As is apparent from the below discussion, Americans hold to an unrealistic (and unbiblical) understanding of the population of heaven and hell. This misunderstanding about the future population of hell elevates the critical importance of proclaiming the truth Jesus taught as recorded in Matthew 7;13-14. More specifically, Jesus taught that so many people go to hell, and so few go to heaven.
On pages 25-27 of The Salvation Meter book, there is a discussion entitled “So Many People Go to Hell and So Few Go to Heaven,” one of the six persuasive reasons a person should use The Salvation Meter. The present article at the website connected with The Salvation Meter book (The Salvation Meter – Biblical Self-Diagnostic Tests to Examine Your Salvation and Spiritual Growth) is a revision of the above discussion and the related questions in the book. There are two basic reasons I wrote this revision.
First, a sermon is never finished, merely preached. In the same way, there will always be ways to revise and improve the discussion of this crucial reason why a person should use The Salvation Meter. Hopefully, this revision will give the book a “dynamic” rather than remain “static.”
Second, this revision contains more detailed information and discussion than in the book. Through these additional materials, I hope this revision will assist anyone who reads, teaches or preaches, or merely considers the substance of this test to appreciate better the importance of this reason to use The Salvation Meter book.
Americans Possess an Unbiblical Understanding about Heaven and Hell
One relevant takeaway from an article (link: https://www.billygraham.ca/stories/confronting-the-reality-of-hell/) by Dr. Greg Laurie entitled, “Confronting the Reality of Hell” in the October 2015 issue of Decision Magazine is how few people think they will go to hell. In the article, Dr. Laurie writes;
Most people think they are going to Heaven when they die. In fact, for every American who believes he’s going to Hell, 120 believe they’re going to Heaven.
A survey by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University issued on August 4, 2020 [link to a related article: AWVI 2020 Survey: 1 in 3 US Adults Embrace Salvation Through Jesus; More Believe It Can Be ‘Earned’ – Arizona Christian University] reads [in part]:
The survey also revealed that only half of Americans (54%) believer they will experience Heaven after they die, and just one-third of adults (33%) believe they will go to Heaven because of confessing their sins and embracing Jesus Christ as their savior. The other one in five who expect to experience Heaven are counting on earning their way in or being granted a place in Heaven because God will let all people in.
Among those with other views, 14% said they don’t know what will happen after they die; 13% said there is no life after death; 8% expect to be reincarnated; another 8% believe they will go to a place of purification prior to entering Heaven. Just 2% believe they will go to Hell.
A very recent (November 23, 2021) study by the Pew Research Center (“Few Americans Blame God or Say Faith Has Been Shaken Amid Pandemic, Other Tragedies” [link: How Americans Make Sense of Suffering | Pew Research Center (pewforum.org)) reveals the extent of Americans’ unbiblical thinking about heaven and hell. The report reads [in part]:
Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults say they believe in heaven. (The survey did not immediately offer a definition of heaven, though subsequent questions explored what respondents think heaven is like.)
Large majorities of all Christian subgroups say they believe in heaven, while belief is much less common among religiously unaffiliated Americans (37%). This unaffiliated group includes those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” – half of whom believe in heaven – as well as agnostics (26% of whom believe in heaven) and atheists (3%).
While most U.S. adults also believe in hell, this belief is less widespread than belief in heaven. Roughly six-in-ten American adults (62%) say they believe in hell, though once again there are notable differences across subgroups of the population.
There is also a large percentage of Americans who have an unbiblical view of salvation. The report reads [in part]:
While most U.S. adults believe in heaven, there is disagreement about who can go there. Among all Americans, about four-in-ten (39%) say that people who do not believe in God can go to heaven, while roughly a third (32%) say that nonbelievers cannot enter heaven. (Again, 27% do not believe in heaven at all.)
Christians who believe that many religions can lead to eternal life in heaven were asked whether they believe that this privilege is reserved only for members of other Christian religions, or that some non-Christian religions can also lead to eternal life in heaven. Among all Christians, a majority (58%) say that many religions can lead to eternal life in heaven, and within this group, the prevailing view is that members of some non-Christian religions are able to attain eternal life in heaven (43% of all Christians express this view). Just 13% of U.S. Christians say that many religions can lead to eternal life in heaven, but that only Christian religions qualify.
