Why Many Will Seek to Enter but not Be Able

Why Many Will Seek to Enter Heaven but Few Will Enter (Luke 13:24-30)

Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). We should consider the following verses to see why many will seek to enter heaven but few will enter.

There are some things in life that you can be late for while other things can be very problematic if you’re late. For example, you can be late to a movie or a sporting event, but if you’re late for the bus or a flight, you’re in trouble. When I was in Army ROTC in college the commander of the program was Colonel Brewer. He told all of us, “My class starts on time, and when it starts I shut the door, lock it, and I don’t open it. If you’re late, don’t try to get in.”

One of the cadets told me about a time that he was eating lunch at the same time as Colonel Brewer. He was watching him to see when he left so that he could follow him to class. He walked behind Colonel Brewer, expecting that Colonel Brewer would let him in when he reached the classroom because he knew he was walking behind him, but he still locked him out.

The most terrifying example of being locked out in the Old Testament occurred in Noah’s day. Noah spent 120 years building the ark. The earth began to flood. Noah, his family, and the animals got on the ark, and then we read: “Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And THE LORD SHUT HIM IN” (Genesis 7:16). Shutting them in meant shutting everyone else out.

We Should Consider Why Many Will Seek to Enter Heaven but Few Will Enter

I can’t imagine what it was like for those people locked outside the ark. As terrible as this would have been it doesn’t compare to being locked out of heaven: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). So, let’s look at the following verses to see why many will seek to enter heaven but few will enter.

Jesus said, “I say to you.” The word you occurs 13 times in Luke 13:24-28, because Jesus wanted to make this personal. Please keep that in mind. We should picture Jesus speaking directly to us if we haven’t entered!

Luke 13:25 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.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’

This is interesting! These were not people who openly rejected Jesus. They were people who spent time with him during His earthly ministry. They had been around Him. They heard His teaching. He had been among them. They probably witnessed His miracles. They had even eaten and drank with Him and enjoyed His fellowship. The simple way to say it is this: they are people who looked like they were saved.

And they seemed to think they were saved. They mentioned their behavior that led them to this conclusion and caused them to think they should be able to enter. But the claim to have been in social settings with Jesus and even to have been in his audience listening to his teaching carried no weight with him.

The Question Is, “Does the Lord Know You?”

If I had to think of what these people would look like today, it would be religious people who believe they’ve spent time with Jesus, listened to his teaching, but they didn’t have a saving relationship with him. These people, along with those in Matthew 7 who say, “Lord, Lord,” but hear, “Depart from me” are the best examples in Scripture of having a false sense of security. Two times (Luke 13:25 and 27) Jesus said, “I do not know where you come from.” They thought they knew him, but he didn’t know them. He told them the exact opposite of what they expected.

It is not enough to know something of Jesus and have some association with him. He must know and recognize us. When Jesus says, “I do not know where you come from,” it sounds as though there are people Jesus doesn’t know. Of course, he knew them in a sense: He knew who they were and he knew of their lives. But he didn’t know them in a salvific way. He wasn’t their Savior. It is similar to Jesus’s words in Matthew 7:23 when he said, “I never knew you.”

When we talk about salvation, we’ll commonly ask whether people “know the Lord.” But it’s not just an issue of whether people say they know the Lord. It is an issue of whether the Lord knows us.

I stress this, because lots of people – especially those in cults – say they know the Lord. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Muslims will tell you about Christ, because they hold Him in high regard as a prophet. But it doesn’t mean the Lord knows them, which is to say He doesn’t have a relationship with them. When you speak to people in false religions and they want to convince you they know the Lord, “You might ask them: “Okay, but does the Lord know you?”

Consider these important words, “Now that you have come to know God, OR RATHER TO BE KNOWN BY GOD” (Galatians 4:9). We must be known by God, but the people in this parable were not.

The Lord Doesn’t Know People Who Haven’t Repented

Interestingly, two times (Luke 13:23 and 25) they said, “Lord.” That makes them sound saved, but what’s harder: Saying the right thing or doing the right thing? Anyone can say, “Lord,” but it’s another thing entirely for Jesus to BE our Lord.

