Jesus left Jerusalem to journey around the region of Perea on the other side of the Jordan. The Feast of Dedication was over, and Jesus would not return to Jerusalem for three and half months. It was far too dangerous. The Jews wanted Him dead, and the time that God the Father had appointed for Jesus to give up His life had not yet come. It is interesting that even though Jesus was confident that His Father’s will would happen just as God intended, He still took precautions. He got away from the Jewish leaders and went to a region that was full of Gentiles.
When Jesus did go back, it would be the time of the great Passover Feast, when the whole nation of Israel would celebrate the time when God brought them salvation from the cruel Egyptian Pharaoh. At this next Passover celebration, God was going to bring salvation in a whole, new, unimaginable way, and this time the victory would be utterly complete. The Curse that Adam and Eve had brought into the world would be utterly defeated. Jesus would pay the full price for sin…yet He was going to have to die. It would be the worst and best moment in human history.
In the meantime, He went from village to village and city to city teaching about the Kingdom of God. Think about the wonder of His persevering love. He was the Son of God, worthy of our absolute devotion and worship. He is all goodness and light, and He has the power to undo all the horrible corruptions that taints the sinful world of men. In fact, He is the only One who can bring salvation. He is not only able, He is our only hope. The people should have been willing to give up everything to come and bow down at His feet…not in slavish servitude, but in the right, whole response of being in the presence of what is beautiful and noble.
Instead…because He is all that is beautiful and noble…Jesus went out, searching the highways and byways for those who might listen and respond to His message. The most powerful Being in the world did not wait for them to come to Him. He didn’t assume that they had heard the rumors about Him…He didn’t let that be enough. Instead, He inconvenienced Himself…chose to spend all of His time and energy…walking miles and miles a day on dusty roads, going after the hearts of every kind of person.
Along the way, someone asked Jesus, “‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’” That is a very good question, isn’t it? It was a question many people were asking in Israel. There were debates about which groups would get in and which groups would be left out. But most people thought that everyone in Israel was a child of God, so unless they sinned really, really terribly, everyone was saved.
When Jesus heard the question, He did not give a direct answer. He didn’t seem to think it was important for us to be worried about how many. It was more important for each person to ask how to make his or her own heart ready for salvation. He told them it was important to strive wholeheartedly to enter into the narrow door, which is a symbol of salvation. That striving is not a way of earning salvation…it is a way of expressing the sincerity of our faith in Jesus and establishing Him as the purpose of our lives.
Then He said:
“‘Many will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.”
“‘But he will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.”
“‘Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”
“‘But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”
“‘There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.’”
Wow. That is a very frightening passage. Many people who believe they have salvation will find out that they don’t! When it is time to enter the fullness of the Kingdom of God, where the risen Christ will be at rest…surrounded by His prophets and faithful ones in all of His radiating glory…many will be turned away. Though the great fathers of the nation of Israel and the prophets will be in Heaven, many of the Jewish people would not be allowed in. In fact, it won’t matter what nation or family any person is from. What will matter is whether each person has believed the message of Christ and put her or his faith in Him.
Did you notice that those outside will weep and gnash their teeth? When someone gnashes their teeth, it is not because they are sorrowful and repentant. It is because they are angry. Even then, with Jesus exalted on the throne as King of kings and Lord of lords, they will have an attitude of desperate, hateful rebellion against Him. They will resent His power and wish for a way to thwart His will.
The best picture we have of this might be the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Even as Jesus was performing amazing miracles that set their people…the very ones they were called to shepherd and care for…free from suffering and brokenness, the religious leaders seethed with rage and sought to kill Him. Sin is not a small thing. It is powerful, toxic, and aggressive to get what it wants. We cannot simply layer over our rebel
As we read each story and see how each character responds to Jesus, we learn a lot about what it means to strive after Him wholeheartedly. We also learn what it means when people deceive themselves into believing they are godly, even when they are living in treacherous malice against God! Jesus made it clear that many in Israel would not be saved.
That would have surprised a lot of His listeners. But what He said next would have been an absolute shock:
“‘People will come from east and west and north and south, and take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.’”
When Jesus talks about east, west, north, and south, He is talking about all the different nations on earth. He is going to gather people from all over for the magnificent gift of salvation! The Jews expected to be first priority to God. In the Old Testament, He called them His treasured possession! And they were, but not because they were any better than the rest of the people on earth. They were special because God chose them. He made a special covenant with them! He promised to protect them and cause their nation to flourish if they would only obey His covenant.
Now Jesus was bringing a New Covenant. It would bind Jesus to the people who put their faith in Him through the power of the blood He shed on the cross. He would give them a new heart! And at the End of Days, there is going to be a great and lavish feast to celebrate it all!
This amazing blessing did not come by being Jewish. It came by faith in the Son of God, the very One that the Jewish nation was rejecting!
The people of Israel were going to learn a very hard lesson. Those that assumed they were first were going to find themselves dead last. And others, who did not think much of themselves at all, would find themselves first in the Kingdom of God!