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Matthew 7:13-14 “The Sermon’s Conclusion, Part 1: Two Ways”

Enter through the narrow gate! Because wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to the destruction and many are they who enter through it. How narrow is the gate and pressed is the road that leads to life and few are they who find it.


That we have arrived at the sermon’s conclusion is obvious enough. Yet, it is important to continually remind ourselves that this conclusion serves a purpose; i.e., it concludes Jesus’ sermon. We must assume that this final section corresponds to the sermon in its entirety and draws Jesus’ teaching to a single point.


Context

Careful analysis of the SM has time and again revealed that Jesus is not only a master of rhetoric but that He also prudently positions and arranges His material with precision. This conclusion (7:13-27) offers additional proof of this. In bringing His sermon to a close Jesus (1) links this conclusion to the whole of the sermon by (a) drawing implications from His introduction and (b) rationally completing the idea just stated in His final point (7:7-12). (2) Internally, this conclusion contains its own structure that continues to develop into a single point: Follow Jesus alone.


Jesus’ Concluding Warnings Correspond with His Initial Blessings

Any good conclusion should bear a similarity with its introduction. Jesus began this sermon by describing the blessed state of kingdom citizens (5:3-10). These beatitudes are statements more than they are pronouncements of blessing, for Jesus always refers to these blessed ones in a rhetorical manner. It is not until 5:11 when Jesus looks at His disciples and calls them blessed. Yet, even here, there is an assumption that they are blessed because they bear some similarity to the rhetorical blessed ones who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness and are thus kingdom citizens (v. 10). This blessedness is firmly attached to kingdom citizenship.


This conclusion corresponds in that it demands that the audience reflect on their citizen status. These various warnings exist to call the hearers to discipleship, but to also prune away all but the committed disciple.


Jesus’ Concluding Warnings Provides a Reality Check to Nominal Disciples

Jesus tempers the claims of simple kingdom entrance (vv. 7-11) by now challenging nominal disciples, who are interested in Jesus and agree with what He says, yet balk at the extreme call that is discipleship. While it remains true that every single person who asks, seeks, and knocks for the kingdom will certainly receive, find, and find the door open, it is also true that (1) few will enter into the kingdom, (2) false prophets abound, (3) hypocrites will be rejected, and (4) no substitutions are allowed. These warnings provided necessary sobriety for those who may respond emotionally to the Savior’s call.


Jesus’ Concluding Warnings Develop to a Single Precise Point

The structure of this conclusion is readily apparent. Jesus presents two ways (vv. 13-14), two trees (vv. 15-20), two claims (vv. 21-23), and two foundations (vv. 24-27). Yet these four paragraphs do not stand as isolated and independent warnings so much as they flow into one another to at last come to a precise point. This perspective becomes more obvious when we admit that only when the conclusion has come to its climax do we receive all the necessary information to understand each individual warning. For example: that the wide way leads to destruction (v. 13) and the narrow way leads to life (v. 14) is clearly an eschatological statement regarding the final judgment. Yet what is the identity of the gate one must enter? Also, when we observe the statement made of the many on the final day, it seems odd that those who prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles in Jesus’ name should not be admitted into the kingdom. Each paragraph is designed to penetrate the would-be disciple by asking him where he stands.

· Two gates: Where are you going?

· Two trees: Whom do you trust?

· Two statements: Does Jesus know you?

· Two foundations: Do you follow Jesus alone?


It is not until the climax when we understand that belief and obedience to Jesus’ teaching (vv. 24a, 26a) is the single point to which all these warnings finally converge. All four of these warnings thus challenge and expose superficial discipleship and call for the audience to follow Jesus alone.


Content

Jesus’ conclusion begins with an exhortation to enter through the narrow gate (v. 13a) followed by an explanation why this command is necessary (vv. 13b-14). The Greek text provides only one causal conjunction (ὅτι) in v. 13 while v. 14 begins with the interrogative pronoun τί transforming the verse into an exclamation of sorts (how narrow the gate!). As such, the whole of vv. 13b-14 constitutes a single reason why the exhortation to enter the narrow gate is to be taken seriously and immediately.


