Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.
Because (how) narrow is the gate and difficult (confined) is the way that leads to life, and there are few that find it.
This is my teaching on The Two Ways Tradition, which is an ancient Hebraic concept. I’ve been teaching it since 2010.
The Two Ways Tradition was used by Jesus to teach us about the narrow and wide paths. One way leads to heaven and the other way leads to hell.
Ancient Hebrew sources, tell of an old man who sat, at the crossroads. Two ways lay before him, one thorny and the other smooth.
Every day, the old man would warn passers-by. He told them that the thorny way, even though it appeared thorny at the beginning, later became smooth, and the smooth way, even though it appeared smooth at the beginning, later became thorny.
In the Gospels Jesus recreated this setting, He also warned us about these two ways. The narrow way, He said, leads to a narrow gate, it is a difficult way and few people will choose to use it. On the other hand, the wide way with its wide gate, was relatively easy, so the majority of people would find this route more desirable.
Both the narrow and the wide ways have their own destinations. Once through the gates, the narrow, more difficult way, leads to life everlasting and the wide, easy way leads to death and destruction. In other words, heaven and hell.
Jesus gave this illustration, after one of His disciple asked Him this question: “Will a lot of people receive salvation”? The answer was obviously, “NO”, not a lot of people will receive salvation. Although, this was of their own choosing, as both ways are available to all people.
As an Israelite, Jesus used concepts that were familiar to the Hebrew people.
The Way or Path, was and still is, important from a Hebrew cultural perspective. Known as the (derekh) it accounts for so much more than just something to walk on.
The (derekh) also refers to the manner in which an individual conducts his or her life.
In antiquity it was important to choose a path wisely. A well-trodden path was vital to their very existence.
Although, Jesus is suggesting here, from a spiritual perspective at least, the well-used path, trodden by most, should be abandoned for the one God has selected for us.
God never requires us to take a path that is potentially difficult without giving us the necessary tools.
What tools has God given us, in order to walk this narrow, difficult path?
He’s given us — Light!
Just like in the physical world, it be would dangerous to tread a difficult path without sufficient light, even so in the spiritual, without light one could easily lose their way.
Unfortunately, for the ancients, street lighting was not a luxury they enjoyed, so a lamp was used to guide their steps. With this in mind, the Psalmist David said: “Thy Word Oh God is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105).
David’s revelation about the lamp that brings the illustration of Jesus to life.
The spiritual light God has provided us with, is the Bible. The Bible, contains Laws, Commandments, advice and guidance. It also contains testimonies of ‘the others’ who lived before us, and the manner in which they walked.
For example, we know how Abraham conducted himself on his Path, we know that God called him out of Ur of the Chaldee to create a new path. As The Father, of a New Nation under God, he had to create a new beginning for his descendants, the children of Israel.
Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, trod a new path when she left the land of her people to follow her mother-in-law ─ Naomi. Ruth, realised the wide path of the Moabites, was leading nowhere, she chose instead a new narrower path that would lead her eventually to Bethlehem the ‘House of Bread’.
Her sister-in-law, Orpah, decided half way down the narrow path, perhaps it wasn’t for her. She didn’t appreciate the uncertainty, so with a little persuasion from Naomi, she returned again to Moab.
Needless to say, we hear no more of Orpah, but Ruth found bread and a new life, because she remained committed to her path.
On the flip-side, we read about Samson, a very anointed man of God, chosen from birth as a Nazarite to destroy God’s enemy the Philistines. However, due to his love for woman, he failed to continue on his path. The choice Samson made not only lead to his own downfall, but also lead to God’s people not being fully delivered.
Only, a small victory was achieved when Samson’s anointing returned momentarily to crush the assembly of the Philistine Lords. He could have achieved so much more! The Hebrew Oral Traditions say that Samson, sadly, went after his eyes, so his eyes were plucked out rendering him blind.
The Two Paths at Shiloh (Image courtesy, Jenkins Ferrell, 2008).
What we have before us then are two paths; one narrow and one wide. One leading to life and the other leading to destruction. The mechanism by which we travel these paths are either with God’s Word or with the ways of the masses.
If God is the light that leads us on the narrow path (one light), then there could be many lesser lights all vying for position on the other path. Seeking other lesser lights, or artificial lights to find one’s way, will eventually lead to confusion, loss of direction and ultimately destruction.
Artificial light eventually runs out of resources, but God’s light doesn’t.
With the light of God’s Word in mind, let’s look at the Way of a Christian.
The Christian Way:
I refer to Christians here, some of us were originally on the wide path. We then found The Light through God’s Word and moved over to the narrow path. Somewhere along the way, we became weary and lost our direction. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, having begun in the Spirit, we are now in the flesh?