Even though these people spent time with Jesus, and even though they called Him “Lord,” he wasn’t the Lord of their lives. Calling Jesus “Lord” was nothing more than lip service. Lord means Master, and if Jesus was the Lord, or Master, of their lives they wouldn’t be “workers of evil.” Jesus doesn’t say they WERE workers of evil. He says that’s what they are. Currently. Presently. They are in habitual sin. It is similar to the parallel account in Matthew 7:23: “Then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, YOU WORKERS OF LAWLESSNESS.’” Sin is a habit or pattern that they didn’t break.

Do Christians sin? Yes. All Christians continue to struggle against sin. But when we become Christians God puts His Spirit in us, and the Spirit is not going to let us live comfortably in sin. He is going to make us uncomfortable until we repent:

Romans 7:18 I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Paul described the struggle against sin that is in every Christian’s life. But that’s the problem for the people in these verses: there is no struggle against sin.

Jesus’s Indignation Toward Unbelievers

The words, “Depart from me,” are said with a certain scornful indignation. The words are not said with any amount of pity or compassion like we might expect. I’m not saying Jesus didn’t have compassion on these people, but I am saying it doesn’t come out in these verses. Instead, he simply casts them out of His presence, and there is no hesitation whatsoever.

How do we explain the hostility Jesus seemed to feel toward them, especially when they didn’t seem to reject him? The answer is the hypocrisy of their lives. They said they had a relationship with Jesus, but they didn’t live like it. They said they listened to his teaching, but they didn’t apply it their lives.

Second Timothy 2:19 says, “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord KNOWS THOSE WHO ARE HIS,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord DEPART FROM INIQUITY.’” The people in this parable named the name of the Lord. But they didn’t depart from iniquity, which is to say they hadn’t repented.

The Main Problem with Easy-Believism

The main problem with easy-believism is it doesn’t preach repentance. People have been told, “If you just believe…If you just say these words…You’ll be saved.” But it leaves out repentance, and without repentance there’s no salvation.

We stream the annual ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) conference at Woodland Christian Church. ACBC was previously called NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors). They changed the name because nobody knows what “nouthetic” means (it’s a translation of the Greek word for admonish). The father of this movement is Jay Adams, and he and his materials have received criticism from secular psychology. Here’s a quote criticizing Adams:

“Confrontation is essential to the theory of Adams.”

Benner, David G; Peter C. Hill (1999). Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling. Grand Rapids. p. 249.

Condemning Adams for confronting is basically condemning him for trying to see repentance. It makes sense that psychology would condemn Adams for this, because psychology works against repentance. Psychology teaches that you do bad things, because bad things happened to you:

  • You mistreat people because your parents mistreated you
  • You scream at your coworkers because your boss didn’t give you a raise

Basically, there’s an excuse for any bad behavior. But the Bible teaches we do bad things, because we’re bad. We have a sin nature. There’s no excuse. The only acceptable response is repentance. Christianity without confronting sin, or without repentance, is easy-believism and it looks more like psychology than Christianity.

The reason easy-believism is so dangerous is it’s so close to the Gospel. It is true that we’re saved by grace through faith, or by believing. But true, saving faith, or belief, produces repentance. Saving faith and repentance go hand-in-hand.

What Does not Replace Repentance

Luke 13:25 reveals two things that can’t replace repentance. The people said, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” This means people can spend time with Jesus and listen to his teaching. But even these things don’t serve as substitutes for repentance.

The Jews Thought They Would Enter Heaven and the Gentiles Would Enter Hell

Think about the Jews’ spiritual privileges:

  • Romans 3:1 What advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were ENTRUSTED WITH THE ORACLES OF GOD. The oracles of God is a way to refer to the Word of God, which is how it’s translated in some Bibles.
  • Romans 9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong THE ADOPTION, THE GLORY, THE COVENANTS, THE GIVING OF THE LAW, THE WORSHIP, AND THE PROMISES. 5 TO THEM BELONG THE PATRIARCHS, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. They had been given all this!

