The Parables of Jesus
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

The Parable of the Closed Door

Luke 13:24-30:

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, 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.  People will come from east and west and north and south, and will 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.”

Jesus is traveling towards Jerusalem.  He realizes His earthly mission is coming to an end and so He doesn’t want to waste any time.  As the crowd follows Him on this journey, He is teaching them and this is the setting of this parable of The Closed Door.  As they were walking along, you will notice in verse 23 one of the followers turns around to Jesus and asks this question:

Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

“How many people will be saved?” was his question and I suppose it’s a valid question.  Jesus does not answer this young man’s question directly but, in response, Jesus presents a warning, a very solemn warning.  That is found in verse 24:

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, you have a similar warning.  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus was telling His disciples:

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

As you read this statement, both in Matthew and in Luke, you get the idea that maybe Jesus is teaching that it is hard to be saved and that it is easy to be lost.  Many people feel that way as they read these statements.  I used to think that too, but when you analyze this statement in its context and when you realize to whom Christ was making that statement, you know that He is NOT teaching that to be saved is difficult and that we can be lost very easily.

He is dealing with a problem that the Jews faced and unfortunately a problem that we face today.  That is why I think this parable is very relevant to us today.  That narrow gate represents salvation because the man asked the question, “Will there be few who will be saved?”  Jesus response was, “Make sure that you go through that narrow gate.”  Why is the gate to salvation narrow?  Is it because it’s difficult?  No.  It is because you can’t take any baggage with you.  The only door to heaven is Jesus Christ.  Jesus was saying that the only way any human being can be saved is through Him.

You will find this in several statements in the Bible but let me give you one very clear statement.  Not long after the church began in Acts 4, one of the very first sermons that was preached by the apostle Peter when John was with him is found in this statement in Acts 4:12.  I would like to include verse 11 also so that you are aware who Peter is talking to.  He is addressing the Sanhedrin; he is addressing the leading brethren of the Jewish church.  He makes this statement in verse 11:

He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.”

“This is the cornerstone by which every other stone is measured and you leaders of the church have rejected it.”  Then in verse 12 we read this very wonderful, clear statement:

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

The Jews, the crowd that was following Jesus to Jerusalem were taught that salvation is by works.  You had to be circumcised; you had to do a whole list of things.  They had a string of dos and don’ts and if you didn’t do any of them, you would not make it.  Jesus said, “No.”  There are many people trying to go to heaven but they will not make it because the way to heaven is very narrow.  You cannot take any of your baggage.  I’m not making this up because the parable brings this out.  Remember:

  1. The people Christ was addressing in Luke 13 were Jews.

  2. The Jews were walking on that broad road on which every other religion was walking, which is “salvation by works.”

If you read Romans 9:31-32, Paul tells us there that the reason why Israel will not make it to heaven is not because they have not tried but because they tried the wrong method, they used the wrong method.  Let’s read it:

But Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it.  Why not?  Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.  They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”

Now we are going to look at the parable and, notice, this is exactly what Christ is trying to get across.  The question is, “Will there be many?”  There’s a big crowd following Jesus Christ.  “Will many of us be saved?”  Jesus says, “Strive to go through that narrow gate.”  Just as Hebrews 4:11 tells the Jews:

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.

Let’s look at the parable which is found in verse 25:

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.”

Let me remind you that the Jewish peasants to whom Jesus was addressing this statement lived in a one-room house.  It was on two levels.  The first half of the house was what we would call ground level or first floor.  Then there was a little elevation — maybe two feet — a platform where the people slept.  When the family woke up in the morning they stepped off this platform and opened the door to bring in the fresh air and to announce to their neighbors they were awake.  That door would remain open all day long.  They never closed it; they were not afraid of robbers because there weren’t that many in those days.  There was a neighborhood watch and nobody stole from their neighbors.  It was common to have the door open.

But when night came and it was time to go to sleep, the father — the master of the house — would come to the door after he had brought in all his animals to sleep at the lower level and he would shut the door and bolt it.  He was telling his neighbors and everybody around:  “Please do not disturb me.  I have gone to sleep.”  Jesus was using this typical practice as a spiritual lesson.  He is saying, “When probation closes, when God closes the door, many of you will not be inside but you will be outside.”  He is not dealing with houses here, He is dealing with salvation, because that is the question.

