A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:13-14. A Christian’s relationships: To false prophets (continued).
Thirdly, there are two destinations. We have already seen this foreshadowed in Psalm 1, where ‘prospering’ and ‘perishing’ are the alternatives. Moses made it clearer still: ‘See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil …, blessing and curse; therefore choose life.’ (Dt.30:15,19; cf.Je.21:8). Similarly, Jesus taught that the easy way, entered by the wide gate, leads to *destruction*. He did not define what he meant by this, and presumably the precise nature of hell is as much beyond our finite understanding as the precise nature of heaven. But the terrible word ‘destruction’ (terrible because God is properly the creator, not the destroyer, and because man was created to live, not to die) seems at least to give us liberty to say that everything good will be destroyed in hell – love and loveliness, beauty and truth, joy, peace and hope – and that for ever. It is a prospect too awful to contemplate without tears. For the broad road is suicide road.
By contrast, the hard way, entered by the narrow gate, leads to *life*, even to that ‘eternal life’ which Jesus explained in terms of fellowship with God, beginning here but perfected hereafter, in which we see and share his glory, and find perfect fulfilment as human beings in the selfless service of him and our fellows.
Fourthly, there are two crowds. Entering by the wide gate and travelling along the easy road to destruction are *many*. The broad and easy road is a busy thoroughfare, thronged by pedestrians of every kind. The narrow and hard way that leads to life, however, seems to be comparatively deserted. *Those who find it are few.* Jesus seems to have anticipated that his followers would be (or at least would appear to be and feel themselves to be) a despised minority movement. He saw multitudes on the broad road, laughing and carefree and apparently no thought for the dreadful end to which they are heading, while on the narrow road there is just a ‘happy band of pilgrims’, hand in hand, backs turned upon sin and faces set towards the Celestial City, ‘singing songs of expectation, marching to the promised land’.
I do not think that we can build on this contrast between the *few* and the *many* any speculation that the final number of God’s redeemed will be small. If we compare Scripture with Scripture (as we always must), we shall want to put alongside this teaching of Jesus the vision of John that the redeemed before God’s throne will be ‘a great multitude which no man can number’ (Rev.7:9). How to reconcile these two concepts I do not know. Nor am I clear how this passage relates to the perplexing problem of those who have never heard the gospel. For one word which is common to both crowds, the ‘few’ and the ‘many’, is the verb ‘enter’. It is because the many ‘enter’ by the wide gate that Jesus urges his hearers to ‘enter by the narrow gate’. This implies that neither crowd is ignorant of the issues; each has been presented with a choice and has deliberately ‘entered’ one or other way. The whole picture seems to relate only to those who have had the opportunity of decision for or against Christ; it simply leaves out of view those who have never heard. We shall be wise, therefore, not to preoccupy our minds with such speculative questions, as on another occasion Jesus himself implied. Somebody asked him: ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ But he declined to satisfy their curiosity. Instead he replied: ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door.’ (Lk.13:23,24).
To recapitulate, there are according to Jesus only two ways, hard and easy (there is no middle way), entered by two gates, broad and narrow (there is no other gate), trodden by two crowds, large and small (there is no neutral group), ending in two destinations, destruction and life (there is no third alternative), It is hardly necessary to comment that such talk is extremely unfashionable today. People like to be uncommitted. Every opinion poll allows not only for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, but for a convenient ‘don’t know’. Men are lovers of Aristotle and of his golden mean. The most popular path is the *via media*. To deviate from the middle way is to risk being dubbed an ‘extremist’ or a ‘fanatic’. Everybody resents being faced with the necessity of a choice. But Jesus will not allow us to escape it.
Tomorrow: Matthew: 7:15-20. The peril of false teachers.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.