Spiritually speaking, it is hard to imagine God giving anyone more than he gave the Jews. Because of all they had been given, they thought they were going to heaven…simply for being Jews. When Jesus was trying to set them free from sin:

They [said], “WE ARE OFFSPRING OF ABRAHAM and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’? Abraham is our father” (John 8:33, 39).

They kept saying Abraham was their father, which meant, “We are going to heaven because we are descended from Abraham,” or in other words, because we are Jews.

When John was preparing the way for Jesus by performing baptisms of repentance, he told the Jews:

Matthew 3:8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘WE HAVE ABRAHAM AS OUR FATHER,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 

John wanted them to repent, but they thought they didn’t have to because they were Abraham’s descendants (Jews). And they thought Gentiles were NOT going to heaven. In Luke 13:24 they thought the Gentiles were “the many who would seek to enter but not be able.” But for the shock of their lives Jesus said:

The Jews Learned They Will Enter Hell, and the Gentiles Will Enter Heaven

Luke 13:25 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.’ 26 Then YOU will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell YOU, I do not know where YOU come from. Depart from me, all YOU workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when YOU see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but YOU yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.

The “you” is the Jews. Jesus “taught in [their] streets.” He spent almost his entire ministry in Jewish territory. So, there are going to be some Jews (the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets in verse 28) in the kingdom of God, but many of the Jews in Jesus’s day would be excluded. It gets even worse because verse 29 describes the Gentiles being part of the kingdom of God. This adds insult to injury: first the Jews learn they aren’t getting in, and then they learn Gentiles are getting in.

Hell will be absolutely terrible for anyone, but it will be even worse for the Jews who thought they would be in heaven, while the Gentiles, who the Jews thought would be in hell, end up in heaven. It ends up being the opposite of what they thought, which is what Jesus said:

Luke 13:30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

The “first” refers to the Jews, and the “last” refers to the Gentiles. It isn’t that Jews and Gentiles were going to change places in line. Instead, the first would be shut-out, and the last would be let in.

Not a Universal Law

In Luke 13:30 Jesus said, “SOME (referring to Gentiles) are last who will be first, and SOME (referring to Jews) are first who will be last.” Jesus did not say, “ALL Gentiles will be first” or “ALL Jews will be last.” In other words, not all Jews are lost, and not all Gentiles are saved.

There Will Be Surprises in the Kingdom of God

There are times Jesus said things and it almost seemed like He was trying to upset his audience. This is one of those instances. Jesus’s words would have been incredibly shocking – and probably infuriating – to the Jews:

There could hardly be a more radical statement of the change in God’s plan of salvation inaugurated by the mission of Jesus.”

R.T. France

Human expectations are completely reversed. The kingdom of God will be much different than we expect. We will be surprised by who is there, and who isn’t there:

  • Some people have been very prominent in this life and they will be completely unknown in the next life.
  • Some people have been completely unknown in this life and they will be very prominent in the next life.

Think of people:

  • persecuted for their faith
  • serving as missionaries in poverty in Third World countries
  • dealing with pain and disease in ways that glorify God
  • experiencing terrible loss, but remaining faithful
  • remaining faithful in situations that they are tempted to run from, such as a believing spouse who has to put up with a cruel unbelieving spouse

All of these people might be last in this life, but they will be first in the next life. The end of Luke 13:29 says they, “recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Even though it is only a few words, it gives us an idea what heaven will be like. It seems to be a place of:

  • rest in that we will sit down
  • fellowship in that we will enjoy the company of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets and plenty of other believers

We will meet people from all over the earth, and throughout all of history

But you shall hear those loved voices again; you shall hear those sweet voices once more, you shall yet know that those whom you loved have been loved by God. Would not that be a dreary heaven for us to inhabit, where we should be alike unknowing and unknown? I would not care to go to such a heaven as that. I believe that heaven is a fellowship of the saints, and that we shall know one another there.

Charles Spurgeon

A Sobering Passage

In Luke 13:28 Jesus described hell as “that place [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell is not a mindless passing into oblivion. It involves eternal torment, which this verse describes:

The definite articles with ‘weeping’ and ‘gnashing’ emphasize the horror of the scene: the weeping and the gnashing…Weeping suggests suffering and gnashing of teeth suggests despair.