He is saying, “Many of you will be found not inside the kingdom of God but outside.  You will knock on the door and you will cry to me and you will say, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us’ and I will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you where you are from.’”  It is very important that you notice their response.  Verse 26:

Then you [the Jews, that is who Jesus is addressing] will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”

This is a Jewish way of saying, “But, Lord Jesus, we were members of your church in good and regular standing.  How come you don’t even know us?  We were part of Your church!”  Notice Jesus is not comparing here between believers and unbelievers.  Verse 24:

“...Many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”

He is talking about people who are trying to go to heaven, who are doing their very best to make it to heaven and who will not make it.  He is not talking about unbelievers.  He is talking about His chosen people who are trying to go to heaven.  They will say to Him, “But Jesus, we were part of Your church.  We were part of Your covenant people.”  He responds in verse 27:

But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from.  [Then He adds this terrible statement.] Away from me, all you evildoers!”

We have a similar story in the Sermon on the Mount.  Turn to Matthew 7:21 where you have an identical incident except here we have more details.  We discover that some of these people who were found outside the kingdom when probation closes are not only members in good and regular standing, some of them are actually workers:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ [the same words He uses in Luke 13:25 — these are believers who claim to be followers of the Way] will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Have you ever asked yourself what Jesus meant by that?  What is the will of the Father?  I’m not going to give you any text but I’m going to give you the statement.  I want you to look for the text to see whether I am telling the truth or if I am lying.  You will discover that the will of the Father as taught by Jesus Christ and in the New Testament is that you believe on His Son Jesus Christ.  Look for the texts.  There’ll be more than one.

Let’s go back to Matthew 7:22:

Many will say to me on that day [that is, when the door is closed], “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?”

These are not ordinary members; these are people who had offices in the church; these are people who were active in the church.  Verse 23:

Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”

Then, after this statement, in Matthew 7 follows the parable of the two men who built houses, one on the rock and one on sand.  Remember, the rock stands for Jesus Christ.  Let’s go back because now we have a problem.  Both the passages, the one in Matthew 7 and the one in Luke 13, make this statement, “Away from me, you evildoers!”  Jesus was very careful in choosing His words.  There are 12 words in the Hebrew language for sin and He chooses one specific word here:  iniquity.  What does that word mean?

When you read those words, “Away from me, you evildoers [you who do iniquity]!” was Jesus saying, “Yes, I know you prophesied in My name and you did many good thing in My name but your iniquity was more than your good works, therefore, you are weighed in the balances and you are found guilty and therefore you are lost.”?  Is this what He is saying?  The answer is, “No.”  The context, the grammar will not allow such an interpretation.  What He is saying is the good works they were doing was iniquity.  The only way for you to understand that is to look at the word and see whether the Bible teaches what I am saying.

The shepherds used a shepherd’s rod.  If you looked at a shepherd’s rod that was used by the shepherds in the Middle East, you would notice that the end of the rod was bent.  It was called crooked; it was a U-turn so they could hook the sheep when it was stuck in the bushes or the crevices.  It was a tool that the shepherd’s used.  The Jews use the word “iniquity” when they referred to that bend in the shepherd’s rod.  That is where the word “iniquity” came from.  Iniquity is the crooked part of a shepherd’s rod.  When it is used spiritually, it applies to man in his fallen condition who is bent towards self.

When God created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image and the Bible tells us that God is love, not the kind of love you and I know but the love that is described in scripture.  In 1 Corinthians 13:5, we are told that this kind of love is not bent towards self:

It [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

There is no self in God’s love; it’s an outgoing love.  When Adam sinned, his nature became bent, it became crooked towards self.  Read in Steps to Christ, p. 17, by Ellen G. White, the statement that, when Adam sinned, love disappeared and selfishness took its place.  Actually what happened was his love bent towards self and became egocentric love.  That is the only kind of love you and I can generate naturally.  That is what happened to us and that is how we are born.

I read in Isaiah 53:6:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned [bent] to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

That “bentness” disqualifies us for heaven.  There will be no selfishness in heaven and our nature is bent towards self.  But what is Jesus referring to when He says, in this context of our parable, “Away from me, you evildoers [you workers of iniquity].”?  I believe, and it’s very clear from the passage and the context, that He is referring to self-righteousness.

Do you know that self-righteousness is iniquity?  It is not because the acts are bad but because the acts are polluted with self.  Everything that man does apart from grace is polluted with self because the essence of our fallen nature is self.  Let me give you a couple of texts to show you this.  Turn to Isaiah 64:6.  Look at this text very carefully:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags...

So Isaiah equates our righteousness with filthy rags.  Let’s go on [same verse]:

...we all shrivel up like a leaf...

