Vol. 8, No. 2
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In this article, we hope to define the carefulness with which Christians need to purposely prepare for eternity. After all, no one will awake on eternity's dawn to find that he or she accidentally arrived within heaven's eternal refuge. Only those who with carefulness and purpose navigate successfully the obstacles and temptations of this sin-forlorn (Romans 5:12) and devil-ruled world (2 Corinthians 4:4) will achieve heaven hereafter. Hapless masses of humanity who wander through life aimlessly (or even obstinately, Jeremiah 6:16) will not experience God's heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ stated publicly in his Sermon on the Mount that comparatively few souls will pursue the narrow, difficult highway to heaven with enough determination to actually arrive within the confines of God's eternal home (Matthew 7:13-14). Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 are a double statement of the futility of mortal man choosing for himself his own pathway through this life.
Let's consider Matthew 7:13 more carefully: "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat." First, we come to the phrase, "Enter ye in." The Greek word for "in" at this place means "through." "Enter ye in" is no mere mental assent, but actual activity, howbeit a physical illustration represents necessary spiritual activity to be saved.
Next, we encounter an interesting word, "Strait." This word is only used by Jesus, twice in Matthew 7:13-14 and once in Luke 13:24 on different occasions but on the same subject. Some confusion results over the word "strait":
The words "straight" and "strait" have very different meanings. The former means "not crooked;" the latter, "pent up, narrow, difficult to be entered." This is the word used here, and it means that the way to heaven is "pent up, narrow, close," and not obviously entered. The way to death is open, broad, and thronged. (Barnes')
Strong's concordance defines this word as "narrow (from obstacles standing close about)" (Biblesoft's). A Greek Lexicon adds to the definition of "strait" "being narrow or restricted" (Louw and Nida). Robertson says of "strait" and "narrow" that the way is "compressed," (Robertson's).
The word "gate" is used the way in which we would refer to it. Literally, the Greek for "gate" here means "the leaf or wing of a folding entrance" (Biblesoft's). Similar to the "gate" here, Jesus referred to himself as "the door" (John 10:9) as well as "the way, the truth and the life" between humanity and an eternal home with God (John 14:6).
The word "for" here means "because." The word "wide" can mean an "open square" (Biblesoft's). The word "broad" at this place means "spacious" (Biblesoft's) or "roomy" (Bauer, Gingrich and Danker). The word "way" means "road" (Biblesoft's) or a "natural path" (Vine's); the ways under consideration may at first consideration appear natural, probably especially the "broad way," which requires little to no thought to traverse. "Leadeth" means "to take off" (Biblesoft's) or "[l]iterally, 'leadeth away'" (Vincent's), as to misdirect one's journey. The word "to" at this place means "into."
"Destruction" means "ruin or loss" (Biblesoft's). The destruction here is comparable to the "everlasting punishment" of Matthew 25:46. "Life. Here a contrasting parallel to destruction" (Wycliffe). "Go in" means "enter." "Thereat" means "through" and indicates activity, not innocent inactivity; even inactivity religiously bears guilt (the sin of omission, James 4:17; Matthew 12:30).
Now consider Matthew 7:14: "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." "Narrow" means "to crowd" (Biblesoft's) or "to cause someone to suffer trouble or hardship" (Louw and Nida). "Few" means "puny," indicating a small number of something (Biblesoft's). "Find" is sometimes translated as "get," "obtain," "perceive" or "see."
Some other translations incorporate these word meanings into their text, which contributes to a fuller understanding of what Jesus had to say.
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. ESV
Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. NKJV
Let us now consider the illustration, the meaning and the application of this segment of Jesus' discourse in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus used a multi-faceted illustration with which his audience was well familiar. Jesus referred to two different kinds of roadways.
The Saviour here referred probably to ancient cities. They were surrounded with walls and entered through gates. Some of those, connected with the great avenues to the city, were broad and admitted a throng; others, for more private purposes, were narrow, and few would be seen entering them. So, says Christ, is the path to heaven. It is narrow. It is not "the great highway" that people tread. Few go there. …The way to death, on the other hand, is broad. Multitudes are in it. It is the great highway in which people go. They fall into it easily and without effort, and go without thought. If they wish to leave that and go by a narrow gate to the city, it would require effort and thought. …"Broad is the road that leads to death, And thousands walk together there; But wisdom shows a narrower path, With here and there a traveler." (Barnes')
Our Saviour seems to allude here to the distinction between the public and private ways mentioned by the Jewish lawyers. The public roads were allowed to be sixteen cubits broad, the private ways only four. The words in the original are very emphatic… (Clarke's)
Jesus referred to two different kinds of cities and two kinds of gates.
The Master here presents two cities before us. One has a wide gateway opening onto the broad street, and other a narrow gate opening onto a straitened street or alley. The first city is Destruction, the second is Life. (McGarvey and Pendleton)
The figure that Jesus uses is that of two final destinations under the form of two cities, "Destruction" and "Life." Each city has a gate by which it is entered: one is wide and the other, narrow. Each city is approached by a road: one broad, the other restricted of passage. Note that, for Jesus, there be only these two possible choices as live options… (Fowler)
Nearly every town in Palestine is surrounded by walls and is entered by gates. The principal ones are wide, with double doors, closed with locks and fastened with iron bars. The "strait gates" are in retired corners, are narrow, and are only opened to those who knock. (Johnson)
Jesus taught that there are only two possible eternities.
