The Sermon on the Mount can be divided into three main sections: 1) the identity of those who are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:1–16); 2) a description of the righteousness of the citizens of the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17–7:12); and 3) Christ urging his hearers to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:13–27). The contrasts in this concluding section arc sharp and clear. In verses 13 and 14 there are two gates—the one wide and the other narrow; two ways—the one broad and the other straitened; two destinations—the one is destruction, the other is life—many travelers and few. The antithesis is clear. The question has often been asked: Is the gate at the end of the way or is it at the beginning? Ridderbos is of the opinion that our Lord means one and the same thing by the terms “gate” and “way.” Then there is no room for this question. Others (Hendriksen. Lange, Meyer. Jongsma) believe that the gate is at the beginning of the way. Passage through the gate brings us upon the way that leads either to destruction or to life. If the gate is at the end of the road, it would mean that even though the believer had walked the straitened way to the end he would still have to pass through a gate which is narrow—one through which he would pass with difficulty. We are of the opinion that the gate stands at the beginning of the way.
What does Jesus mean by the narrow gate? The two gates lead to the two ways. By the “ways” we understand the life of those traveling these ways. The gates therefore determine the individual’s walk or manner of life. The narrow gate stands at the beginning of the life of the believer. How does he enter upon his Christian life? Of course, regeneration (the new birth) lies at the root of all spiritual activity. However, Jesus cannot mean regeneration be. cause that is exclusively the work of God, while here he commands his hearers, saying, Enter! The conversion of the individual stands at the beginning of his mode of life. Conversion is effected in the conscious life of the sinner by the Spirit of God. It alters his whole course of life. This gate is narrow. No one can pass through this gate with his self-righteousness. There is no room for baggage! It is so narrow that there are few who can even find it. Natural man has no eye for it. The spiritual eye must be opened to find this gate (regeneration).
The wide gate has none of these restrictions. Entering it also denotes a conscious choice, but this choice is perfectly in tune with the desires of the natural man. Although this entrance indicates a conscious choice, one scarcely notices the gate because it is just as wide as the road to which it gives admittance.
The road which the believer is to walk is declared to be narrow or straitened. These terms denote suffering and hardship. This road, therefore, is not an easy one. It is bounded by the law of God on every side. It goes contrary to the desires of the natural heart. There seems to be nothing attractive about it. It is the way of persecution and reproach (Matthew 5:10–12). It is the way of self-denial. It is the road on which at times eyes must be plucked out and hands amputated (Matthew 5:29–30). There are times when on this road fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters must be forsaken. All these things make the road very “narrow.” There are but few travelers.
How different is the road traveled by the unbeliever! The road is broad. Here is ease of travel. There seem to be no difficulties in the way. One can speed along or meander about. There is sufficient room. There are no restricting rules and regulations. One may follow his own inclinations and desires. This is an attractive and inviting road to travel. Is it any wonder that there are “many” who travel this highway?
Does Jesus mean to teach us here that the path of the believer has only thorns and thistles while the road of the unbeliever has no obstacles? Both Scripture and experience teach us that this is not the case. Nor do the words which Jesus spoke at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount agree with this view. He had pronounced the believers “blessed.” True joy is promised God’s people again and again in Scripture. They only have peace of heart. Experience teaches the same thing. It also shows us the unbeliever as one who is often most miserable, suffering adversity upon adversity. But we may not stop after we have seen the contrast between the two ways and the two gates; we must see the whole picture.
Jesus tells us that the way of the believer leads to life while the way of the unbeliever leads to destruction. While the believer is traveling on the road of life he looks forward to his glorious goal. Although the road is difficult, its difficulty is minimized by his view of the destination toward which he is traveling. Therefore he can rejoice in persecution! Although the road is narrow and straitened, it leads to the fulness of life. Thus we learn to evaluate things properly. The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which awaits us (Romans 8:18). Although the travelers are but few on this road, their eye is fixed, not so much on their surroundings as on the end of this road. At the end there is no narrow gate through which they can pass only with difficulty, but a gate that is wide open.
The broad way leads to destruction. As with the end of the other road, so here also no description is given of the nature of the goal Human language is not rich enough to describe the glory of LIFE, nor is it adequate to describe the destruction which waits the unbeliever. Notice: the thought of the goal of the narrow way has a tremendous effect on the whole life of the believer while the end or goal of the way of unbelief does not seem to affect the life of the traveler at all. One would think that the destruction to which the broad road leads would cast its shadow over the life of the unbeliever every day. But, it doesn’t. He travels with ease. He travels swiftly. He is in the company of many. He thinks only of the present and gives no thought to the end toward which he is going. So completely does sin blind its followers!
Jesus issues a command: Enter ye in by the narrow gate. The knowledge of all the things he has spoken of previously will be of no profit if we do not walk the way he has prescribed. It may not look very inviting at first blush; it may be difficult to pursue to the end; but the goal is worth the effort.
Questions For Discussion
1. Why must the gate for the believer be so narrow?
2. Is the road of the believer always more difficult than the road of the unbeliever?
3. Should it make us pause and consider when our way is quite easy?
4. In which ways do actual persecutions help the believer?
5. The Bible often mentions the problem of the prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous (Psalm 73, the book of Job, etc.). Does our passage offer a complete solution?
6. Why doesn’t the coming judgment make more people afraid?
7. Does “fire and brimstone” preaching cause people to turn to Christ?