Will Only Few Be Saved?
At one time, the disciples asked Jesus Christ whether it would be just the FEW who would be saved and inherit eternal life (Luke 13:23).
Christ’s answer was illuminating and perplexing at the same time, when He responded: “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for MANY, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (verse 24).
At first glance, this might seem to indicate that most will not end up in the Kingdom of God; especially in light of His further statement in verse 28 that there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.”
In addition, this conclusion might even find further support in Christ’s statement in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are MANY who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are FEW who find it.”
He added in Matthew 7:21-22: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. MANY will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
This warning is compounded by Christ’s sober end-time prediction in Matthew 24:4-5, 9-13:
“… Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive MANY… Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then MANY will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive MANY. And because lawlessness will abound, the love [Greek: agape–godly love–which had been poured out into their hearts by the Holy Spirit which had been given them, Romans 5:5] of MANY will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”
2 Peter 2:1-2 adds: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And MANY will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”
Finally, Christ said in Matthew 22:14: “For MANY are called, but FEW are chosen.” Compare also Matthew 20:16 and Mark 10:31. So one could jump to the conclusion that indeed only the few will be saved, while many—the majority—will end up in the lake of fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
On the other hand, several statements in the Bible seem to contradict this apparent conclusion.
In Matthew 8:11, Christ said this (as a parallel passage to Luke 13:28, quoted above):
“And I say to you that MANY will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The angel Gabriel told Zacharias that his son, John the Baptist, “will turn MANY of the children of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16). Likewise, we read that Jesus’s “blood of the new covenant” “is shed for MANY for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). Hebrews 9:28 adds: “… Christ was offered once to bear the sins of MANY…” Isaiah 53:11-12 adds: “By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify MANY, for He shall bear their iniquities… He bore the sin of MANY…”
We read in Romans 5:19: “For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s [Christ’s] obedience MANY will be made righteous.” Romans 8:29 adds that Christ “might be the firstborn among MANY brethren.” We read in Hebrews 2:10: “For it was fitting for Him [God the Father], for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing MANY sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation [Jesus Christ] perfect through suffering.”
Paul even states in Romans 11:26: “And so ALL Israel will be saved.”
We read the following description about the saints: “Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament, And those who turn MANY to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). We read in Daniel 12:10: “MANY shall be purified, made white, and refined…”
We also read this in Zechariah 2:11: “MANY nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people…”
Just prior to the beginning of the Day of the Lord of about one year before Christ’s return, 144,000 Israelites will be sealed on their foreheads (Revelation 7:1-8; in Revelation 14:1 it is said that 144,000 are with the Lamb, having His Father’s name written on their foreheads). In addition, John sees in a vision a great multitude which no one can number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues, standing before the Lamb; they came out of the Great Tribulation and had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, serving God day and night (Revelation 7:9-15).
To summarize at this point, we quoted Scriptures indicating that many will be saved; while we also quoted others Scriptures to the effect that many will depart from the faith, or that they were never known by Christ in the first place.
How are we to explain this apparent contradiction?
First, we need to realize that the word “many” is to be understood in context. It does not necessarily have to describe the vast majority of a group of people, or of all of mankind.
We read in Acts 12:12 that Peter “came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where MANY were gathered together praying…”
In 1 Corinthians 11:30, Paul described the status of the brethren in Corinth, saying: “For this reason [because they did not properly discern Christ’s Sacrifice, when they partook of the symbols of bread and wine] MANY are weak and sick among you, and MANY sleep [having died prematurely].”
We also read that at the time of Jesus’ death, “the graves were opened; and MANY bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:52-53). Verses 55-56 point out that “MANY women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James [the Less] and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
In addition, Mark 14:56 informs us that at the time of Christ’s illegal “trial,” “MANY bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree.”
So, we need to look at the use of the word “many” in context. For instance, when we read that many brethren in Corinth had partaken of the Passover symbols in an unworthy manner, we are informed that a sizeable group had done so; this passage does not have to mean that the majority had acted in that way.
