How Many Will Be Saved?
February 4, 2014
I can think of only four ways to answer the question raised in the title of this sermon:
1. Everyone will be saved.
2. No one will be saved.
3 Some will be saved, some will be lost.
4. There is no way to know.
In recent years answer # 1 has become increasingly popular. The people who say that everyone will eventually be saved point to the grace and mercy of God, which they believe will ultimately triumph in the end, guaranteeing that even those who reject Christ in this life will share in eternal glory. This strikes a chord with many people who cannot bear the thought of anyone going to hell.
Answer # 2 suggests that in the end, no one will be saved because there is no such thing as salvation. If there is no God, there can be no heaven, no hell, and thus no salvation for anyone.
Answer # 3 is certainly correct as far as it goes. The most popular verse in the Bible, John 3:16, points to the two destinations, when it declares that those who believe “will not perish but have everlasting life.” So there you have it:
Some will perish.
Some will have everlasting life.
John 5:28-29 says it another way when it speaks of some who are raised to “life” and others who are raised to “judgment.”
Answer # 4 gives us another perspective by supposing that no one can know who is saved and who is lost. That is certainly a correct answer when viewed from this life. We do not know with final certainty how many people will end up with eternal life.
The question could be framed this way:
How many people does God intend to save out of the great mass of humanity?
Will it be only a few?
Will it be a vast number?
Is there any way to answer that question?
Whenever we come to a question like this, we need to go back to the Bible for the answer. So that’s where we will begin.
I. What Does the Bible Say?
Luke 13 tells of an occasion where Jesus actually discusses this question.
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:22-23).
This question arises as Jesus is going through the villages on his way to Jerusalem for the final time. One day someone comes up with a question that obviously had been troubling him:
“Are only a few people going to be saved?”
That’s a good question. We can think of various ways to ask that question today:
“Lord, I live in Brooklyn. Are only a few people in Brooklyn going to be saved?”
“What about Dallas, Lord? How many people in Dallas are going to heaven?”
“I’m from China and I love my country. Will only a few Chinese be in heaven?”
We all wonder about this from time to time
“What about my family–My brothers and sisters, my mother and father, my children, my grandchildren? What about them? Will only a few people in my family be saved?”
We all wonder about these things from time to time. The way the question is phrased suggests that the questioner expected Jesus to say, “You’re right. Not many people will be saved.”
Suppose I asked you to estimate the percentage of people who will one day be in heaven. What number would you give?
Would you go with a higher number?
Note that Jesus does not directly answer the question. It’s almost as if he says in reply, “Listen, friend. That’s none of your business.” Jesus doesn’t give a number or a percentage or any indication at all. The number of true believers is hidden in the mind and heart of God.
He knows, but he’s not telling us.
But notice what he actually says in verses 24-27:
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!’
Jesus turns the tables on the questioner and says to him, “Make sure that you are among the saved!”
Don’t worry about the others.
Take care of yourself first.
Make sure you find the door to heaven
Jesus reminds us that not only is there a “door” to heaven, it’s a “narrow” door, meaning that not everyone will find it and it will be easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Don’t get so wrapped up in esoteric questions that you yourself miss the door to heaven. While you are philosophizing about everyone else, make sure you find the door that leads to heaven and make sure you go through it.”
You may remember the children’s chorus that goes this way:
One door and only one,
And yet its sides are two.
Inside and outside,
On which side are you?
If we stopped here, it would seem that Jesus has answered the question without answering it. He seems to be saying that not very many people will find that narrow door.
And that is certainly part of the answer.
Jesus even says that some people will knock on the door but won’t get in. Who are these people who try to get in but won’t be allowed to enter? In this context Jesus must be speaking of the Israelites who took his coming for granted, who disregarded his message, who thought their religion would be good enough to guarantee them a place in heaven so they delayed any decision about Christ until it was too late.
Let all religious people be warned.
Your religion will not get you to heaven.
There are no seats in heaven reserved for Baptists
I’m a Baptist but there are no seats in heaven reserved for Baptists. The same is true for Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Brethren, Church of Christ, Bible church people, Pentecostals, or whatever your personal brand happens to be.
Jesus doesn’t save people according to denominational affiliation. Even if you attend the best Bible-believing church in town, don’t think your church membership gives you a reserved seat in heaven.
Without a personal response to Christ, your church membership will lead you not to heaven, but to hell.
God Wants Bolivians in Heaven
But that’s not the end of the passage. Jesus adds two important pieces of the puzzle in verses 28-29.
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.
God intends to have lots of people at his banquet table. Jesus specifies that people will come from every point on the compass. No part of the globe will be excluded. It’s not like God says, “I want a lot of Americans but only a handful from Asia.”
No! It’s not like that.
God invites people from everywhere
When God throws a party, he invites people from everywhere. And they will come streaming in from north, south, east and west. Think about what this means:
God intends to have Bolivians in heaven.
He wants Koreans at his banquet table.
He calls them from the islands of the Pacific.
He intends to save people from Kosovo.