The sum of what our Saviour here saith is this: There are but two ultimate ends of all men, eternal destruction and eternal life. The course that leadeth to destruction is like a broad way that is obvious to all, and many walk in that. That course of life and actions which will bring a man to heaven is strait, unpleasing to flesh and blood, not at all gratifying men's sensitive appetites, and narrow, (the Greek is, afflicted), a way wherein men will meet with many crosses and temptations; and there are but a few will find it. (Poole)
Jesus here presents in a very vivid way the two ways-the narrow way and the broad way. These two ways are brought in contrast by a series of words; narrow is opposed to wide; few, to many; and life, to destruction…[The pathway to life is hedged and hindered by many difficulties and troubles. It must be walked with care and watchfulness, lest the way be missed and evil befall us. The way of life is a plain and simple way; but there are obstacles and difficulties…the narrow way is difficult; the others are easy to follow.] (Boles)
Finally, no lesson is complete without an application. The Sermon on the Mount and our Lord's teaching about the kingdom of heaven are the backdrop for Matthew 7:13-14.
The leading thought of the whole discourse is the kingdom of heaven and its conditions. Hence, when the Lord says, "Enter ye in," he means into the kingdom of heaven. (Johnson)
It is a sad fact that few souls, comparatively speaking, will be saved eternally and most souls will be lost eternally. Someone asked Jesus if only a few would be saved, and Jesus answered in the affirmative in Luke 13:23-25.
Many are called but few accept God's invitation. The majority of humanity will be lost. Therefore, choose well which decision you will make! (Fowler)
The relative number of the saved and the lost is plain from this. They shall be as the few to the many. This eternally recurring contrast between the numbers of the saved and the lost with reference to each succeeding generation should not be discouraging. Wheat does not grow grain all the way to the ground but only in the ear. Although salvation is obtainable and available for all who truly desire it, the plain fact is that the majority in all generations will despise it. And, of wheat, it will be remembered that Christ himself used this grain as a figure of the saved and lost in Matthew 3:12. The relative number of redeemed souls in any generation is not the scale by which God's success may be measured. God will keep on saving men until the "fullness" of his purpose is achieved (Rom. 11:25). (Coffman)
Jesus taught a crucial lesson as applicable today as when he spoke it.
However, Jesus may be only saying, "'It is the easiest thing in the world to destroy oneself, and the majority of the world's people are doing just that." Many are they that enter in thereby. Here is another clue to the impending difficulties of Christian discipleship. (Cf, 5: 10-12). This is a veiled warning that one must be prepared to go against convention, custom and the crowd, and be different even if it means walking alone. Men must not take their moral cue from others, because they too may be lost. Many will be destroyed who did not believe themselves on the broad way.…It requires effort, sacrifice and self-surrender to enter into Life. (Cf. Mt. 19:16-22) And few are they that find it. There is certainly no easy optimism in this sad declaration of Jesus. Jesus intends this statistically negative picture as a frank warning that makes His disciples realists who know what to expect in His service. He would have them make their decision wisely. (Fowler)
There have always been only two paths for mortals through life toward eternity (Deuteronomy 30:19; Jeremiah 21:8), and God has always warned mankind to avoid the pathway that leads to death (Psalm 1:1). Rather, God has always given good counsel to travel "the way of holiness" (Isaiah 35:8; Proverbs 4:26-27). However, the pathway that leads to a heavenly home with God is fraught with obstacles, temptations, "tribulation" (Acts 14:22) and "afflictions" (1 Thessalonians 3:2-4). Jesus, however, is our Great Shepherd who will lead us to heaven if we will only follow him (Hebrews 13:20). Jesus said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). Unfaithful Christians can renew their journey toward heaven through penitence and prayer (Acts 8:11; 1 John 1:9).
The journey through life toward God's heaven is not easy, especially with the multitudes about us who travel the superhighway to hell, whose influence wares on the Christian. Further, the narrow way is arduous, far from either a superhighway or easy to travel. The good news, of course, is that we can be victorious through divine help (Philippians 4:13) and arrive at heaven's gate to receive our crown of eternal life (2 Timothy 4:8).
Adam Clarke's Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Bauer, Walter, F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Boles, H. Leo. A Commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew. CD-ROM. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 2005.
Coffman, James Burton. James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library. CD-ROM. Abilene: ACU P, 1989.
Fowler, Harold. Gospel of Matthew, The. CD-ROM. Joplin: College P, 1968.
Johnson, B.W. People's New Testament, The. St. Louis: Christian Publishing Co. 1891. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2004.
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene A. Nida. CD-ROM. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.
McGarvey, J.W. and Philip Y. Pendleton. Four-Fold Gospel. CD-ROM. Cincinnati: Standard, 1914.
Poole, Matthew. Matthew Poole's Commentary on the New Testament. CD-ROM. Escondido: The Ephesians Four Group, 1997.
Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville: Broadman P, 1985. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft & Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament, 1997.
Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1985.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary, The. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P, 1962.