As our commitment and study to the things of God waned we drifted off the narrow path, unaware of where we were heading. And even with the realization that we were losing our way, we continued nonetheless. Just like Orpah, back to Moab, we went ─ can you blame, her? Remember Jesus said, the narrow path is not an easy path.
As I studied this concept of two paths for Christians, I became intrigued by a couple of questions: Firstly; once a Christian is on the narrow path, can he/she in fact switch over to the wide path? Secondly; if switching over is at all possible, at what point in time does this transformation occur?
I don’t know about you, but for me the answer to the first question is glaringly obvious. If a Christian walking along the narrow path, does not use the light of God’s Word to direct their walk, then they will find themselves outside of God’s light.
Anything outside of God’s light is darkness, darkness will eventually lead to death and destruction.
It would be good at this stage if we could somehow discover that these two paths grew tributaries, like a river. Then we could temporarily ride one of these tributaries until we find our way back to the main source.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, it is clear there are only two paths and one true light. We either walk in them the way God intended or we don’t. Like so many things with God, there is no grey area, no exception to the rule.
To answer the second question, I raised earlier, at what point does a Christian literally change paths and find themselves on the wide path? I personally believe, at the point where the individual completely turns their back on God and denounces His sovereignty over their lives. From there on wards they walk without the light of His Word.
At any rate, we as mere mortals are not to decide when or how this occurs in the life of another, as it is God the Supreme Judge who judges absolutely.
The sternest warning, I see in the scriptures of the possibility of losing one’s salvation is the warning the Apostle Paul gave his Hebrew converts. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t speak in the same tone to his Gentile converts. The Hebrews were different to the Gentiles, in as much as they had prior knowledge of God and Torah from birth, culminated by the revelation of Messiah. If they returned again to unbelieving ways, there was no more redemption for them.
The shame they brought upon the Name of God and themselves publicly ─ would make it very difficult for them to return to the narrow path (Hebrews 6:4-6). Paul continues by saying even though he speaks to them in this manner, it is his desire, that they remain on the straight and narrow and never stray.
The unforgivable sin of profaning the Name of God, and causing Him open shame, is an old Talmudic tradition, and it’s with this knowledge of Talmud that Paul speaks, and his teachings become so much clearer to me as a Christian.
As our path is intrinsically linked to the manner in which we walk, in walking, we should not represent ourselves, but God Almighty.
Paul, didn’t just pull his beliefs out of thin air, neither were all his teachings by Divine revelation. Some of them are from Oral Traditions, passed down through the generations. When Paul said, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee of Pharisee’s I believe him unequivocally.
Paul again, in the book to the Hebrews, speaks of another instance when there was no turning-back. He spoke of Esau and his alleged ‘repentance with tears’, Esau repented earnestly after selling his birthright to his brother Jacob. Even though Paul is referring to Esau’s earthly inheritance, he points out that Esau sought to get back what he sold, but was unable to do so.
Esau sold something very precious to satisfy a moments pleasure (Gen 25:30; Hebrews 2:16). Esau is good example to us of satisfying present temptations, without considerations the long-term consequences.
Repentance and Restoration:
While it is feasible that continuous sin and lack of repentance, will result in death and destruction, both in the physical and the spiritual. Everything is not lost and there are plenty more scriptures to comfort us with the fact that God’s is a forgiving God and loves us very much.
Even if we err on the narrow path, He does whatever is necessary to allow us to come-back into His fold. As with Adam and Eve, after they sinned, the Bible says, that God Himself slew an animal and covered them. The covering served the dual purpose of being physical and yet the shedding of the animal’s blood also made spiritual atonement for their sins. He did this to remove their shame and restore the fellowship they once shared.
The famous appeal in Isaiah, from an all loving, all merciful God, reads: “Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be become white as snow.” (Isa 1:18-20). If this is not an open invitation to negotiation I don’t know what is…
To restore broken relationships between God and man, God has created Repentance. He made repentance at the very beginning, because He is a good God, and out of goodness came this aspect of His character. “The goodness of God leads us to repentance.” (Rom 2:4).
God just doesn’t suddenly decide, Oh, I like that person, so I’ll be good to them and let them repent. Repentance is our choice, we either take up the offer or we don’t. In the example of Adam and Eve, they were truly remorseful and because repentance was a new experience for them, God Himself instigated the cure, showing them how it was done.
The Hebraic Concept of Repentance:
The Jews have long since had a very good understanding of the requirements for repentance and restoration. I personally believe the Christian Church has struggled a bit with interpreting this Hebraic concept.
The Jewish tradition, for repentance is that; ten days from Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year) or New Year, Jews everywhere fast and repent. Both individually and collectively as a Nation, they seek God’s forgiveness together.
Why ten days? and not just a minute’s silence to recollect on one’s shortcomings and utter ─ SORRY! The answer is simple, repentance involves time. It’s takes time to reflect, time to grieve and time to turn-back.
