Luke 13:23
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
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(23) Are there few that be saved?—More accurately, that are being saved, or, that are in the way of salvation. The Greek participle is present, not perfect, and this sense should be borne in mind both here and in 2Corinthians 2:15—still more so, perhaps, in Acts 2:47, where the English version gives, with a singular infelicity, “such as should be saved.”

We are left to conjecture to what class the questioner belonged, and what feelings prompted the question. Was he thinking of salvation in the higher Christian sense of the term, or of safety from that destruction of which Christ had spoken as coming on the impenitent people? In the mind of the questioner the two things may have been blended together, but the answer clearly points to the former, and we have sufficient evidence that such questions were agitating men’s minds in the apocryphal Revelation known as the Second Book of Esdras. This book is probably (in part, at least, certainly, see 2 Esdras 8:28-29), post-Christian, and has been assigned to the time of Nero, or Domitian, or Trajan; but it reflects with a wonderful fulness the fevered, anxious thoughts that were working among both Jews and Gentiles, and among those none is so prominent as that “many are created, but few shall be saved” (2 Esdras 8:1; 2 Esdras 8:3; 2 Esdras 8:55). Among the strange cabbalistic fancies of the Rabbis, one was an attempt to fix the number of the saved by the numerical value of the letters of this or that text that prophesied of the Kingdom of Heaven. Assuming the question to be of this nature, its form indicates that it was a speculative inquiry. A man anxious and in earnest would have asked, “What must I do to be saved?” And, being a speculative question, our Lord put it aside, gave no direct answer, and sought to force the man back on the thought of what was needed that he himself might take his place in that company.

13:23-30 Our Saviour came to guide men's consciences, not to gratify their curiosity. Ask not, How many shall be saved? But, Shall I be one of them? Not, What shall become of such and such? But, What shall I do, and what will become of me? Strive to enter in at the strait gate. This is directed to each of us; it is, Strive ye. All that will be saved, must enter in at the strait gate, must undergo a change of the whole man. Those that would enter in, must strive to enter. Here are awakening considerations, to enforce this exhortation. Oh that we may be all awakened by them! They answer the question, Are there few that shall be saved? But let none despond either as to themselves or others, for there are last who shall be first, and first who shall be last. If we reach heaven, we shall meet many there whom we little thought to meet, and miss many whom we expected to find.Then said one - Who this was does not appear. It is probable that he was not one of the disciples, but one of the Jews, who came either to perplex him, or to involve him in a controversy with the Pharisees.

Are there few that be saved? - It was the prevalent opinion among the Jews that few would enter heaven. As but two of all the hosts that came out of Egypt entered into the land of Canaan, so some of them maintained that a proportionally small number would enter into heaven (Lightfoot). On this subject the man wished the opinion of Jesus. It was a question of idle curiosity. The answer to it would have done little good. It was far more important for the man to secure his own salvation, than to indulge in such idle inquiries and vain speculations. Our Lord therefore advised "him," as he does "all, to strive" to enter into heaven.

23. Lord, &c.—one of those curious questions by talking of which some flatter themselves they are religious.

said unto them—the multitude; taking no notice of the man or his question, save as furnishing the occasion of a solemn warning not to trifle with so momentous a matter as "salvation."

Ver. 23,24. Our Saviour hath told us, Matthew 7:14, that strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth to eternal life, and few there be that find it. Upon this this exhortation is founded. ’ Agwnizesye, Contend, or strive, to enter in at this strait gate, a word which signifies a labouring against opposition, and the utmost endeavour of the mind and body: not that our own labouring will bring us thither, the eternal life is the gift of God, and without the influence of his grace we can do nothing effectually; but to let us know, that the Lord will give heaven to none but such as labour and strive for it, yea, and also strive lawfully: he tells us that many

will seek to enter, and shall not be able; either seeking in a wrong way, or in an undue time. By this speech of our Saviour’s he diverts them from that curious question, about the number of those that shall be saved. That was not so much their concern to know, as that they should be some of that number.

Then said one unto him,.... Not one of his disciples, but one of the company, in some one of the cities or villages he passed through, or as he was in the road to Jerusalem:

are there few that be saved? It is a received opinion among the Jews (z), that all Israel shall have a part in the world to come; and this man might put the question to know whether Christ was of this sentiment or not. And by some things he had observed drop from him, and it may be the foregoing parables, which express the small beginnings of his kingdom, and seem to signify, that at first his Gospel should be received but by a few, though it should afterwards spread, he might collect, that his sense was, there would be but a few saved; or this might be a question of mere curiosity and speculation, as it seems to be, by Christ's treatment of it, who does not give a direct answer to it, but puts him and others upon showing a concern for their own salvation.