In other words, our righteousness will one day shrivel up like a leaf.  When Adam first sinned, he tried to cover his nakedness with fig leaves.  What happened when they dried?  They dropped off and he was left naked.  But look at the next statement [same verse]:

...and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Here our righteousness is equated with our iniquities.  Like the wind, it is here for a moment and it goes as the wind blows it.  In other words, our self-righteousness is fig leaves that dry, fall away, and the wind drives off.  That is our iniquity.  No wonder Paul — the great Pharisee who discovered the gospel — said in Philippians 3:8-9 that when he discovered Christ, he took his self-righteousness and threw it out because it was like rubbish so that he might win Christ and be found in Him:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

I was reading a statement one day in Testimonies to Ministers, p. 65, by Ellen G. White.  It was quite a devastating statement.  We are told in that statement that when the message of Christ our righteousness is clearly presented in this church, many ministers will reject it because they will not be willing to give up their self-righteousness — which is unrighteousness — for the pure truth of Christ our righteousness.  What a tragedy!

With this idea that “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” in mind, I am using the principle of the Bible interpreting the Bible.

Turn to Zechariah 3:1-3:

Then he showed me Joshua [Joshua is the Hebrew word for the Greek word Jesus] the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord [therefore Joshua represents God’s people standing before God], and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The Lord said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan!  The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem [the symbol of the church], rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” [We all belong to the lake of fire but Jesus plucked us out.]
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes
[which, as you have seen in Isaiah 64:6, is our self-righteousness] as he stood before the angel.

Will these filthy garments qualify Joshua for heaven?  This Joshua has understood the truth and he’s not depending on the filthy garments because I read in verse 4:

The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin
[I have replaced your self-righteousness], and I will put rich garments [of Christ our righteousness] on you.”

Now going back to our parable.  There are many, many people who will not make it to heaven not because they have not tried but because they used the wrong methods.  There is only one way to go to heaven:  Christ our righteousness.  That doesn’t mean you will not do anything.  Genuine righteousness by faith produces a lot of works.  I don’t have to push works.  If you have understood justification by faith, the works will come, guaranteed.  If it hasn’t come, it is because you have not understood or you have not surrendered to justification by faith.  The problem is not for me to push it; the problem is because you have not yielded to the truth.

Let us go now to the text.  Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 13:27.  After He tells them,

“Away from me, all you evildoers!”

notice what He says in verse 28:

There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob [the three fathers of Israel] and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.

Jesus is not talking to infidels.  He is talking to people who claim to be the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to people who call themselves the covenant people of God but, in the judgment, they are outside of the kingdom.

In Romans 9, 10, and 11, Paul deals with a very important question which is that the Jews believed that, because they were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — the three fathers of Israel — they qualified for heaven.  Paul is saying to them, especially in Romans 9:6-8, that not everyone who belongs to Israel, really belongs to Israel:

It is not as though God’s word had failed.  For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.  Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.  On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.

What did he mean by “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”?  The Palestinians today can claim Abraham as their father because Abraham is their father but they don’t belong to Israel.  The Amalekites could claim that Abraham and that Isaac was their father because the Amalekites were descendants of Esau but they could not claim to be Israel.  You have to have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as your father to qualify to be Israel.

But Paul is saying, “No, it is not the natural descendants of these three men that qualifies you to be Israel.  It is the qualities of these three men.”  Let me give you in a nutshell what these three qualities are.  The word “father” does not mean the natural father.  God did not give Israel three fathers as their natural fathers.  He gave three men as the fathers to be the prototype and what he is saying is that you have to have the qualities of these three men to qualify for Israel.

What are the qualities?  Let me give you the texts.  I’ll read only one of them for each because I don’t want you to go hungry for too long.  I realize I am in America.  I wish for the day to come when you will be willing to sit down for hours like Africans do and be willing to study the Word of God.  You are willing to sit down for hours to watch TV, six hours a day, according to the national average.  Romans 4:11-13 is the first text; Galatians 3:6-9 is the second text and then Galatians 3:27-29 is the third text.

But let me read you Romans 4:11-13 which is very clear.  You cannot mix these words.  You would have to twist the text to misunderstand it:

And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.  So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised [that is, Gentiles], in order that righteousness might be credited to them.  And he is also the father of the circumcised [that is, of the Jews] who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.  It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

It is not enough to be a natural descendant of Abraham, says Paul.  You have to have the faith of Abraham to qualify to be a child of Abraham.