Yes, turn-back…unlike the English language which is full of adjectives, the Hebrew language is all about verbs. For example, if you look up repent in the English dictionary, it will say things like, to be sorry, to feel remorse, to be regretful.
While all these are correct to some extent, in the Hebrew language, repent is to turn-back. Rather than just feeling a myriad of emotions, you turn-back. That is, show God that you really mean business. Don’t just talk about it, don’t just cry crocodile tears, don’t just feel sorry. DO REPENTANCE! Repentance is a process, it’s an action.
The Bible never ceases to shock, and one passage that does indeed do this, is a passage in the book of Ezra. In this instance, the children of Israel had taken wives from neighbouring countries. Something that God had forbidden them to do. In chapter ten of Ezra we see this repentance process that I am talking about:
Firstly, the assembly of men confess and weep, very bitterly in fact.
Secondly, comes the trembling, a true visitation of God, also involves the awesome realization of His power, His glory, His presence! (Ezra 10: 3). The fear of God accompanied their conviction. A fearful reverence came over them to obey the commandments of God, not just with lip service, not just with bitter tears, but enough fear to motivate them to change their entire lives.
Thirdly, they make a new covenant with God and can you believe it ─ they divorce the (non-Jewish) woman and the children and send them away. A total break with the past.
Their final action completed the repentance process….
Repentance is to leave ─ the sins we loved before;
And, show that we in earnest grieve, by doing more and more.
Charles. H. Spurgeon.
The road that leads to death and destruction.
Is Repentance on a Deathbed real?
Another interesting aspect of repentance is: Can a person repent just before death and still be saved? I guess here again, it is between the individual’s sincerity and God, He makes the ultimate decisions.
Although, if repentance is understood in its totality, as I described earlier. I find it difficult to believe that just minutes before death someone can say ‘sorry’ and make their peace with God. Especially, if they lived with little regard for His laws and commandments.
If indeed, this was an acceptable practice with God, then my suggestion would be that all of us live precariously, and repent on our deathbed. We could avoid the narrow difficult path with its narrow gate altogether.
This notion however, of repenting before death began sometime around the time of Emperor Constantine. His infamous bedside baptism was considered to be the norm at that time. In all fairness to Constantine, like most leaders he did a lot of bad things, so they tended to leave repentance to as late as possible to ensure they died forgiven. Repentance was done with water Baptism to ensure the individual was as ‘clean’ as possible before facing God.
Not so ─ in ancient Hebrew literature, the Rabbi’s took repentance very seriously and did not believe that is was achievable on one’s deathbed.
Rabbi Eliezer, for instance, told his disciples to repent one day before their death. How is this possible? they asked, seeing we don’t know the time of our death. His reply was simply, repent every day. The idea behind his philosophy was; if they repented every day, they would always be ready for death.
Baptism was never meant for infants or dying adults. Baptism was a ritual practiced by adults of all three main Jewish religious groups, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes. It was an outward expression of spirituality and obedience to God. Gentiles who converted to Judaism had to be baptized by immersion.
In the New Testament we know John the Baptist carried on this Tradition, and Philip after he converted the Ethiopian, he baptised him immediately as there was water there (Acts 8:36-39).
Should we break with tradition and water baptise infants and dying individuals with a sprinkling? The baptismal pools discovered in Qumran, is proof the Essenes only Baptised adults.
The purpose of life on this earth is to find the one true God, get to know Him, build a relationship with Him, love Him and when we die spend eternity with him. It’s not about numbers it’s about relationships. As Jesus said…the narrow path, with its narrow gate, will be found by few.
If more is what God wanted, then surely He would have reversed the paths, this would have assured Him of a Heaven ̶ packed eternity, bursting at the seams with half-hearted individuals.
The motto of Harvard University comes to mind here…’the more you let in the more rubbish you get’. That is why a Harvard Graduate will always get the best jobs, because the success of their qualifications started with a stringent selection.
Less is indeed more!
I will leave you with this final quote from the Book of Leviticus, God said: Today, I lay before you, Blessing and Cursing, (Two Ways) choose blessing (Lev 26).
I will go further to say…Choose the Narrow Path, Choose Life, Choose Love, Choose Peace, and Choose to Walk in the Light of God’s Word.
Cheryl Mason © 2010.
Cohen, Abraham. Everyman’s Talmud. BN Publishing, 2008.
Jenkins, Ferrell. “Two paths at shiloh.” Ask for the Ancient Path. Shiloh, 2008.
Olitzky, Kravitz Leonard and. Pirke Avot A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics. New York: UAHC Press, 1993.
Pafford, Isabella. “The Ancient Roman Empire History 106.” firstname.lastname@example.org, 2008.
The Holy Bible, NKJV. Nashville, TN: Thomas nelson, Inc., 1982.
Young, Brad H. Meet The Rabbis, RabbinicThought and the Teachings of Jesus. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 2007.