How Many Will Be Saved?
It’s not that it isn’t a good question. It’s just that it’s the wrong question. We’ve all asked this question in one form or another at some time. Who is going to be saved? Is it going to be more than I think? Less than I think? Are we talking a lot, or a little? Where’s the line between those who are in & those who are out? How wide is the door? Or, Does the door lead to a great hall … or to a closet?
We wonder about death-row converts and celebrity converts. We wonder how good your theology has to be to get in. The Calvinist wonders about the Arminian; the Arminian about the Calvinist. We wonder about men like Billy Graham, who was clearly used by God, only to make heretical statements late in his life. We wonder about loved ones who get Alzheimer’s and suddenly starts doing and saying things incompatible with the faith they’ve held for years.
The door seems wide when God says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31) or, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:18) On the other hand, it seems narrow when Jesus tells the wealthy man to sell his possessions and give to the poor, and adds, 23 “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matt 19:23–24) The disciples picked up on the narrowness, and asked, 25 “Who then can be saved?” to which Jesus answers, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:25–26)
Sometimes it seems like the answer to the man’s question is, “Few will be saved.” When, e.g., Jesus says, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:14) And sometimes it seems like the answer to the man’s question is “Not at all, many will be saved.” When, e.g., we are told what the scene will be like in the end, “9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:9–10)
A Better Question
As much as we want that question answered, it is the wrong question. The answer to that question is none of our business. That belongs to God’s secret counsel. The question the man ought to have asked is, “Am I going to be saved?” Rather than wondering who else is going to be saved, consider where you stand before God.
Many will seek to enter and will be turned away. They’ll have great remorse…weeping & gnashing of teeth. But they won’t be given entry. No amount of pleading or begging or crying … or too-late-repentance … will move the Lord, who has shut the door at last.
We’ve seen Jesus teach these things before on his journey to Jerusalem.
- You do not know the day or the hour. (Luke 12:40)
- It will come like a thief in the night. (Luke 12:46)
- Make peace with your accuser along the way. (Luke 12:57)
because when that certain but unpredictable day comes, it will be too late.
Last First; First Last
The man asking the question is a Jew. And as Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22). Children of the covenant, “the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2) They were exposed to the gospel. This is a great advantage to them. It gives them first-tier access to the gospel of life. But it does not grant them automatic entry into the kingdom.
Jesus is warning the Jews that they are in danger of losing their first-tier status. They may look down on the tax collectors and sinners and Samaritans and gentiles. But they will be flocking to the kingdom while the sons of the kingdom are barred from entry. This is a terribly sad reality that will lead Jesus to lament the fate of Jerusalem.
Today, you who are members of the visible church, have first-tier access to the gospel. Don’t squander it as the Jews did. Proximity to the truth doesn’t save you. Embracing the truth does. Many who are baptized, who attend church regularly, who are in close proximity to Jesus through church fellowship, who fully expect to be welcomed into the kingdom, will be refused entry. And that is tragic. They have not taken their very great need for salvation to heart. They have not surrendered their lives to the lordship of Christ. They are not trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. They are covenant breakers.
The Narrow Door
Embrace the gospel. You are a sinner. God offers you grace, based solely upon the finished work of Jesus Christ. And that grace transforms your life, as you submit to the Lordship of your savior. When you find an area of your life that God calls you to submit to him, do it. It’s a struggle … a long one. It’s a narrow door and a narrow path. And know that your struggle, if it is genuine … if you genuinely hate your sin and long for the righteousness of Jesus Christ … then your striving is from the Spirit, and hope is yours. If you are not struggling, beware, lest you be left in the darkness when the door is shut.