Luke 13:18–35 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Two Parables, One Door, Much Sorrow
Let's face it. We often get discouraged. Jesus has a pair of parables with which today's text starts that speak to our weak-kneed faith, as well as expanding our understanding of his kingdom. He'll then show us how to enter his kingdom so that he and us won't sorrowfully regret never entering it. First, we'll consider the meaning of his two brief parables.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:18–19)
In other gospel accounts, the emphasis of this parable falls upon how small the seed is and how great the resulting tree (cf. Matthew 13:31–32). Here in Luke, Jesus places the emphasis on the action of a man who plants a mustard seed by carelessly casting it aside into his garden. This parable must be understood in contrast to last week's parable of the fruitless fig tree. That fig tree was purposely "planted" and was carefully tended and nurtured. In contrast, the mustard seed was "cast" into the garden, perhaps a part of throwing compost into a garden as a fertilizer. The man didn't intend for a mustard tree to grow. The birds that gathered in it suggest that the tree helped sustain life around it.
The message of this first parable is simple and pointed, as Warren highlights in his commentary on the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus has warned Israel of God's impending wrath. They'd become a fruitless fig tree about to be cut down. The mustard tree is a tree that God has chosen to replace the fig tree. The imagery of a tree, providing a place of protection for birds, is one commonly associated with the Gentiles in the Old Testament. It's Israel's careless "casting away" of the seed that results in the great tree of the largely Gentile "kingdom."
It's amazing that many of the Jews wanted to "work" for their place in the kingdom of God by meticulously "keeping the law." No wonder the ruler of the synagogue (highlighted last week's summary) was so upset about "breaking the law" as he saw it. But in striving to earn God's blessings, they rejected their own sinfulness and the Savior as well. When they forsook their salvation, the fig tree was cut down and the mustard tree flourished. Israel's rejection of the Messiah has brought salvation instead to the Gentiles.
Comparing the Kingdom to Yeast (vv. 20–21)
Jesus is looking for another comparison to explain the kingdom of God. In his second parable, he likens the "kingdom of God" to yeast that a woman seeks to hide in a large amount (e.g., "three measures" or "sixty pounds") of flour or meal. While some versions speak of the leaven as being "hidden," the NIV uses only "mixed into" the flour. The word clearly means to "hide." [The Greek is egkruptō. . . means "to hide in." It's root, kruptō, means "to conceal." There is stealth involved here; something underhanded is going on.] While the woman attempts to hide the leaven, the result is the opposite: The yeast permeates the entire mound of dough (as shown in Warren's commentary on this "Kingdom of God" mini-parable).
Remember: The Jews didn't like the Gentiles, and didn't want to share their blessings with them. So they sought to "hide" the truth and keep such blessings to themselves. Here, it was foolish and futile for the woman to think that she could successfully "hide" yeast in the flour. So, too, it was foolish and futile for the Israelites to try to "hide" the light of the gospel from the Gentiles. Recall when Jesus spoke clearly about the salvation of the Gentiles to his Israelite people (highlighted in Week 12's summary), and that their reaction was a violent one (4:16–30). Their attempts to prevent the gospel from going forth to the Gentiles caused it to spread more quickly and effectively.
The kingdom of God is like this, Jesus says. The Jews who think they are righteous will reject Christ and refuse to repent; thus they'll be judged. Their fig tree will be cut down. In its place a mustard tree (i.e., Christianity and the church) will arise. Trying to conceal the truth from the Gentiles, the Israelite nation unwittingly spread it abroad. Let all Israel listen and learn from Jesus' words of warning and instruction.
Enter through the Narrow Door or Gate (vv. 22–30)
Vv. 22–30 speak of the striving for salvation, occasioned by the question of the man who wished to know if only a few would be saved. Jesus indirectly answered this question. But he went on to tell his hearers far more than they wanted to hear, for the few who'd be saved weren't primarily Israelites.
In v. 31, Luke tells of a group of Pharisees who arrive with bad news that Herod was planning to put Jesus to death. Their advice to the Savior was that he abort his mission and be safe. Jesus' words reflect his commitment to persist in his ministry and mission; he'd keep on doing what he'd been called to do; he'd press on to Jerusalem as well.