The Exhortation (v. 13a)

Enter through the narrow gate!

While it is true that the images produced in these paragraphs gradually develop into a single crisp image, there remains here enough details for the audience to understand the general thrust of Jesus’ idea. Jesus uses the imperative form of εἰσέρχομαι (εἰσέλθατε – enter!), the same verb used in 5:20 and will use again in 7:21, both instances referring to the kingdom of heaven. Later in v. 14 Jesus will state that this gate and the road leading from it leads to life, one of many places in Matthew where “life” and “the kingdom” are used almost interchangeably (compare entering life 18:8, 9; 19:17, 29; 25:46 vs. entering the kingdom 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:14, 23, 24; 21:31; 23:13). The aorist imperative calls for urgent action to secure one’s entrance into the kingdom by means of (διὰ)[1] this narrow gate.


A “gate” (πύλη) describes a solid structure normally made of wood that is designed to shut off an entrance when closed. In the ancient world, one thing that separates villages from cities is the existence of a surrounding defensive wall that would have at least one gate that would be opened during the day but then shut at night or during times of war. This solid structure built into the surrounding wall has clearly been anticipated in Jesus’ mind when He encouraged His audience to knock (v. 7) trusting that this gate would indeed be opened.


The construction τῆς στενῆς πύλης indicates that there is only one such gate (the narrow gate) and that it is easily identified by its narrowness. This passage and Lk. 13:24 are the only places in the NT where the adjective στενός (narrow) is used, though it is used in the LXX of Num. 22:26 to describe the “narrow place” where the Angel of the Lord chose to ambush Balaam. Much older English translations identify this as the strait gate, a perfectly acceptable translation so long as we do not confuse strait (a place or passage of limited capacity) with straight (properly proportioned so as to be level, upright, or symmetrical without curve or bend).[2] The sense is that this gate is small indeed and does not allow for more than one person at a time. It has thus been likened to a modern turnstile,[3] that modern annoyance that limits one’s entrance to a single file fashion and even inhibits what one might carry inside. Entrance to the kingdom and life is therefore gained only by means of this one narrow gate.


At this juncture, Jesus does not explain what that gate is or how one enters through it. Rather, He explains the necessity of entering through this gate and this gate alone.


The Explanation (vv. 13b-14)

Because wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to the destruction and many are they who enter through it. How narrow is the gate and pressed is the road that leads to life and few are they who find it.


As already mentioned, only v. 13b contains the causal ὅτι (for/because) while the Greek text of v. 14 is introduced with the pronoun τί (how) used much like the Hebrew מָה in this instance to insert an exclamation (how narrow!). As such, Jesus presents these two parallel statements about the wide gate and the narrow gate as a single reason why one must enter through the narrow gate. Jesus purposefully and artistically arranges these two statements to be perfect mirror images of each other.


Two Gates

Jesus first mentions the wide gate (πλατεῖα ἡ πύλη) in apposition to the narrow or strait gate (στενὴ ἡ πύλη). In both instances, Jesus does not describe the gates so much as He states what they are, both adjectives being in the predicate position (the gate is wide…the gate is narrow). As one might expect, wide (πλατύς) is truly that antonym of narrow (στενός), indicating that which is vast in extent from side to side. If the narrow gate can be likened to a turnstile that becomes a choke point to stall traffic to a near standstill, then this wide gate is a broad entry point that allows easy access without offering the slightest obstacle or barrier. The image of a narrow gate immediately implies limitations. One would have to dismount to enter and in fact there is some doubt as to whether any beast of burden would even fit. There doesn’t seem to be room for anything other than the individual. The wide gate is thus far more appealing, yet this is the gate that Jesus warns against.


