(Mt. 7:13-14) Does this verse teach that many people will go to hell and few will go to heaven?

This verse seems to imply that only few people get eternal life. This is true?

First, God would still be just, even if only a few inherit eternal life. It would be fair if God judged everyone for their moral failing. If God forgave even one person, this would not be fair—it would be merciful. Therefore, as we consider this topic, we need to keep this in the perspective of God’s incredible mercy.

Second, on the other hand, the Bible seems to imply that many people go to heaven from all over the Earth. In the book of Revelation, we get a window into heaven, where we find people from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). John writes that “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues” is before God at the end of time (Rev. 7:9). In other places, the Bible says that “many” will be in heaven, rather than few (Mt. 8:11; Heb. 2:10; see also Mt. 22:10; 25:32; Lk. 13:29; 14:23). In addition to this, Abraham’s descendants are said to be abundant, as well (Gen. 12:3; 13:16; 15:5; 26:4-5). Ajith Fernando speculates, “With the population of the world multiplying at such a rapid rate, we can expect the population at the end of time to represent a significant portion of the entire number of humans that ever lived on earth.”[1]

Additionally, heaven is described as a giant city in the book of Revelation. John writes that the city is going to be 1,500 miles wide and long and tall (Rev. 21:16). If the city was merely one floor, it would have roughly 2 million square miles of space. But, if this city is divided into 24 foot floors, it could allow one square mile for at least 588 billion people! Therefore, when Jesus said, “My Father’s house has many rooms…” (Jn. 14:2 NIV) we see that he wasn’t kidding around! Why is there so much space in the New Jerusalem, if God wasn’t planning on filling it? The mere size of heaven might be evidence that God was preparing plenty of space for people to live there (Lk. 14:15-23). Of course, this imagery could be symbolic, but even symbolic imagery of this size would be symbolic of a massive size.

Third, when Jesus says “few,” it might refer to those in his original audience—namely, the nation of Israel. The context of this passage is the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus attacks the self-righteousness of the scribes (Mt. 7:28-29). Clearly, Jesus’ mission was for the Jews, and sadly, only relatively “few” people from that nation found faith in Christ. Jesus uses the present tense throughout this passage. This might imply that he is referring to his own time and place—not the future church age.

Fourth, Jesus might be emphasizing the gate, rather than the number. A number of interpreters do not focus on the number of people who find eternal life in this passage. Instead, they focus on the size of the gate. It might be that Jesus is communicating that following him is difficult. B.B. Warfield seems to think that Jesus’ teaching is focused on the difficulty of following the Christian path.[2] When Jesus says that the broad way leads to destruction, he might not be referring to our final judgment. He could be referring to destruction in this life. While the New Testament usually uses the word destruction to refer to the final judgment, this is not the only use. In fact, Paul refers to those who currently suffer destruction in this life, even though they are ultimately forgiven by God (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 6:9).

Fifth, we need to admit that we do not know how many people will be in heaven. When someone asked Jesus this question, he didn’t give a number. Instead, he said, “Work hard to enter…” (Lk. 13:23 NLT). In other words, Jesus’ answer to this question was not a figure. Instead, he was communicating that people who ask this question should get their priorities in order. Before we can philosophize on how many people are in heaven, we need to make sure that we will be going there ourselves. For more on this subject, see our earlier article “What About Those Who Have Never Heard?”

[1] Fernando, Ajith. Crucial Questions about Hell. Eastbourne, E Sussex: Kingsway Publications, 1991. 68.

[2] Erickson, Millard J. How Shall They Be Saved?: the Destiny of Those Who Do Not Hear of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996. 203-204.