He wants Russians at his table.
He wants Chinese at his table.
He calls them from Canada and Sweden.
He invites them from Nepal and Tibet.
He intends to have Moroccans feasting with him.
He wants Turks there.
He calls Iraqis and Israelis.
He wants a host of believers from Irian Jaya at his table.
In 1908 William Dunkerley wrote these words for the Pageant of Darkness and Light at the London Missionary Society’s exhibition “The Orient in London,” which ran from 1908 to 1914:
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.
That brings us to the other side of the question. If the first part of Jesus’ answer seems to be narrow, the last part seems to be very broad indeed.
For all those who think that God only intends to save a few people and that far more will go to hell than to heaven, consider these words by the great English preacher Charles Spurgeon from his sermon Heaven and Hell:
Some narrow-minded bigots think that heaven will be a very small place, where there will be a very few people, who went to their chapel or their church. I confess, I have no wish for a very small heaven, and love to read in the Scriptures that there are many mansions in my Father’s house. How often do I hear people say, “Ah! Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, and few there be that find it. There will be very few in heaven; there will be most lost.” My friend I differ from you. Do you think that Christ will let the devil beat him? That he will let the devil have more in hell than there will be in heaven? No: it is impossible. For then Satan would laugh at Christ. There will be more in heaven than there are among the lost. God says, that “there will be a multitude that no man can number who will be saved;” but he never says that there will be a number that no man can number that will be lost. There will be a host beyond all count who will get into heaven.
Now that may not be conclusive to you, but I think what Spurgeon says warrants our consideration. You’ll never find a man whose theology was more orthodox than Spurgeon. He’s no liberal trying to preach universal salvation. He’s one of the greatest gospel preachers in Christian history. And he says, “There will be a host beyond all count who will get into heaven.”
If our theology leads us to write off the majority of the human race as a hopeless cause, then perhaps we need to check our theology with the Bible.
Check your theology with the Bible
I do not think it is biblical to suggest that God intends to save only a tiny fraction of the human race he created for his good pleasure. While it is true that there is a “narrow way” that few find, that “few” turns out to be a vast, uncountable multitude from every corner of the earth. Pause for a moment and ponder how Revelation 7:9-10 describes that great uncountable multitude:
“After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Does that sound like only a few will be saved?
It sounds to me like heaven will be filled with people of every language and culture and skin color and ethnic background gathered to praise the Lord who saved them.
We need to take Jesus’ words to heart as we ponder both sides of Jesus’ answer. Multitudes will be saved but not everyone will be saved. Some will make it, others won’t. Jesus surely intends to warn all of us “religious” types not to think that our “religion” will get us into heaven. We must know him personally. And since God intends to save multitudes from every corner of the globe, let’s pray for a heart like his that embraces God’s global vision.
II. What Does This Mean for Us Today?
As we think about this, let’s consider four important implications for us today.
1. Because only God knows who is saved, we should be careful about speculating.
Sometimes I hear Christians being very careless about passing judgment on certain politicians we don’t like. People from my political persuasion can be very quick to declare that “so-and-so can’t possibly be a Christian.” To be clear about it, it is perfectly possible to claim to be a Christian and yet not know the Lord. Jesus said as much in this passage. But that warning is not given so we will judge politicians we don’t like. The warning is given so that we will judge ourselves.
Let God take care of that politician
Make sure that you know the Lord.
Let God take care of that politician.
It’s not my job to determine who goes to heaven.
That’s God’s job.
I’m in sales, not administration.
2. Because God’s heart is big, we can say that no one is beyond the reach of salvation.
This touches how we view the truly wicked people of this world. Even if we don’t want to admit it, we all have a hierarchy of sin, and we all compare ourselves to others. We’re not mass murderers or we’re not drug pushers or we’re not pornographers. But as long as we rank ourselves above others because we think we’re not as bad as they are, we show that we don’t understand the greatness of our sin or our desperate need for God’s grace. It’s not that God saves us and then goes on down to reach the really bad people. Sometimes we say, “There is grace even for mass murderers.” But we say it triumphantly because we don’t see ourselves as bad as a mass murderer. But the warning Jesus gave applies first and foremost to religious people who thought they were “in” only to discover too late that they had been left out.
“The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives”
Corrie Ten Boom loved to say that there is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still. Thank God it is true. That means anyone, anywhere, anytime can be saved, without regard to what they have done in the past.
When Fanny Crosby wrote the gospel song To God Be the Glory, she included a phrase in the second verse that ought to give us great hope:
“The vilest offender who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”
God’s grace is so great that it reaches farther than your sin has ever gone. No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter how evil you may be, you can be saved if you will turn to Jesus and trust him with all your heart.
3. Because God cannot be fooled, we must not fool ourselves.
Sometimes people ask, “Can Muslim terrorists be saved?” The answer is yes, if they turn to Jesus as trust him for salvation.
Perhaps we should ask, “Can a Baptist be saved?” Amazing as it sounds, Jesus will even save a Baptist.