It is necessary to note that Jesus only speaks of the wide gate and the narrow gate as if there are only these two. There is no third option. This limited black and white view is further expressed in that there is only a broad road and a pressed road with no third option. Likewise, there are only the many and the few and there is only destruction and life. This metaphor is all-inclusive as it limits kingdom entrance into only two choices, two groups, and two destinations. Again, there is no third option.


Two Roads

Two roads accompany these two gates. There is much debate and discussion regarding the order in which the metaphor is designed. Do the roads lead up to the gate or do they extend from the gate? Much of the debate is based on false preconceptions of what the metaphor means rather than taking the metaphor as Jesus presents it. Both sides of the debate seem to agree that these roads indicate the lives led by either the many who follow the broad road or the few who follow the pressed road. The broad road offers limitless space and freedom to live as one pleases without interference. On the other hand, the pressed road is confined, cramped, and constricted. The differences appear regarding various interpretations of what the gate is supposed to represent.


That the kingdom is in view is again something that is readily accepted by most. However, there are those who see the gate as an eschatological reality. When one enters through one of these gates, they enter either eschatological destruction or life. These interpreters thus demand that the roads lead up to the gates.[4] Others see the gates as a crucial point of decision or conversion. To enter the wide gate is to enter a life of self-indulgence whereas entering the narrow gate is to enter a life of self-denial.[5] Thus, these interpreters see the roads extending from the gates. The question remains: which comes first?


Three very basic cautions should be offered to make this choice more obvious. First, we must acknowledge that Jesus does not provide the answer regarding the identity of the gate or the road. Each of these warnings continue to develop until the final climax. Yet, because these words are recorded and we possess the ability to read ahead, we know that Jesus is Himself the point of demarcation and that obedience to His words separates His people from the people of the world (vv. 24-27).


Second, we must resist the temptation to make this metaphor say more than Jesus intended. That the entire world consists of only two groups of people, redeemed and reprobate, is a biblical fact. This does not mean that people have but one opportunity to repent and believe and if they miss this one shot, they are damned for all eternity. This understanding overstates the intention to the point of distortion. It is necessary to look back at the present imperatives of v. 7: start asking now!, start seeking now!, start knocking now! One does not lose opportunity until one loses his final breath.


Third, basic reading comprehension solves the supposed riddle with relative ease. Jesus begins this warning by demanding His disciples enter the narrow gate. If the roads lead up to the gates, then Jesus should have commanded them to enter the pressed road, for presumably the broad road is connected to the wide gate and the pressed road leads to the narrow gate. If one finds the correct road, then one will naturally come to the correct gate. This of course is nothing more than moralism and works-based righteousness that would demand people arrive in the kingdom based solely on their lives and conduct. Yet this is not what Jesus says. The gate is therefore the starting point rather than the ending point. This is supported by the obvious fact that each road’s terminus is stated. The broad road leads to destruction (ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ἀπώλειαν), not to the wide gate. Likewise, the pressed road leads to life (ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ζωὴν), not to the narrow gate.


Understanding that the roads lead out of the two gates is necessary to understand this part of the warning. It is correct to understand the roads as the lives of those who travel them. The metaphor of one’s life as a road, path, or way (ὁδός/אֹרַח/דֶּרֶךְ) is a common picture often utilized in Scripture (Deut. 5:33; 8:6; 9:12, 16; 10:12; 11:22, 28; 13:5; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 30:16; 31:29; 32:4; Ps. 1:1, 6; 2:12; 5:8; 10:5; 16:11; 17:4; 18:21, 30, 32; 25:4, 8, 9, 10, 12)[6] But the point Jesus is making is the restricted nature of one’s life which corresponds with the gate one enters. Those entering the wide roam freely about a spacious road. Here there are no restrictions, no rules, no limitations on what one can or cannot do. Here one is free to live as one pleases. There is no need to give up or forsake old habits, practices, or acquaintances because the road is broad enough to accommodate them all.


