Luke 13:23

ESV And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them,
NIV Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them,
NASB And someone said to Him, 'Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?' And He said to them,
CSB "Lord," someone asked him, "are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them,
NLT Someone asked him, 'Lord, will only a few be saved?' He replied,
KJV Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,
NKJV Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them,

What does Luke 13:23 mean?

This is a common question, often asked in two different ways.

The first version is, "are there several different ways to salvation?" The answer is an emphatic no. The Bible is clear that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Faithfulness to other gods does not earn salvation, nor does doing good works, being a good person, enduring hardship and struggles in life, or dying in a particularly tragic way. When Jesus says the door is narrow, He means there is only one way to salvation: faith in Him.

A second facet is, "are there more saved believers or unsaved non-believers?" The narrow door represents the limited qualifications for salvation, but does it reflect the number of people who walk through the door? Matthew 7:13–14 gives the same metaphor but uses "gate" instead of "door." Jesus ends the passage with "and those who find it are few." As challenging as the idea may be, Scripture indicates that more people spend eternity in hell than in heaven.

This context, however, includes another condition. Jesus is in Galilee, probably largely talking to Jews. Salvation is always by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9), even for Israel in the Old Testament. "Faith" is in God, specifically that He will fulfill His promises (Hebrews 11). God interacted with Israel as a nation, not primarily through individuals. The Mosaic law speaks about God blessing or judging Israel as a whole (Leviticus 26). Jews assumed that they, as a people, would be saved, with exceptions for those who sinned in particularly egregious ways.

With Jesus' arrival and ministry, the list of unforgivable sins condenses into only one: rejecting Him as Messiah and Savior. Many Jews, including Pharisees and priests, will walk through this narrow door and into Jesus' presence (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; 6:7). But because the religious leaders as a group will not, and therefore will not lead the people of Israel into saving faith, many more Jews will remain lost than find salvation. Jesus mourns this (Luke 13:34–35). And although "People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God" (Luke 13:29), most Gentiles will likewise choose not to walk through the narrow door.
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