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In Matthew 7:13-14, we see Jesus saying that the gate to salvation is small and the path that leads to it is narrow. We always see Jesus presenting eternal truths in the most simple way, mostly with imageries that stay with the listener, for example, the imagery of the Good Shepherd.

Sure enough, the imageries he used were the ones his audience was well-accustomed to. It is said that even the imagery of hell he presented, was that of Gehenna, a valley which was used for accumulating the waste of the city and where there were worms and fire, the latter having been lit to kill the former. One is therefore inclined to conclude that Jesus may have had an actual geographical location of Judea in mind when he spoke of the small gate and the narrow way.

My question therefore is: Does Matthew 7:13-14 picturise a real geographical entity of Jesus' time? Inputs from scholars of any denomination are welcome.

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You ask:

Does Matthew 7:13-14 picturize an actual geographical entity of Jesus' time?

The facile answer is yes.

Gates and doors have existed in civilized societies for millennia. Their primary purposes have been to provide and prevent access. Gates and doors are security devices, allowing key-holders in and non-key-holders out. The gates to a city, of course, are larger and much more secure than the gate to a garden or a park.

In Jesus's day, and before, the gates of a city offered a measure of security for city dwellers, and perhaps more important, they were the meeting place of the elders and judges of the city when important issues needed to be discussed and decisions made. In essence, the gates of the city represented, symbolically, the political power vested in the city's leadership. These representatives of the people safeguarded the moral and ethical values espoused by the community.

Jesus used that symbolic imagery in his response to Peter's confession:

Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:17-18 KJV, my emphasis).

In other words, all the power and machinations of Satan and his emissaries would ultimately be defeated by the Church of Jesus Christ.

Picture, if you will, two different cities and two different gates to those cities. One city gate is touted as the easiest to enter, and it opens to the widest and most beautiful walkway. It has flowers, trees, benches, lamp lights, drinking fountains, restrooms(!), and maybe even some hotdog- and Italian ice vendors.

The other city gate is not touted at all. In fact, many people avoid it because they think it provides entrance into a nondescript path with very little street appeal. No restrooms, no flowers or trees, no conveniences to speak of, just a narrow sidewalk with no benches on which to sit in order to rest sore and weary feet. And no hot dogs!

I think you know where I am going with my little analogy. The first gate and path--the highly touted one--represents the entrance and the path to another city, the City of Destruction. Satan and his minions do their best to make it seem attractive, pleasurable, and filled with the creme de la creme of society--the smart and beautiful people. The apostle John called these attractions the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Virtually everyone knows about each gate and path. The much touted gate and path has an army of demons who have been schooled in the art of temptation. They are practiced in offering gullible people the bitter-sweets of life in the guise of something that is only sweet and desirable.

The other gate and path has its handbook for life, the Bible, and it has a community of faith (the Church universal and various local churches) in which the people who choose to enter the path of life are welcomed, accepted, and loved.

When local churches are functioning as they should, members reach out to people on the wrong path, encouraging them to repent and find forgiveness and peace with God. The insiders encourage the outsiders to join them in experiencing the more abundant life that is found in a relationship with God and with his people, all of whom are sinners saved by God's grace. The ground is truly level at the cross of Christ.

In short, Jesus was not referring to any particular gate and path in his teaching. As with many of his teachings he used metaphors, analogies, and similes that included familiar, common, even universal things and people. Jesus himself, of course, was the way (and the truth and the life), but he was also the door to the sheep fold, the bread of life, the good shepherd, the living water, the true vine, the light of the world, and the resurrection and the life.

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Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. - John 10:7-9

The sheep pen or sheep fold and shepherding in general is often used for allegory and imagery throughout both Testaments. Israel's leaders are likened to shepherds, both good and bad (Ezekiel 34) while the people are likened to sheep. Specifically, God's people are called the sheep of His pasture many, many times:

And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD. - Ezekiel 34:31

Additionally, the Lord God (Adonoy Jehovah) Himself is declared to be the shepherd that will come and feed, gather, and lead His flock:

Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. - Isaiah 40:10-11

Jesus famously declared Himself to be that shepherd (John 10) and declared His disciples to be His flock:

But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. - Luke 12:31-34

Here we see the flock and the Kingdom linked in the context of primarily seeking the Kingdom of God rather than the things of the world. So, thus far we have established God's people as the sheep of His pasture, God's as Shepherd who will come to His people, and (controversially for some, perhaps) Jesus come as that Shepherd.

All of this Scriptural imagery is given to and about a people whose history is literally steeped in the shepherding lifestyle.

sheep pen in Biblical times

In biblical times, the shepherd would lead the sheep around open land to graze all day. As they sun was going down, he would herd them into a pen made with boulders or into a cave closed with boulders. He himself would sleep in the gate or “be” the gate. - En Gedi Resource Center

So, the straight gate and the narrow way can easily be understood to be Jesus Himself. He "lies" in the doorway of the sheep pen and is Himself the "gate of the sheep". To enter into the "flock" and receive the Kingdom one must go through Him (the gate) and follow Him (the way).

Thomas said "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" To which Jesus replied, "I AM the way." This necessarily entails walking as Jesus walked, entirely in the Spirit with no regard for the flesh (which profits nothing) or the letter of the law (which kills).

Why is this gate narrow and this way constricted? One must abandon all personal efforts to establish one's own righteousness (this is true repentance) and depend only upon the righteousness of God demonstrated in Christ. This is that narrow gate and constricted way, dying unto self and living unto God in Christ ... You must be born again and live that way:

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. - Romans 12:1-2

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  • Yes, Jesus used examples the people could easily relate to in their daily lives.
    – Gina
    Sep 5, 2023 at 14:18
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    Wow, very good picture for illustrating Jesus as the shepherd & gate to the sheep pen, also showing "narrow" by necessity (one true gatekeeper & shepherd) in comparison with many false teachers in the world. Sep 5, 2023 at 16:22
  • Thanks, Mike Borden. The Small Gate stands explained with your answer. Please also tell us something about the Narrow Path , for instance, a narrow lane hewn between rocks , so narrow that it would only let people pass one by one . Did Jesus mean that salvation is given to each one specifically, and not as part of a group ? Sep 6, 2023 at 0:38
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    Thanks, Mike Borden. What I am looking for is a pictorial illustration, on the lines of what you have given for Small Gate. I found one on Google ,but am not able to copy it here. Sep 9, 2023 at 1:57
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    This is good enough. Thanks. Sep 10, 2023 at 2:44

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