During Jesus’ time the major cities were walled in. That’s something we have a hard time imagining nowadays. Few cities in the western world have walls which still exist and have any significance at all. We are used to the idea of sprawling masses of human activity and construction, unbounded by brick and mortar. But way back two thousand years ago, cities needed to be defended, and so they had walls. You got in through the walls via the gate.
There are two reasons why you would want to enter in through the gates of a city. Either you were visiting or you belonged there. During the day the gates were opened wide for visitors: namely important people or tradesmen. If you entered through these gates, you were not guaranteed a stay.
At night, the gates were closed to fend off wild animals and attackers. During the night, it was not possible for visitors to enter the city – either to trade or for any other formal matters. There was, however, a way in. Each gate had a gate-within-a-gate. A smaller, more secure gate heavily guarded through the night, usually as a part of the main gate itself or as a small side entrance. This gate would only be opened to residents of the city as they sought refuge from the unprotected world outside.
So, what do Jesus’ words and John’s vision have to tell us about the Kingdom of God and the New Jerusalem?
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14
Our first observation is that God isn’t looking for riches, nor is he interested in the self important to be a part of his Kingdom [An important aside before we go any further is that God’s Kingdom is not some place we go when we die, but simply that in which God’s will is done].
Why do I say this? Well, the gates aren’t flung wide open. The Kingdom isn’t open for business. It’s not there to trade. It is there to simply be belonged to. You couldn’t persuade the guard to let you in on a once off. But you don’t need to. You can simply choose to belong.
The second observation is that it isn’t easy to get there. The road is difficult. You can’t just find it and walk in. You might not even find it. Scary stuff…
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” – Luke 13:24
Here, Jesus’ teaching takes a different angle. We should make an effort to enter through the narrow door, because many will try and fail.
So according to Matthew the Kingdom is accessed simply by belonging to it, yet here we find advice that we must make every effort to enter. Jesus draws on similar images when he refers to the sheep and goats, and when he says that some who call him “Lord” but do not love him will not enter the Kingdom. Jesus appears to be saying here that it is about knowing God. We belong by acknowledging the divine.
Where does the effort come in? Well, you can’t acknowledge the divine if your life is clouded in evil. How can you acknowledge God if you pursue only evil?
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” – Matthew 19:24
A camel? The eye of a needle? What has that got to do with gates?
Well, the ‘eye of a needle’ was a nickname for the gate. If you had your camel with you, you wouldn’t be able to fit it through the gate. You would have to unload all of its baggage and get it to scrape through on its knees, if you were lucky.
Here, Jesus is calling us not to try and enter into the Kingdom of God with our earthly possessions. We can’t buy our way in. We can’t take that stuff with us. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place we are going to but a way of being and doing. Our possessions, our accumulations will be humiliatingly bought to their knees – or worse – it is easier for a camel to enter the gate – when we enter into the Kingdom of God.
“The nations will walk in [the new Jerusalem’s] light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of the day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honour into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty – but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life.” – Revelation 21:24-27
One day, the Kingdom of God will be the only kingdom that we know on earth [and by earth, I mean the new (re-made) earth]. On this day, we will enter into the wide gate. We will no longer need the narrow gate.
Perhaps, just maybe, everyone belongs?
All the nations.
All the nations.
That doesn’t mean a representative from each. That’s Bible-times speak for absolutely everyone.
Everyone will enter the city.
Except, apparently, that which is evil. There’s no room for that. nor is there room for those who do not recognise God as their ultimate object of worship.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t get there eventually. That doesn’t mean that they are excluded. The gates never close! There is no end to the final day. There is no danger to avoid any more. There is no need to keep out that which is evil, because those who choose to enter will do so having recognised that they belong, having acknowledged God and choosing to walk in the light.
That’s a future to look forward to. But most exciting of all is that we can find the gate now and enter in. Why wait?