Matthew 7:13-14 NET
The typical way of explaining the words of Jesus in today’s text is that when he talks about going through the narrow gate, he is referring to those who want to be Christians. All other religions take the wide gate and walk the spacious way to their own destruction. But there is a problem with that approach. These are the words of Jesus directed toward the apostles who had already sworn their allegiance to him as their master. Everyone that he spoke to had already committed themselves to enter his coming kingdom.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.
14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
So, what Jesus is talking about in today’s text is two ways of trying to enter the kingdom: the hard way and the easy way. The gate to the hard way is narrow, so people are less likely to choose it. The gate to the easy way is wide. It is very popular. He warns that only those who enter through the narrow gate will find life on the other side. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.
Look at what Jesus says after this:
- “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves.” (7:15).
- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ “Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!'” (7:21-23).
Leaders of the easy way are false prophets, but they look genuine. They prophesy and exorcise demons and do mighty works in Jesus’ name, and call him their lord. Jesus does not know them, and he didn’t send them, but they will be here claiming to do his will all the same. Inside they are wolves, not sheep.
These false prophets are a problem because they will appear within the visible church. If they actually represented other religions, we would not be tempted to listen to them. But they will come to us in sheep’s clothing. Some will actually be convinced that they are true believers.
How will we know a true Christian leader from a false one? Jesus also answered that question:
- “You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.” (7:16-20).
The leaders of the easy way will look like any other tree of the orchard, but the fruit they bear will be bad. The lives of those they lead will be disobedient and ungodly. That is how they can be recognized. The promoters of the easy way will end in destruction – by fire. The people who follow them will suffer the same fate. They will have built their houses on the wrong foundation, and it is only a matter of time in a world of rain, floods, and winds before such shoddy workmanship will be revealed.
Our Lord wants us to seek his kingdom the hard way, not the easy way. We see that in today’s text.
The wide gate is the default (13c).
Jesus said that “the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” In modern terms, it is the default — the choice that everyone makes unless presented with some reason not to. This would be no problem if the gate one chooses does not matter. But it does matter. The default gate leads to a spacious road — a road where there is plenty of room for lots of people to travel on. Unfortunately, the destination of that road is destruction.
There was a large crowd listening to Jesus as he preached the sermon on the mount to his apostles. Many of them were considering committing their lives to Jesus and becoming his disciples. He was warning them that simply deciding to follow him was not enough. There would be many hard choices that they would have to make. Life as a Christian would not be easy. They would be tempted to casually accept Christ as their savior, and then live their normal lives otherwise. Jesus warned them that the Christian life is not a normal life, and if they tried to stay normal, it would lead them in the opposite direction, no matter what they professed.
That is his message to you and me today. The default gate is always accessible. There are no obstacles to it. It is the easiest choice to make, and the life it promises looks like the best of both worlds. We can get our names on God’s list, but can still live like we want to.
But the problem is…
Those who enter the wide gate will be destroyed (13b).
The future destiny of those who are looking to enter the easy way is clear and plain. Those who look for the easy way in will find destruction. Eternal life is not something everyone is born with. It is conditional, the result of the right choice.
Jesus is not the only one who said that the fate of the lost is destruction.
Paul says that they are “objects of wrath ready for destruction” (Romans 9:22). He says their “end is destruction” (Philippians 3:19). He says they “will undergo the penalty of” permanent destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Peter agrees with Jesus and Paul on the fate of the lost as well; He says that “the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, by being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7).
Now with all this evidence in favor of what Jesus said about the fate of the lost, it might come as a surprise that most churches and most preachers are afraid to say what I just said. They insist that when Jesus and Paul and Peter talk about destruction they mean something else. Don’t believe it. Destruction means destruction. The second death is a second death, which will be permanent because there will be no resurrection from it. That is why choosing the right gate is so important.
The narrow gate is difficult to enter (14a).
Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult.” We have been studying the commands of Christ for many months now, and we can all agree that once we know what Jesus actually commanded, obeying those commands will be tough. He tells poor and suffering people to rejoice. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary people to influence the world when the world wants us to just be like them. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells ordinary Christians that their righteousness has to exceed that of religious professionals. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to reconcile with those who make us angry. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to stop lusting and be faithful to our spouses. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to be true to our word. It’s hard for us to do that. He tells us to love our enemies. It’s hard for us to do that.
The narrow gate is difficult to enter, but unfortunately…
The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life (14b).
He said, “the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” You and I have a choice. It’s not a simple choice of claiming to be a Christian or not. Remember, everyone that Jesus was talking to in today’s text had publically committed to following him. But Jesus warned them that there would be false teachers who would try to trip them up. He warned them that there would be those who claimed to be sheep but were actually wolves. He warned them that if they wanted to build true Christian lives they would have to build on the rock, not the sand.
The narrow gate is the only way to permanent life. People will tell you that everyone has a permanent life, and the issue is where you will spend it. Do not believe that lie. Only one way leads to life. The other way — the spacious way — the easy way — leads to destruction. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. Two permanent destinies.
Paul spoke of those two destinies. He said, “the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you are not in Christ Jesus, you won’t have life. Your payoff is death.
John spoke of those two destinies. He said that the “one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life” (1 John 5:12).
The author of Hebrews spoke of those two destinies. He said those who shrink back will perish, but those who have faith will preserve their souls (Hebrews 10:39).
Peter spoke of those two destinies. He said that those who are born again will be resurrected and receive a permanent inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4). But the ungodly will experience destruction (2 Peter 3:7).
Now that we know what is at stake, let us return to the command of Christ highlighted in today’s text.
Christ commands us to enter through the narrow gate (13a).
Suppose you have decided to become a Christian. That is a good thing. You want to enter the kingdom that is coming down from the sky. That is a good ambition. Jesus warns us that there are two ways to take, the hard way and the easy way. The easy way will be a well-beaten path, a wide gate, and a spacious road that lots of people have taken before you. It will not make any demands on you other than what you claim. You claim to believe in Jesus — there will be many others on that road who make the same claim. You want to be a good person — lots of good people take that road.
It would seem to me that if we are really serious about entering the kingdom we would follow the instructions of the king. The king tells us to stay away from the wide gate. He warns us to stay off the spacious road. Actually following Jesus is going to be a tight squeeze. Staying on the narrow road is going to be a hard thing to do. But our king commands it.
When he returns, king Jesus is going to gather all the nations before him. He is going to “separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). He will know every soul. He will determine who has taken the easy way, and who has taken the hard way. He will put the true sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. The goats will be condemned to the permanent punishment of the second death. The sheep will inherit permanent life. The choices we make today will determine which destiny we will experience.
Brothers and sisters, don’t take the easy way. Enter the narrow gate!