PMT 2016-072 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
I am frequently asked how postmillennialism can stand since Jesus speaks of the narrow gate to salvation. This is certainly a reasonable question, because it is a biblical one.
Inquirers often challenge me: I just can’t imagine this present world becoming a Christian majority at any point, especially in light of Christ’s wide and narrow gates and many being called, but few chosen, etc. I don’t see that at all. Never has the world been a friend of God and I don’t see a future scene like that at all in Scripture.
This is an important question. Let’s consider how we can resolve the theoretical problem.
This certainly is a popular passage that seems to undermine the postmillennial outlook. These words have long been cited to show the paucity of the number of saved:
Dispensationalist Louis Barbieri writing Dallas Seminary’s Bible Knowledge Commentary (BKC, 2:34) writes: “Even the Lord Jesus acknowledged that few would find the true way, the way that leads to life (i.e., to heaven, in contrast with ruin in hell).”
A. B. Bruce writing in the class Expositor’s Greek Testament (1:132) comments on our passage: “The passage itself contains no clue to the right way except that it is the way of the few.”
In his controversial The Gospel According to Jesus, well-respected dispensationalist pastor John MacArthur (191) stated that there cannot be a billion Christians in the world because “such figures certainly do not square with what Jesus said about many on the broad road and few on the narrow.”
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A classic, thorough explanation and defense of postmillennialism (600+ pages). Complete with several chapters answering specific objections.
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Reformed amillennialist scholar Herman Hanko agrees: “There are several passages in the scriptures which refer to the fact that the number of the saved, though a great multitude, is nevertheless, relatively speaking small. Texts such as Matthew 7:14 and 22:14 are referred to in this connection. . . . It is like a narrow way, and there are only a few who enter this way.” (Hanko, “An Exegetical Refutation of Postmillennialism,” 15.)
In his highly-regarded Systematic Theology (1124)_premillennialist scholar Wayne Grudem writes of this passage: “Jesus seems here to be saying that those who are saved will be ‘few’ in contrast to the ‘many’ who travel toward eternal destruction.”
Undoubtedly, postmillennialism’s distinctive principle is its conviction that the vast majority of men will be saved. How do we reply to this comment by our Lord himself?
We must note that in other places the Bible speaks of the vast number of the redeemed. Interestingly, just a few verses later — and apparently soon after stating the words of Matthew 7:13–14 — the Lord speaks seemingly contradictory words in Mt 8:11: “And I say to you that many [polus, the same word in Mt 7:13 for the lost] will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
Rev 7:9 speaks boldly of a great number of the redeemed: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” And of course we should recall those prophecies which speak of “all nations” flowing into the kingdom (e.g., Isa 2:2–4; Mic 4:1–4).
Amillennialism v. Postmillennialism Debate
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Formal, public debate between Dr. Richard Gaffin (Westminster Theological Seminary)
and Kenneth Gentry at the Van Til Conference in Maryland.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
Obviously, for the evangelical Christian Scripture holds no contradictions. How, then, can we reconcile such seemingly contradictory passages? And more importantly, how does the postmillennialist deal with Matthew 7:13–14 in light of his optimistic expectations?
To resolve the matter we must realize, two important facts. First, this is a statement about current conditions when Christ speaks. That, in fact, was the situation: very few were coming to the Father in salvation; the vast world was going through the gate of destruction. This is not a prophecy of the future, but a statement of the present situation.
Second, as Warfield noted long ago: “our Lord’s purpose is rather ethical impression than prophetic disclosure.” That is, he is urging his disciples to consider the present situation they witness round about them. They are to look around them and see that many souls are presently perishing and so few men are seeking righteousness and salvation. What will they do about this sad predicament? Do they love him enough to seek its reversal? Christ’s challenge to them is ethical.
In John 4:35 Jesus urges the dim-eyed disciples to see how work must be done: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” In Matthew 7 he warns against false prophets that will arise among the people (Mt 7:15–20). Then he warns that a man must hear and act upon his words (Mt 7:21–27). His disciples must feel the horror of the present vast numbers entering the broad way to destruction.
Certainly the gate to heaven is narrow: Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life (Jn 14:6). “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Ac 4:12). For “no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Co 3:11). But the Lord’s statement in Matthew 7:13–14 does not imply that always and forever he will only save a few people in each era. In fact, Scripture frequently indicates that great multitudes will be saved, that all nations will be discipled, that the world as an organic system will experience the redeeming work of Christ, that all of his enemies will be subdued — to the “ends of the earth.”