This section continues Jesus’ formation of his disciples for their time to take up the mission of the proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus makes several references to the seriousness of the proclamation of God’s reign and to the need for a sober decision of discipleship to undertake the journey to Jerusalem with Jesus, a journey that will end in suffering and death (9:22–23).
Being Saved 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. 25 After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’
It has been quipped that most young people are said to believe in a hell where nobody goes. Among the middle aged there are those who think hell largely populated by enemies. And among the old are believers who nervously wonder if hell might be populated by the likes of themselves. They, like St. Paul at some moments, consider the question of their salvation “in fear and trembling.”
Jesus’ answer did not likely comfort the person who asked. Rather than responding to the question of how few will be saved, Jesus remarks instead on how many will not be saved: for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. The image of the narrow gate stands in contrast with the broad way (e.g. Mt 7:13-14) and was an ethical teaching image common in Jewish and Christian thought (Jer 21:8; Ps 1:6; 4 Ezra 7:1–9; Didache 1–6).
What was presented as a question about the future, is suddenly turned into a response about what is happening at this very moment. ““Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” As many commentaries point out the verb tense of “strive” is in the present using a common athletic metaphor. Both the Greek and Hellenistic Judaism used the term with respect to the practice of virtue and obedience to the law of God. [Green, 530] The image of an athlete striving to win a race is also found in 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7.
Luke 13:23 saved: The Greek contains the present participle which means “being saved” (present progressive) is the more technically correct translation.
sṓzō [to save], sōtēría [salvation], sōtḗr [savior]. In the LXX sṓzō is used to translate the words of the Hebrew stem yš‘ (“to save,” “to help,” “to free”). This verb first means “to be roomy.” Bringing into a more spacious place confers the idea of deliverance. A stronger being brings deliverance to the weak or oppressed by superior intervention. Personal relationships are stressed as there is rescue from situations brought about by the hostile intent of others. All salvation that is not divinely validated is limited. Idols and astrologers cannot save (Is. 45:20; 47:13). God, not an angel, rescues from Egypt, brings into the land, and wins victories over enemies (Is. 63:8-9; Ps. 44:3-4; Judg. 7:2, 7). The people must wait on God for salvation (Is. 30:15). It is a sin to reject the God who saves and to seek a king (1 Sam. 10:18-19) or to avenge oneself (25:26ff.). Human intervention is legitimate only if God works in and through it, as in the case of the judges (Judg. 2:18). God also helps and saves directly as the one best equipped to intervene or protect or preserve. He is the true hero and king (Pss. 80:2; 44:3-4). Israel conquers through him (Dt. 33:29). He saves and helps her (1 Sam. 11:13). If she is faithful, he promises aid (Num. 10:19). He is the hero who brings victory (Zeph. 3:17). In the Psalms God’s help is thus invoked against public or personal foes. He is asked to save against legal attacks, against injustice and violence, against sickness and imprisonment, and against external attacks. There are also references to comprehensive deliverance or salvation. God has established and preserved the people, and its members may thus hope for his help (Ps. 106:4). By forgiveness the garment of salvation replaces their filthy raiment of sin (Is. 61:10; Zech. 3:4-5). They can thus raise the cup of salvation (Ps. 116:13). To the humble who know their littleness, call on God with contrite hearts, and follow his will (Pss. 24:5; 34:6; 119:155), God grants his general help and salvation. Although he denies help to sinners, salvation may at times be from merited judgment. He rescues the oppressed even though they, too, are sinful (Ezek. 34:22), and he frees Israel from all her sins (Ezek. 36:29). Repentance is a prerequisite (Jer. 4:14). The liberation from exile is a form of salvation (Is. 45:17). God alone can effect this (43:11). This redemption points ahead to the final redemption when the age of eschatological salvation dawns (cf. Is. 43:1ff.; 60:16; 63:9). The Hebrew stem covers both the deliverance itself and the salvation that it brings. The eschatological deliverance includes rescue from attacking nations (Zech. 12:7) and the gathering of the dispersed (Is. 43:5ff.). The end-time community will draw on the wells of salvation (Is. 12:3), and all the world can share its salvation (45:22). The messianic ruler, as God’s representative, will help Israel so that it may dwell in safety (Jer. 23:6), and he will himself be divinely preserved in the wild eschatological attack of the nations (Zech. 9:9).
More strictly religious is the use in Lk. 1:68ff., which follows an OT model. In 1:77 the Baptist will give knowledge of salvation in the remission of sins. The explanation of the name of Jesus in Mt. 1:21 makes a similar link. Elsewhere the group is not common in the Synoptists. Mk. 8:35 and parallels refer to the saving and losing of life with an eschatological reference. In Mk. 10:26 being saved is equivalent to entering the kingdom or entering or inheriting life. Mk. 13:13 and parallels speak of deliverance from messianic tribulation. Lk. 13:23 equates salvation with entering the kingdom. In Lk. 19:10 saving and finding take place in the present (cf. 19:9-10). sōtēría, then, has both a present reference as finding and a future reference as entering the kingdom. [TDNT 1133-35]
will only a few be saved?: In his discussion of the question of how many will share in the salvation promised in the kingdom (13:22–30), Jesus asserts that entry into the kingdom depends on the master of the house, who is indirectly identified in 13:26 as Jesus himself. The question in 13:23 has no parallel in the OT but was often addressed in Second Temple Judaism; note 4 Ezra 8:1: “The Most High made this world for the sake of many, but the world to come for the sake of few” (see also 4 Ezra 7:47; 9:15). Isaiah 37:32, a text that is sometimes referred to in this context, speaks of a “remnant” and a “band of survivors” who shall go out from Jerusalem, but the context in Isa. 37 is limited to a temporary restoration of fortunes for Jerusalem.
Luke 13:24 Strive to enter: Greek (agonizomai), suggests great labor and struggle in the effort to get through the door. The verb is used in other contexts of an athlete in training (1 Cor 9:25).
Luke 13:25 arisen and locked the door: This recalls the image from Matthew 25:10-12 (parable of the foolish virgins). In Luke there are two terms used for “rise” – anistēmi for the sense of rising in order to accomplish something (cf. 1:39; 4:29; 6:8) – and egeirō for “rise up” which is the term Luke uses here and for the prediction of the resurrection (9:22). Is this then an intentional allegory?
- Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 528-33
- Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William. Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985). -Foerster, “sōtḗr,” VII, 980-1012
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©