"And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, 'Lord, are there few who are saved?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open for us," and He will answer and say to you, "I do not know you, where you are from," then you will begin to say, "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets." But He will say, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity." 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. They will come from the east and the west, and from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.'"
Jesus is once again heading toward Jerusalem. He is asked: "Lord, are there few who are saved?" The context that preceded this question and the reason why it was asked are unknown to us. Does this man believe that only Hebrew people will be saved or perhaps just some of them?
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many...will seek to enter and will not be able" - This is as close as Jesus comes to directly answering the man's question (cf. Matt. 7:13,14). Jesus seems to be more concerned in answering a related question that is much more important--How could they themselves be saved?
The word "strive" literally means "agonize." The term was sometimes used to describe athletic competition in which the utmost effort is put forth in hopes of winning. If an athlete only competes half-heartedly, then he will fail. If one is to make it to heaven, he must put forth the utmost effort in service to the Lord. This should not be done in a vain attempt to earn his salvation, but simply because he has been saved by grace through faith and God has prepared many works for him to do (cf. Eph. 2:8-10). One will not enter heaven if he only serves the Lord half-heartedly (cf. Luke 10:25-28). God gave His all and "agonized" to make salvation possible. He demands that we give our all to Him and "strive" to live faithfully as His slaves (cf. Rom. 6:22). The "narrow" gate indicates the strictness of the Christian life. There are many ways to destruction but only one way to life (cf. John 14:6).
Jesus elaborates upon the importance of striving to enter in by describing the final judgment scene (cf. Matt. 7:21ff). Many will find themselves outside the Master's "house" after the "door" has been shut, and no amount of pleading at that time will save them. Thus, there is a limited timeframe in which the gospel call may be obeyed (cf. Heb. 9:27). The door of mercy is open for a time, but not indefinitely. Those who will be saved must pass through the "door" while it is still open.
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.