This passage begins (v. 22) and ends (33–35) with Jerusalem, the city of his destiny. While Jesus is asked how few or how many will be saved, instead of answering yes or no, he characteristically tells a parable. The Parable of the Narrow Door seems to involve a homeowner holding a banquet. There's a narrow entry door for guests. But a time comes when the host gets up and closes the door. Eventually, there's knocking and pleading from outside the door by would-be invitees who arrived late. But the host simply says, I don't know you. Away from me!
Their goal is a door, Greek thura, " 'door,' a passage for entering a structure, 'entrance, doorway, gate.' " In this case we're probably to imagine the door to a grand house where a big banquet will take place. However, people are to enter only through a narrow door, straining to gain access before the door closes permanently. [In Warren's commentary on the Parable of the Narrow Door (or Gate), he presents Jesus’ final offer to the Israelites that wouldn’t last long; alas, they rejected Jesus and his kingdom.]
Jesus says, "Many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to" (v. 24). Why can't they get in? Is the door locked? No, but we know from Jesus' other teaching that entry into the kingdom of God requires repentance and change. Many want the goal — the inheritance of the kingdom, heaven — so long as it costs them nothing, especially their allegiance and obedience. And so they try to enter but don't succeed because of the cost. When it's time, the homeowner deliberately gets up and shuts the door. No more guests can enter. Those who'd tried the first time but failed to enter come again, see the door closed, and pound on it, pleading to no avail. Through the closed door, the homeowner denies that he knows those outside shouting to get inside. "I don't know you or where you come from." Then the host leaves the door area where the latecomers are clamoring, and returns to his guests.
In vv. 28–30, Jesus shifts his focus from the Parable of the Narrow Door to the familiar scene of the eschatological banquet. (Eschatological [ES-cat-a-LOG'-i-cal] means "referring to the end times.") Notice that it's a banquet for all people, not only Jews but Gentiles (v. 29). He alludes to this Great Banquet on several other occasions: (a) praising the faith of the centurion (Matt. 8:11–12), (b) the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15–24; Matt. 22:2-14), and (c) at the Last Supper (Mark 14:25; Matt. 26:29). It's finally referenced as "The Marriage Supper of the Lamb" (Mark 14:25; Revelation 19:7).
The Gentiles, whom the Jews considered "last," may well be given first place in this great banquet, while the Jews, who considered themselves "first" in God's estimation, may find themselves last, perhaps kept outside the kingdom, unless they repent and respond to Jesus' call.
Jesus' Sorrow for Jerusalem (vv. 31–35)
After reading vv. 31–35, you easily sense the sadness that Jesus felt then: sadness that only a few will be saved; sadness that many won't enter the door to his kingdom; sadness that many of his people will be excluded from the feast; sadness that Jerusalem resists his love and desire to gather them to their Father.
Jesus knows that he'll meet his death in Jerusalem, so he's undeterred by rumors that Herod will try to kill him. He's already "taken up his cross," so threats of death can't deter him. The Hebraic idiom "today, tomorrow, and the next day" (v. 33) probably means that his ministry will extend for a short, but limited period of time.
Today's final two verses reveal the heart of our Lord toward Jerusalem, the place where he was about to die. They're a lament directed towards Jerusalem. It's filled with love and pain. Finally, Jesus closes with a sad observation, "... you were not willing," which brings us back to the Parable of the Narrow Door. The door was open and they could have entered; alas, they didn't care enough to make the effort to accept his invitation and diligently enter his kingdom.
- Q. 1 What's the relevance and importance of kingdom's door being narrow?
- Q. 2 How do you know if you're inside or outside the kingdom? If outside, what would you do to enter it?
- Q. 3 What do you look forward to about the Eschatological Banquet in the kingdom of God?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 13]
† Watch this passage-specific video from Jesus Film Project titled "The Kingdom of God as a Mustard Seed."
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
18Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches."
20Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough."
The Narrow Door
22Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
He said to them, 24"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25Once 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.'
26"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'
27"But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'
28"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. 29People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last."
Jesus' Sorrow for Jerusalem
31At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you."
32He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' 33In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day — for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
34"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"