30 December 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... the majority's eternal destination? (Full post)

by Dan Phillips
"Barring something extraordinary, odds are most people will end up in Heaven. Nothing to get worked up about."
Let's key off of Mark Lussier's comment from the last post: Of course we musn't forget about John 3:16 ;), Mark wrote. Indeed, not; so let's take a closer look: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." So if "whoever believes in" Jesus does "not perish, but [has] eternal life," what does that say about those who do not believe in Jesus? Clearly, they do perish, and they do not have eternal life.

That, then, must be the default setting of man, according to the Gospel: bereft of eternal life, and headed surely for perdition. After all, no one is born believing in Jesus. To enter that state would require a change, a shift; it is a shift that is necessary for a change of destiny. Minus that change, the destiny is death and perdition. Something extraordinary must happen, to change our fate.

Exegetically it is difficult to tell whether John presents this verse as Jesus' words or his own thoughts. There is, however, no such question about Matthew 5-7, the famed Sermon on the Mount. In a recent post, we had a drive-by  commenter give the Sermon a careless glance, and he pronounced it unremarkable. That's a bit like glancing up in a particular structure in Italy and pronouncing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel "a bit busy."

Regardless, Jesus approaches a critical, confrontive, red-hot climax to His sermon with these words:
“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" (Matthew 7:13-14).
What is Jesus saying? He is saying that the easiest, broadest, and most popular way is that which leads to destruction. For that reason, it is the most well-traveled; "many" take that path.

By contrast, the path to life is narrow, it is a hard way, and those traveling by it are relatively "few." So something extraordinary must happen for one to get off the majority's path, and onto the minority's.

On another occasion, Jesus is asked, frontally and in so many words, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). Well, that set it right out, plain and blunt. How will He answer?

One thing we soon learn about our Lord is that He was not over-fond of gauzy, billowy theological yarning. Jesus shows no great affection for "what-if's" and "what-abouts." So here, rather than answering the question in detached terms, in effect He says "You are asking the wrong question. Standing here, in front of Me, you should not first be thinking about them, what they are going to do, and where they are going to go. You had better concern yourself with you. You strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able — and 'many' means you, unless something changes" (cf. Luke 13:24).

Jesus tells His questioner that he will have to "strive," he will have to focus and struggle and give effort — because "life" is not his default-setting. It is ordinary for him to miss the door. It would take something extraordinary for him to find it.

It was similar with those who may have been getting out their what-if and how-about game pieces when a bunch of Galileans were killed by Pilate, and some others had a tower fall on them. Ooh, juicy stuff — what theological debates can we get into over that?


None, Jesus responded; none, except one: "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. ...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (cf. Luke 13:1-5). Two stories, one moral.

In fact, this takes us all the way back to Jesus' first recorded sermon in Matthew — not the Sermon on the Mount, but this: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).

Repent, Jesus says. Repent: plunge yourself into a fundamental paradigm shift towards God and the world. Something extraordinary must happen in your heart and life. Change! Transform!

So we return to our opening thought. I daresay that most people would agree with what Jesus didn't say. That is, most would agree that, barring something extraordinary, they're headed for Heaven. I mean, if they turned into some kind of Hitler or Dahmer or Pol Pot, then they'd be in peril. Otherwise? Relax. Don't sweat it. Nothing to get "het up" about.

Don't you see, Jesus' thinking is the exact opposite? The default setting of man is death and doom. Unless something extraordinary happens — unless he repents, unless he finds the narrow door, unless he is miraculously born again — he is heading towards the wrath of God without a plea, a hope, or even a prayer.

Do the math, dear reader, as we head for the year's close. This means that the odds are that you and I both are headed for damnation — barring something extraordinary. It is not that we must have an extraordinary reason to believe that someone (including ourselves!) is doomed; it is that we must have an extraordinary reason to believe that someone is saved.

The Gospel alone provides that reason, in and through and because of Christ alone..

This, in closing, is one thing that drives me a bit nuts about emerg*s, liberals, and academics. we already saw that Jesus was deadly-earnest about all this. Further, Jesus said,
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4-5).
Given what we've been looking at, that makes perfect sense. It makes sense of the generations and generations and generations of Christians who have died for their faith, embraced torture and death rather than renounce the faith, sometimes with songs of praise on their lips.

But emerg*s, academics, liberals, tough-talking self-promoters? What would they die for? About what are they urgent? They play around with eternal truths, and eternal souls, as if it were all just a great gay game, just a grand faculty tea social. They give interviews to unbelievers, and write articles and present speeches and sermons, and spend the time whacking on Biblically-faithful Christians and puffing themselves up, leaving their hearers confirmed in their contempt for the Gospel.

It isn't like anything Jesus would say.

And I can't imagine He'd think much of it.

Dan Phillips's signature

20 comments:

Matt Aznoe said...

Your description at the end brought this passage to mind:

"Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant..."
(2Pe 2:10b-12a ESV)

Excellent article, Dan. I have been studying Philippians, and the example set by Jesus and by Paul's pursuit of Him is very challenging. I think far too many of us do not take our walk with God seriously enough. It is truly an issue of life and death.

"that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
(Php 3:10-11 ESV)

Andrew Perriman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Perriman said...

