the plants of the garden and becomes a tree, which I take to mean that in Jesus’ day the kingdom was very small, but in time it would become the largest, the most pervasive, the most dominant force in the world (see Matt. 13:31-32).

He follows this up with another parable that is like it—the parable of the leaven. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33).

These parables should be understood as demonstrating the slow, steady growth of the kingdom of heaven over time, through history.

This agrees with the words of the prophets. Daniel is given a prophecy of successive world empires from Babylon to Rome, and he is told that in the days of the fourth kingdom or the Roman Empire, “the God of heaven [would] set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed,” one that would in time come to “fill the whole earth” (Dan. 2:31-45).

Isaiah, likewise, said that of the increase of his government and of peace there would be no end (Isa. 9:6).

David, also, in the Psalms, said, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (Ps. 22:27).

And the prophet Habakkuk said, “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

So although in Jesus’ day the kingdom was small, and there were relatively few who were being saved, we should not assume this to be the case throughout history. Scripture teaches us to expect the kingdom to continue to grow. Consider how far we have come already. There were 120 people in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. There are two billion people today who call themselves Christians. This is about one third of the world’s population. Certainly not all those who call themselves Christians are entirely orthodox and faithful, but it is nevertheless an amazing thing that so many today would at least claim in one way or another to be a Christian. And I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. Judging by the statements in Scripture, I think we have every reason to believe that God will yet pour his Spirit out in such a measure, and bless the preaching of the gospel to such a degree, that we will see the triumph of the kingdom of Christ that we have never even dared to dream, so that in the end, when it’s all said and done, there will be far more who will have been saved than have been lost.

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