In addition, we must realize that the Bible speaks of different times, when referring to the calling and salvation of men. In this day and age, only very few are called—they are referred to as the firstfruits. (Please see our Q&A on “firstfruits.” )
Therefore, it is correct that TODAY, many will in some way try to “get” eternal life, but they will not succeed, because their day of salvation has not come yet. Only the few—because they are called to salvation in this day and age—will “find” the way to eternal life. The “many” will continue to go the way that leads to destruction… but this does not mean that it will be eternal destruction with no chance for change. Rather, once their eyes are opened, many will respond and turn from the way to destruction to the way of life.
But today, only the few, in comparison, will find it, as they are called and drawn by the Father. From those, few are chosen for very specific positions, or those “many” who were “called” were never called for salvation. Please see our Q&A on the issue of being called and chosen; and review the box in our free booklet, “Are You Predestined to Be Saved?,” titled, “Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen,” on pages 52-54. But even from these comparatively few, many might very well depart from the faith just prior to and during the beginning of the Great Tribulation, at least for a while, but we also read that just prior to the Day of the Lord, many, including perhaps many of those who had temporarily “given up,” will become zealous and worthy of God’s calling.
The vast majority of mankind will be called during the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment (the second resurrection). It is then when “all” Israel shall be saved. The word “all” can mean, the vast majority. It does not exclude exceptions. (See our Q&A on the meaning of the word “all” in the Bible). Those who were not called in this life will be called in the next. Some will commit the unpardonable sin and end up in the lake of fire, to be burned and destroyed. (For more information on the destruction of the wicked, please read our free booklet, “Do We Have an Immortal Soul?”, especially pages 22-40). That is why we read that Christ died for the sins of MANY—not for the sins of everyone, because some will refuse to repent and reject Christ’s Sacrifice for the remission and forgiveness of their sins. Those who commit the unpardonable sin and face their ultimate fate in the third resurrection will weep and gnash their teeth in anger and hate, as we read in Luke 13:28, but that passage does not say that “many” will be in that last and final resurrection, to be destroyed in the lake of fire.
Rather, we read that “many” will be in the Kingdom, together with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but that the sons of the Kingdom will be cast into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Again, it does not say here that “many” sons of the Kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness. But a few undoubtedly will be—these “sons of the kingdom” were the physical Israelites and Jews, to whom had been given the promises (compare Romans 9:3-4). Some of them had also been offered salvation but they had rejected it. Christ warned some of the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes at His time that they were walking on thin ice and that they were in danger of committing the unpardonable sin, because they rejected Christ, knowing that He had come from God, but they taught instead that He was demon-possessed (Mark 3:28-30).
Many may think that they are called today, and might even believe that they act on behalf of Christ, working miracles or casting out demons in His name, but in reality, they are not doing anything of the kind. Their “miracles” might have been “lying wonders,” as they were receiving help from the “god of this world,” Satan the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4), without knowing or realizing it. Demons were not cast out at all, but they might have left voluntarily for a while to deceive the people. In any event, Christ will declare to them that they were not acting for Him because they were guilty of committing lawlessness—the transgression of the law.
But this does not mean that they – the “many” – will be thrown into the lake of fire. Rather, once they come to their senses and realize that they had lived in sin (falsely believing and teaching that Christ had come to do away with the law); that they had not represented Christ; and that they had not prophesied or done anything in His name—that is, with His authority; then they will receive their opportunity for salvation and qualification for the Kingdom of God.
God is not unfair. He will give everyone his or her opportunity, in His due time, to respond to His call for salvation. Those few who are called today have a great responsibility to make their calling and election sure because they will NOT get “a second chance.” Paul admonishes and cautions them:
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away… how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation…?” (Hebrews 2:1-3).
Rather, this is the confidence and attitude God’s chosen people must have: “But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:39).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link