Dan, what makes us so sure that Jesus was speaking about all humanity and not simply Israel? He only ever makes reference to the Jews—he has virtually nothing to say about the rest of humanity, certainly not in the synoptics. The story of a broad and narrow way is very like Jeremiah's bit about setting before the people of Jerusalem, facing destruction by the Babylonians, a way of life and a way of death (Jer. 21:8). Isn't it likely that Jesus uses the imagery in a similar way to speak of judgment and salvation for Israel? So only a few will be saved from this historical destruction. It is unrepentant Jews who risk being killed either by the sword or by collapsing buildings when the day of divine judgment comes (Lk. 13:1-5).

It's not that the judgment and salvation of Gentiles or of the rest of humanity is not part of the New Testament story; it's just that, as far as I can see, this is not what Jesus was speaking about.

Andrew Perriman said...

Dan, what makes us so sure that Jesus was speaking about all humanity and not simply Israel? He only ever makes reference to the Jews—he has virtually nothing to say about the rest of humanity, certainly not in the synoptics. The story of a broad and narrow way is very like Jeremiah's bit about setting before the people of Jerusalem, facing destruction by the Babylonians, a way of life and a way of death (Jer. 21:8). Isn't it likely that Jesus uses the imagery in a similar way to speak of judgment and salvation for Israel? So only a few will be saved from this historical destruction. It is unrepentant Jews who risk being killed either by the sword or by collapsing buildings when the day of divine judgment comes (Lk. 13:1-5).

It's not that the judgment and salvation of Gentiles or of the rest of humanity is not part of the New Testament story; it's just that, as far as I can see, this is not what Jesus was speaking about.

benjermcveigh.com said...

I think Andrew makes a good point...context is key here. However, I think it's far more difficult to build an argument that Jesus was addressing the Israelites than all of humanity. Even if he is, why should the principle be exegeted and applied to Gentiles as well, as we do with other passages?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"But emerg*s, academics, liberals, tough-talking self-promoters? What would they die for? About what are they urgent?"

Tentative Answers:

Social Justice? Global Warming? Same-Sex Marriage? A Woman's Right to Not Choose Life for her unborn child? Civility in Public Discourse? Tolerance? Diversity? Pluralism? Progressive Liberalism?

Reflexively taking any position counter to what theological "conservatives" adopt?

donsands said...

Jesus came to His own, but His own didn't want Him.

"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."



"I will make you as a light for the nations [Gentiles],
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6

The Lord came to save His people from their sin. He came to lay down His life for His Sheep. And He has sheep from a different fold, and He will make one flock.

Stan McCullars said...

That'll preach brother!!!

Charlie said...

I dont read Jesus specifically at anytime speaking to Jews only, and if He was he would have said so.

"If any man Hear these words..." etc etc. He didnt say if Any Jew hear these words.
"He who has ears to hear"... So only jews have ears?
Come on, that's pathetic.

Someone said that was a good point.
I don't think it was a good point at all.

To me it only smacks of a childish and desperate attempt to make Jesus's words mean anything else other than what they obviously mean, in order to remain in the dark and claim to be agnostic. ('Agnostic' is merely a euphemism for 'ignorant', by the way). But being willingly ignorant will never fly, try as one might.

If I can see that, surely The One who made me can certainly see it and all the more clearly.

Stefan said...

It's a shame that this post isn't generating more interaction than the trainwreck one floor down.

This is hard stuff...for us Christians, too...but the rocky path of this life is, we are told, preferable to perdition in the next.

"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

Jeri Tanner said...

Excellent words and thoughts, Dan, and encouraging.

Sonja said...

Dan, once again, thanks for this series. Today I read John 8 not long after visiting here. I ended up with a different perspective and it meant more to me because I kept thinking about what you are pointing us to here and in previous posts.

John 8:21 So he said to them again, "I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come."

A hard truth. Truth regardless, and nothing is easy unless I confess my own spiritual bankruptcy apart from Him.

A blessed new year to Team Pyro and all the visitors. :)

Mark Lussier said...

This morning, I was at a bible study that was discussing John 13. Someone brought up the idea that 'free will' was one of the greatest examples of God's love for mankind; that he allows us to choose to follow him or not. I thought. 'My free will had me on the wide road leading to destruction. Thank God, He didn't leave it up to me!" Today, I am challenged by Philippians 2:12 and greatly encouraged by Philippians 2:13.

Scooter said...

Other than missing the fact that good treatment of kittens gets you to heaven the post is spot on.

But more seriously, this post was a good reminder to continue pushing to enter the narrow gate. Christ is a beauirful and all-sufficient Savior, and his rod and staff push and wack my thick head toward the narrow gate.


I tried to post something about wack-your-forehead groups mentioned above and the narrow gate, bur it never came together. So I will praise the convictedness of this post.

μαρτυς said...

Fear and Trembling in Lost's Wages...Doing a study of the Parable of the Sower and am struck by the 4 to 1 ratio of the Called (hearers of the word), to the Elect (those of the good ground/hearts). And, of course, that's just a ratio of the types of Called--the actual number of hearts receiving the seeds that fall by the Way is not mentioned, per se, but the heavy implication is that they are far and away the majority...many find the broad way; few find the narrow Way.

thomas4881 said...

Luke 6:39 He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

JackW said...

I like the way that the posts this week by you and Frank intertwined like a two part harmony. It’s like you share the same brain or something.

Strong Tower said...

JackW said... "like you share the same brain"

The Brain with the Two Mans starring DJP as Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr and Frank Turk as Dr. Alfred Necessiter...

works for me.

TAR said...

Amen

Rachael Starke said...

JackW -

Have Dan and Frank ever been photographed together? Ever?

Things that make you go "Hmmmmmm"....

;)