Or a Methodist.
Or a Catholic.
Or a Lutheran.
Or a Presbyterian.
I know it’s shocking to think about, but Jesus will even save self-righteous church members. I’m glad that’s true, because that’s my plan. I’m a church member, I have my own share of self-righteousness, and I’m trusting Jesus to save me in spite of myself.
I’m trusting Jesus to save me in spite of myself
As someone has said, there will be three surprises when we get to haven:
First, we will be surprised that some people are there who we never expected to see in heaven.
Second, we will be surprised that some people are not there who we expected to see in heaven.
Third, the greatest surprise will be that we ourselves are there.
No doubt all three statements are true, but I think we need the last one because sometimes Christians can think that they “deserve” heaven, even though we would never say that out loud. After all, we play by the rules, or so we think (though in reality we fall far short). But when we see the glories of heaven with all the saints and angels gathered there, when we catch a glimpse of the glory of God and the beauty of Jesus, the greatest surprise will be that we are allowed to take part in that grand celebration.
4. Because God wants people from every corner of the earth, we’ve got to go to every corner to the earth to fill up his banquet hall.
That’s why we go, that’s why we give, that’s why we pray, and that’s why we send our best and brightest to the darkest corners of the earth. That’s why our children answer the call, go through years of training, raise funds, learn a strange language, board a plane taking all their supplies in 12 bags, with their children in tow, flying off to China or Thailand or Cameroon or some other distant land for the sake of the gospel.
Why do we do this?
Why go to all that trouble if not to share the Good News with those who have never heard it?
Why give so much money?
Why let our grandchildren grow up on the other side of the world?
Why be separated at Christmas and Thanksgiving?
It is not just that God calls our children to go.
It is not just that Christ has commissioned us to go.
It is not just that we believe in world missions.
All those things are true.
We do not deny any of them.
Someone must go and invite the Bolivians
But surely underlying all of that is a certainty about God’s heart that he has revealed to us.
If God wants Bolivians at his banquet, someone must go and invite them.
If God wants Russians, someone must go and let them know.
If God has a heart for the Dao people, someone must find them, go to them, live with them far out in the jungle, learn their language, love them, pray for them, and tell them the great story of God’s love revealed in the Bible.
We are not going simply because we are commanded to go.
We go because of God’s heart that compels us to go.
If God so loved this dying world, then someone must go and show them the way of life.
5. Because God has said that many will be saved, we ought to pray that many will be saved.
If God intends to save many people, then we ought to pray fervently that he will do what he said he would do.
A few years ago Marlene and I traveled to the Czech Republic to speak to a group of Josiah Venture missionaries doing youth ministry throughout Eastern Europe. We met wonderful young people serving Christ in Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, and many other countries. Many of them labor in areas that are difficult for gospel ministry, but their faith was undeterred. One day we had lunch with a young couple we met at the conference. He is from the US and she is from the Czech Republic. When we asked her if she comes from a Christian family, she replied no, but her mother has accepted Christ. Then speaking of her brother, she said, “He is not saved yet.”
Hold on to the little word yet
Ponder that little word “yet.”
Not, “He is not saved.”
But, “He is not saved yet.”
The little word “yet” makes all the difference. If you say, “He is not saved,” you are simply describing current reality, but when you say, “He is not saved yet,” you bring God into the situation. The little word “yet” means that the way things are today is not the way they have to be tomorrow.
Yet is the word of faith.
Yet says, “I believe God has some big work to do here.”
Yet means, “I’m praying for what I do not presently see.”
While you are waiting, don’t let go of that little word “yet.”
“He is not saved yet.”
“She is not saved yet.”
“My son as not come back to the Lord yet.”
Hang on to that little word “yet.”
God will not be defeated
God will not be defeated.
He keeps score in his own way.
We can say it this way.
God always intended to save a vast multitude of people.
Many of those people are not saved at the moment.
Most of them are not particularly close to the Kingdom.
But God intends to save them anyway.
And he will.
Not apart from human means.
Not apart from the preaching of the gospel.
Not apart from our prayers.
There are some lost people today who will saved tomorrow.
And they have no clue about it today.
We don’t know who they are or where they are.
We just know they’re out there.
And that might include the brother in the Czech Republic who is “not saved yet.”
That’s why we wait and pray and that’s why we keep believing.
Will only a few people be saved?
No! Multitudes will be saved!
Make sure you are among them.
Our God is in the saving business!
God honors forward-looking faith. Just because our loved ones are not saved today does not mean they won’t come to Christ tomorrow.
Oh we of little faith.
Let us pray and believe for those who don’t know the Lord, and let us say by faith, “He is not saved yet” or “She is not saved yet.”
God is not finished yet.
Father, we thank you that your heart encompasses the whole world. Thank you for making a way through your Son for anyone to be saved anywhere, anytime.
Help us to pray boldly for our loved ones who not saved yet. We pray for a vast harvest of people to be saved from every part of the globe. Give us a heart like yours so that we will love the world the way you do.