The pressed road is not at all like that. Some notice that Jesus, instead of an adjective, uses the adjectival participle τεθλιμμένη (from θλίβω – to press upon, crowd, make narrow, oppress, afflict) to describe this road. From this they conclude that Jesus has oppression or persecution in mind (Acts 14:22). Undoubtedly, persecution is to be expected for Jesus’ disciples (5:10-12), but this is not the main point. Jesus’ parallelism suggests that He intends to describe this road along the same lines as the broad road. The road that leads from the narrow gate is tight, constricted, and pressed. It is as though a single track runs between two high cliffs or walls that hem the traveler in. A passage so narrow that one cannot carry anything with them as it only just allows the passage of a single person. This is in keeping with familiar passages that make similar warnings such as (1) Deut. 5:32 where Moses warns Israel never to turn to the right or the left but to follow Yhwh and His ways, (2) Deut. 19:19-20 which warns Israel’s future king to read and obey his copy of Yhwh’s law, turning neither to the right or the left, and (3) Josh. 1:7 where Yhwh exhorts the next leader of Israel to carefully obey Moses’ instruction and depart from it neither to the right or the left.[7] Rather than physically oppressive, the main sense is that of moral and doctrinal restrictiveness. There is no room on this road for individual interpretation, inventive application, or imaginative implication. This pressed road demands that the traveler strip himself of all baggage and parcels, leaving them outside the gate, and following the path without ever looking back.


Two Groups

The wide gate and the broad road are clearly the popular choice because there are many who enter through it (καὶ πολλοὶ εἰσιν οἱ εἰσερχόμενοι δι᾽ αὐτῆς). Appealing to the majority may be a pillar of democracy, but not of the kingdom. To think that Christians are in the majority now, ever have been in the past, or ever will be before the return of Jesus Christ is a ridiculous notion that mocks our Savior’s warning. From the perspective of the world, the narrow gate and restrictive road have nothing to offer and thus naturally prefer and are drawn to the wide and unrestrictive gate. Many professing Christians (whom our Lord addresses in vv. 15-20) see the majority passing the narrow gate by and thus attempt to widen it to accommodate all that one might care to bring. Sin need not be repented of. Allegiances need not be broken. Doctrine need not be accurate or correct. The beckon that all come as they are and remain as they are unrestricted and unhindered. While claiming to widen the narrow gate, they are in fact beckoning men past the narrow gate and luring them through the wide gate and down the broad path.


Those who enter the narrow gate are few indeed because it is something that must be found. Jesus uses the same verb promised in v. 7 (εὑρίσκω), implying that the few who find this gate sought it. Jesus affirms His previous promise. All who seek the kingdom will in fact find it! But those who seek will always be in the minority.


It’s worth noting that Jesus purposefully breaks His parallelism at this point. The few are those who find the narrow gate while the many are those who enter the wide gate. It is as if they walk right past the narrow gate without noticing it. These men look for nothing and thus find nothing. They blindly follow the crowd like so many lemmings walking to their doom.


Two Destinations

Though the broad path is free from limitations, it leads only to the destruction (εἰς τὴν ἀπώλειαν). Jesus does not speak of a general unfortunate demise in this world. The definite article is used to indicate a specific and eschatological destruction of all who take the broad path by the wide gate. These roads are without fork or alternative destination. Each has but one entry point and a single terminus. There is no third option.


The narrow gate and pressed road may appear from the outside to be uninviting, oppressive, and off-putting yet this road leads to life. The life of the kingdom is not gained by any other route. One must submit to the narrow gate and press on down the constricted road without turning to the right or to the left in order to enter life. There is therefore a choice before Jesus’ audience. Will they do nothing and walk off this mountain impressed yet unmoved, returning to their old lives as if nothing has occurred? Or, will they drop everything and follow Jesus alone?

[1] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), p. 369.

[2] Broadus, p. 163-4.

[3] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 369.

[4] Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, p. 311-4.

[5] Hendriksen, p. 369.

[6] This is just a small sampling. Of the 845 uses of ὁδός in the LXX, roughly half of them are used metaphorically to indicate one’s manner of living.

[7] Quarles, Sermon on the Mount, p. 317-9.

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