Questions From Readers
Jesus urged: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able.” (Luke 13:24) What did he mean, and how does it apply today?
We can best understand this interesting passage by considering its setting. Some six months before his death, Jesus was in Jerusalem during the anniversary of the rededication of the temple. He spoke of being the shepherd of God’s sheep but pointed out that the Jews in general were not among such sheep because they refused to listen. When he said that he was “one” with his Father, the Jews lifted up stones to stone him. He escaped to Perea beyond the Jordan.—John 10:1-40.
There a man asked: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” (Luke 13:23) That was a fitting question for him to ask, since Jews of that time held that only a limited number would merit salvation. Given their attitude, it is not hard to imagine who they thought would constitute the few. How mistaken they were, as later developments would show!
For some two years, Jesus had been among them, teaching, performing miracles, and holding out the possibility of their becoming heirs of the heavenly Kingdom. With what result? They, and their leaders in particular, were proud of being descendants of Abraham and being entrusted with God’s Law. (Matthew 23:2; John 8:31-44) But they would not recognize and respond to the Fine Shepherd’s voice. There had been as if an open door before them, with membership in the Kingdom as the chief reward for going through it, but they refused. Only a relatively few, mainly from the lowly class, heard Jesus’ message of truth, responded, and stuck with him.—Luke 22:28-30; John 7:47-49.
On the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., it was the latter ones who were in line to be anointed with spirit. (Acts 2:1-38) They were not among the workers of unrighteousness mentioned by Jesus who would weep and gnash their teeth because of failing to take up the opportunity made available to them.—Luke 13:27, 28.
Consequently, in the first century the “many” were the Jews in general, and especially the religious leaders. These claimed to want God’s favor—but only according to their own standards and ways, not God’s. In contrast, the relatively “few” who responded out of a sincere interest in being part of the Kingdom became anointed members of the Christian congregation.
Now consider the more extended application that takes place in our day. Countless individuals attending the churches of Christendom have been taught that they will go to heaven. This aspiration, however, is not based on the accurate teachings of the Scriptures. As with the Jews earlier, these want God’s favor only on their own terms.
There have been, though, a relatively few in our time who have humbly responded to the Kingdom message, dedicated themselves to Jehovah, and come in line for his favor. This has led to their becoming “sons of the kingdom.” (Matthew 13:38) Such anointed “sons” began to be invited at Pentecost 33 C.E. Jehovah’s Witnesses have long held that the evidence of God’s dealing with his people suggests that fundamentally the members of the heavenly class have been called. Hence, those who have learned Bible truth in recent years have understood that the hope of everlasting life on a paradise earth is now being extended. These have come to outnumber the declining remnant of anointed Christians, who have the prospect of actually going to heaven. Luke 13:24 does not apply principally to those who do not expect to go to heaven, but it certainly contains wise advice for them.
By urging us to exert ourselves vigorously, Jesus was not saying that either he or his Father puts obstacles in our way to hinder us. But we understand from Luke 13:24 that God’s requirements are such as to exclude unworthy ones. “Exert yourselves vigorously” implies struggling, extending ourselves. We thus might ask ourselves, ‘Am I extending myself?’ Luke 13:24 might be paraphrased, ‘I need to exert myself vigorously to get in through the narrow door because many will seek to get in but will not be able. So am I truly exerting myself vigorously? Am I like an athlete in an ancient stadium who gives his all to win the prize? No such athlete would be halfhearted, taking it easy. Am I?’
Jesus’ words suggest that some might seek to ‘get through the door’ only at their own convenience, at an easy pace that they prefer. Such an attitude could affect individual Witnesses. Some might reason, ‘I know of devoted Christians who extended themselves for years, making many sacrifices; yet, by the time of their death, the end of this wicked system still had not come. So maybe I’d better slow down, live a more normal life.’
It is easy to think that way, but is it really wise? For example, did the apostles think that way? Definitely not. They gave true worship their all—right down till their death. Paul, for instance, could say: “[Christ] is the one we are publicizing . . . To this end I am indeed working hard, exerting myself in accordance with the operation of him and which is at work in me with power.” Later he wrote: “To this end we are working hard and exerting ourselves, because we have rested our hope on a living God, who is a Savior of all sorts of men, especially of faithful ones.”—Colossians 1:28, 29; 1 Timothy 4:10.
We know that Paul did the absolutely right thing in exerting himself. How content each of us would be to be able to say as Paul did: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) So in line with Jesus’ words recorded at Luke 13:24, each of us can ask, ‘Am I applying myself with diligence and industriousness? Yes, do I give ample, regular evidence that I take to heart Jesus’ admonition: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door”?’