Galatians 3:6-9 says the same thing very clearly:

Consider Abraham:  “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.  The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham:  “All nations will be blessed through you.”  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

In fact, in verses 27-29, it says that if you have been baptized into Christ you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What about Isaac?  He is the father of all those who have been born from above, who have experienced the new birth.  In Galatians 4:28, discussing under the context of the two covenants — one is salvation by works and salvation by faith or salvation by grace — he makes this statement to those who stand on the platform of salvation by faith:

Now you, brothers [we who are saved by faith], like Isaac, are children of promise.

The Old Covenant is where God gave the law and man promised to keep it.  In the New Covenant, God gave the law and God promised to keep it in His Son, Jesus Christ.  That’s the difference.  The difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant is not the law; both covenants have the law.  The difference is that in the Old Covenant man obeys to save himself; in the New Covenant, God fulfills that obedience as a promise through Jesus Christ.  So Abraham was saved by a promise.  He will go through that gate and he will sit in that kingdom and all his children because they believed.  The moment you believe, God gives you the experience of the new birth.  Isaac is that new birth.

Jesus told Nicodemus, who was a member of the Sanhedrin, in John 3:3-7:

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked.  “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”

“Unless you are born from above, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Unless you walk that narrow way, which allows no room for human performance, you will not enter.  In 1 Peter 1:3-4, we are told that we have been born again to a lively hope through the promise of God:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you....

May I repeat, though, that genuine justification by faith always produces works.

What about Jacob?  He is the father of all whose faith endures unto the end.  In Genesis 32, we have the experience of Jacob.  He is fighting with the angel and the angel at the end of the night, in the morning, dislocates his hip and Jacob holds on.  The angel in Genesis 32:27 asks the question:

The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.

Do you know what “Jacob” means?  “Schemer.”  “I’ve been scheming to get my ticket to heaven” because, to Jacob, the ticket to heaven was the birthright.  “I’ve tried every human trick to get it and I have failed.  But now I realize it comes from you and I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Do you know what the angel said?  “From now onwards you will no longer be called a schemer”:

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

Israel means, “The one who has prevailed.”

Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:22:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.

In Hebrews 10:35-39 you have the same message given to the Jews which we must apply to ourselves:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.  But my righteous one will live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.”  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Don’t ever give up your confidence in Jesus Christ.  It has great recompense of reward.  The just shall live by faith.  “If you draw back, I will have no pleasure in you.”

Now let’s go back to the parable.  Jesus is telling these Jews that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their children will be sitting in heaven.  All those who have the faith of Abraham, who are born from above, and whose faith has endured until the end will enter into the kingdom.  Luke 13:29:

People will come from east and west and north and south [from every direction], and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.

The Gentiles will realize that the only way to be saved is by faith.  But you Jews, you who are stubbornly resisting the gospel, you who were called first into the kingdom, you will be last, not because you did not try but because you refused the only way God can save you, which is through His Son, Jesus Christ.

When the wicked are lost, I can imagine them saying, “We deserve it.”  But you have people who have given up many things, who have disciplined themselves, who have gone through many hardships in order to earn their way to heaven and they discover that they haven’t made it.  Can you imagine the terrible tragedy that we read in this text?  “There will be,” says Jesus, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Why?  Because they thought that their good works would qualify them for heaven.  Whether we talk of justification, our title to heaven, whether we talk of sanctification, our fitness for heaven, or whether we talk about glorification, it has the same formula:  “Not I, but Christ.”

It must be Christ from beginning to end and our part is faith and faith is saying — not somebody saying to you but you saying to yourself — “Not I, but Christ.”  In others words, using the language of Galatians 2:20, faith is saying:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

That is the narrow gate.  Jesus is not saying it is hard to be saved and easy to be lost.  What He is saying is that there is only one way to be saved and that is through Him.

As we move towards the heavenly kingdom, I want to warn you the road will get narrower and narrower.  You will have to take all your baggage and throw it out.  The only thing you can take in is the righteousness of Christ.  Everything else is dung, says Paul.  The message that God is giving to you now is simply the message you find in Revelation 3:18:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

The word “buy” means to give up what you have in exchange for what He is offering you.

He is knocking on your door today but if you refuse the gospel, if you refuse the truth of Christ our righteousness in any form, if you want to add even a small portion of your works towards your ticket to heaven, I warn you that you will be out of the kingdom.  You will have nobody to blame but yourselves because the Lord will say, “What did you do when you heard that African bush preacher tell you the truth?”  May God bless you that you will rest in nothing but Jesus Christ and His righteousness.

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