DA Carson

Jesus was not afraid to speak of hell, and in fact did so more than anyone else in the Bible:

There are some ministers who never mention anything about hell. I heard of a minister who once said to his congregation – ‘If you do not love the Lord Jesus Christ you will be sent to that place which it is not polite to mention.’ He ought not to have been allowed to preach again, I am sure, if he could not use plain words.

Charles Spurgeon

This passage is a sobering one that should cause us to examine our salvation so that we wouldn’t hear the words, “Depart from me.”

20 Responses

  1. Awesome article, Scott. Thanks for shedding some light on this, because it is the best answer that I’ve found.

    1. Hello Chet,
      We are commanded to repent; therefore, it is something we can do. To say we are unable to repent would be to say that we must remain in sin.

      Although, I agree that pursuing a relationship with Christ is part of it. As we pursue Christ more sin is exposed and we have greater desire to repent.

  2. Luke 13:30 in Greek text not mentioned about “Some are” but forward ⏩ as….

    Those who are foremost….

    Thank you 🙏

  3. Thank you, Scott, for sharing word of God in such detailed with good exegesis. Today I came to know the real meaning of Luke 13:30.

    May good God use you in His ways. Thank you 🙏

  4. Thank you for your faithful study, exegesis, and communication of a difficult text! I am comforted by the reminder that repentance and turning from sin will cause us to not hear the words “Depart from Me.” I’m also challenged to repent continuously in such a way that my thoughts, words, and actions reflect that change of direction.

    1. Hello Ty,
      Nice to hear from you. Thank you for letting me know that my sermon ministered to you. Yes, it is incredibly encouraging to know that repentance and faith in Christ is all that is needed to be saved. God bless!

  5. Thank you for clearing this up for me. I recently dove into a deeper relationship with Abba and it stood out that ALL that seek will not enter the kingdom. I know I repent, and I talk to him about my struggles and praise Him like I would my own dad. I hope this is enough 😥. Another thing stood out as well. I recently filed for divorce because of a narcissistic husband and he was inhibiting my walk with Christ. You stated that these people would be first in Heaven: “And people remaining faithful in situations that they are tempted to run from, such as that believing spouse who has to put up with a cruel unbelieving spouse every day” but are you saying that I should stay in this situation?

    1. Hello Rachel,
      Nice to hear from you. I am sorry to hear that you are thinking of divorcing your husband. Yes, I am saying that you should stay married to your husband. You took vows on your wedding day that were unconditional. They did not contain the word “If.” In other words, you committed to remain faithful to your husband regardless of how he acts toward you. I am not saying you can’t separate, but you should not divorce. I could write much more, but I think it would be better if you read this post I wrote, which contains an accompanying sermon: What Does the Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage?

      After you look at this post, please let me know if you have any questions. I hope you will reach out if so. You can comment on this post, but if your question is about divorce and remarriage then it would be better if you commented on the other post.

  6. Thank you for your gospel reflection. I thank God for giving us an instrument to proclaim His message. May God bless you and your family. Keep spreading God’s love to the world.

  7. Seeing as the phrase, “Lord, Lord,” is also used as a warning in Matthew 25 where it states parameters for behavior (“35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”), then isn’t it restrictive to apply this just to the Jews, whereas today’s church is also full of workers of iniquity. What about when weh hear teaching but don’t apply it through faith to produce works?

    1. Hello David,
      I think I understand your question. If not, feel free to follow-up. Jesus repeatedly taught many of the same truths. This is why we see similarities between many of his teachings even in the same Gospels. The teaching in Matthew twenty-five does have some similarities to this passage in Luke 13 and the more well-known one in Matthew 7. Here’s my sermon on Matthew seven, Not Everyone Who Says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” Shall Enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where Jesus is similar words apply to everyone. As far as why I wouldn’t expand certain verses beyond the Jews, it is because I want to be faithful to the context. If Jesus was speaking to Jews then I don’t want to apply it to Gentiles, and if Jesus is speaking to Gentiles, but I don’t want to apply it to Jews. Of course much of his teaching applies to Jews and Gentiles, but faithfulness to the text requires us to stick with what he said.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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