And he said unto them; not to the man only that put the question, but to the whole company; though the Persic and Ethiopic versions read, "he said unto him", as follows.

(z) Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 11. sect. 1.

Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
Luke 13:23. This questioner was certainly a confessor of Jesus, Luke 13:24 ff. There is nothing besides this that we can define more precisely, except that the question itself might be called forth by the stringency of the claims of Jesus.

As to εἰ,[162] see on Matthew 12:10.

[162] That in direct questions εἰ should be used as the recitative ὅτι, which would have to be explained by a transition of the oratio obliqua into the oratio directa, even after the learned investigation of Lipsius, Paulin. Rechtfertigungslehre, 1853, p. 30 ff., I must doubt, since we should find this use of εἰ much more frequently elsewhere, and since in the isolated places where it occurs it is just the meaning of the doubtful question (whether indeed?) which is very appropriate (Matthew 12:10; Matthew 19:3; Luke 13:23; Luke 22:49; Acts 1:6; Acts 7:1; Acts 19:2; Acts 21:37; Acts 22:25). On the classical beginnings of this usage, nothing likewise is to be decided other than on the New Testament usage, to wit, with Ast, Lex. Plat. I. p. 601: “Dubitanter interrogat, ita ut interrogatio videatur directa esse.”

Luke 13:23-24. εἰ ὀλ. οἱ σωζ.: εἰ introduces a direct question as in Matthew 12:10 and Luke 22:49 : are those who are being saved few?—πρὸς αὐτούς, to them, not to the questioner merely but to all present, as the reply was of general concern.

23. are there few that be saved?] The question may naturally have arisen from the last teachings respecting the small beginnings of the Kingdom of God. There is nothing to shew whether it was suggested by speculative curiosity, or by despondent pity. But without directly rebuking such questions, our Lord, as in other instances, strove to place the questioners in a wiser frame of mind (Deuteronomy 29:29). The answer is a direct discouragement to all pitiless, and especially to all self-righteous, eschatologies. It is a solemn assertion of the necessity for earnest, personal endeavour. Thus to all idle attempts to define the certainties of the future, our Lord says, Consider the question with reference to yourself, not with reference to others. Look at it in the spirit of the publican, not in the spirit of the Pharisee. The wisdom and necessity of the answer may be seen from 2 Esdras 8., where the question is discussed, and where it is assumed that few only will be saved, “The most High hath made this world for many, but the world to come for few” (2Es 8:1). “There are many more of them which perish than of them which shall be saved; like as a wave is greater than a drop” (2Es 9:15-16). “Let the multitude perish then” (2Es 9:22). Part, at least, of the Book of Esdras is probably post-Christian.

that be saved] Literally, “who are being saved, i.e. who are in the way of salvation. The same word occurs in Acts 2:47, and is the opposite to apollumenoi, ‘those that are perishing,’ 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15.

Luke 13:23. Εἰ ὀλίγοι, whether few) The man seems to have thought that out of the pale of Judaism there would be no salvation.

Verses 23-30. - Jesus replies to the question of "Are there few that be saved?" Verse 23. - Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? The immediate circumstance which called out this question is not recorded, but the general tone of the Master's later teaching, especially on the subject of his kingdom of the future, had disturbed the vision of many in Israel, who loved to dwell on the exclusion of all save the chosen race from the glories of the world to come. The words of the Second Book of Esdras, written perhaps forty or fifty years after this time, well reflect this selfish spirit of harsh exclusiveness, peculiarly a characteristic of the Jew in the days of our Lord. "The Most High hath made this world for many, but the world to come for few" (2 Esdr. 8:1). "There be many more of them which perish, than of them which shall be saved: like as a wave is greater than a drop" (2 Esdr. 9:15, 16). Other passages breathing a similar spirit might be quoted. What relics we possess of Jewish literature of this period all reflect the same stern, jealous, exclusive spirit. The questioner here either hoped to get from the popular Master some statement which might be construed into an approval of this national spirit of hatred of everything that was not Jewish, or, if Jesus chose to combat these selfish hopes, the Master's words might then be quoted to the people as unpatriotic. Luke 13:23
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