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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – The Narrow and Soon Shut Door (13:22-30)
The Narrow and Soon Shut Door (13:22-30)

The time is short, and the kingdom comes, but how important is it that a decision be made? Jesus' parable of the narrow and soon shut door makes it clear that making a decision, and the right one, is crucial. In Western culture many people believe that there are many ways to God, that the road to heaven is like the interstate highway (or motorway) system—there are many available routes. In contrast, Jesus compares spiritual blessing to entering a banquet room where, once the door is closed, entry is no longer allowed.

After noting that Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem, Luke turns to a parable that responds to the question "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" Apparently Jesus' teaching has created the impression that salvation will be restrictive. Again Jesus takes a general theological question and personalizes it.

Jesus is clear from the start: "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door." The verb here, make every effort, or better "strive" (NRSV; 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). Our world places many obstacles before us, as does our own pride. Access to God is not a wide-open, take-anyroute-you-want affair. He sets the route's ways and means. So many . . . will try to enter and will not be able to. Such restrictiveness would not surprise this Jewish audience, since it was already taught that Israel was God's elect nation (m. Sanhedrin 10:1; 2 Esdras 7:47; 8:4—9:22). Second Esdras 8:3 reads, "Many are created, but few are saved." The surprise in Jesus' reply is not that access may be limited, but who gains entry.

There will come a time when the householder arises and shuts the door, announcing that the time for filling the room has come to an end. Those on the outside of the closed door will knock, seeking entrance, but it will be denied. The basis of the refusal is the Master's declaration that he does not know those who knock. Earlier, when there had been opportunity to get to know the Lord, those outside had not been interested. So the Lord now says, "I don't know you or where you come from." The Lord's denial perplexes those who appeal for entry, since they once had meals in Jesus' presence and listened to his teaching in the streets. But Jesus' reply makes it clear that exposure is not knowledge. Something more than presence is required in coming to know Jesus. So he tells them, "I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!" Outward contact with Jesus means nothing; inward reception is everything (6:46-49; Jn 1:12). There is no bargaining with the Lord here. The issue is simply, Did you know him?

Rejection means weeping and gnashing of teeth, the pain that comes from knowing one has been excluded from blessing (Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Contrary to some popular perceptions of the deity, he can and will say no. Jesus' audience will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. The parable warns people not to assume they are in the kingdom on the basis of exposure to Jesus or on the basis of elect ethnic origin. The patriarchs of Judaism will be there, but that does not mean every physical descendant of Abraham will. One had better decide for Jesus while the door remains open and there still is time. A responsive heart to Jesus is what God seeks.

In fact, there is another surprise: people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. This means that the nations will be blessed at God's table. The blessed of God will come from everywhere. The disciples did not immediately grasp this truth and its implications. The special vision of Acts 10 was needed to reveal how it would work. Even today, though Israel has a special place in God's plan, others are not excluded from blessing. We all have equal access to God's blessing through Jesus (Eph 2:11-22). Even the promise to Abraham stressed how the world would eventually be blessed through the patriarch's seed (Gen 12:1-3). Galatians 3 explains how that promise is realized now in Jesus.

So Jesus closes his parable of warning with a note of eschatological reversal. Expectations are overturned as there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. Many will get to the table, including some surprises. All are on the same footing. In today's context the warning of this passage might be that those who are first (who have exposure to Christ through attendance at the church) may turn out to be last (excluded from blessing) if they do not come personally through the door by personally receiving what Jesus offers. Simply put, knowing Jesus is the issue. As John 10:7 puts it, Jesus is the door for the sheep.

But really Jesus has turned the question around. His questioner had asked, "Will the saved be few?" Jesus replies with the question, "Will the saved be you?"

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