Overall, people in America are more optimistic about eternal destinies than Jesus. The vast difference between Jesus’ teachings per Matthew 7:13-14, especially viewed through the lens of Matthew 7:21-23, and what Americans think ought to give any person an incentive to re-review their salvation experience. American’s current understanding of heaven and hell elevates the necessity to proclaim the biblical truth that so many people go to hell, and so few go to heaven.
While it is a terrible reality, Scripture teaches that so many people end up in hell, and few go to heaven. Jesus made that point clear by His teaching recorded in Matthew 7:13–14 (ASV 1901):
13 Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. 14 For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it.
The literary context sets the stage for the gigantic distinction Jesus draws between the path to hell and the way to Heaven. Matthew 7:13–14 is a part of what is called the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with Jesus going up on a mountain and addressing the assembled crowd. The Sermon on the Mount spans Matthew 5:1 through Matthew 7:29. Jesus’ listeners were astonished at His authoritative words per Matthew 7:28–29 (ASV 1901):
28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were astonished at his teaching: 29 for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek verb ekplēssō as “were astonished.” The Logos 9 sense is to be utterly amazed – to be or become astounded to such a degree as to nearly lose one’s mental composure. This verb means to be so amazed as to be practically overwhelmed—‘to be greatly astounded. See Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). In Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 311–312). United Bible Societies. The verb is in the imperfect verb tense, which is the verb tense where the writer portrays an action in process or a state of being that is occurring in the past with no assessment of the action’s completion. See Heiser, M. S., & Setterholm, V. M. (2013; 2013). Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database Terminology. Lexham Press.
The ASV 1901 translates the Greek noun exousia as “authority.” The Logos 9 sense is ruling authority – authority over a domain or sphere of influence; often pertaining to the political or religious sphere. It means the right to control or govern over—‘authority to rule, right to control. See Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 475. It is clear that Jesus’ teaching exhibited such power and authority that it overwhelmed his audience. One commentator (Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 104). Broadman & Holman Publishers) writes:
Both the content and manner of Jesus’ teaching were overwhelming. Unlike other teachers, he taught with authority (7:29). Unlike them, he did not cite other authorities—only his own and his Father’s. And it was he alone who decided who would enter the kingdom and on what basis they would do so—through a personal relationship with God.
Like Jesus’ original audience, we should also be overwhelmed continually with the power and authority of His teaching through the Sermon on the Mount. This is especially the case when it comes to the stark truth that so many people end up in hell, and few go to heaven. Let’s not hold back in the proclamation of this biblical truth.
In the comparison between “wide” [Greek platys] and “narrow” [Greek stenos] gates, platys means that the space or gateway extends to great extent from side to side so it is broad or wide. See Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 823). Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 708. Stenos refers to the dimension being narrow or something restricted in dimension so that would be difficult for even a relatively small man to pass through without some distress. See Arndt et al. supra at 3rd ed., p. 942; Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 708.
A similar dramatic contrast exists between adjectives that modify the way to hell or the way to Heaven. The way to hell is “broad” [Greek eurychōros] wherein this Greek adjective pertains to having ample room, broad, spacious, roomy with the implication of being agreeable and pleasant. See Arndt et al. supra at 3rd ed., p. 412); Louw et al., supra at Vol. 1, p. 708. Eurychōros is very different from the “straitened” [Greek thlibō] way where thlibō means to cause something to be constricted or narrow, press together, compress, make narrow in that it is tight quarters or a narrow, confined road and therefore a source of trouble or difficulty to those using it so as to cause someone to suffer trouble or hardship (i.e., to cause trouble to, to persecute, to cause to suffer hardship wherein the chances of failure are greater than the chances of success). See Arndt et al. supra at 3rd ed., p. 457; Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 244.
The words Matthew wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to describe the number of people who enter into hell and those who find Heaven again highlight the following contrast. The English “many” [Greek polys] means a relatively large quantity of objects or events (i.e., many, a great deal of, a great number of). See Louw et al. supra at Vol. 1, p. 594). The English word “few” [Greek oligos] is the translation of oligos and it pertains to being relatively small in number or a relatively small quantity on any dimension. See Arndt et al. supra at , 3rd ed., p. 702); Louw et al. supra at , Vol. 1, p. 594.
Throughout Jesus’ sermon, He made contrasts between what God expected and what people usually did. For example, Jesus elevated the moral standard when He moved from murder to anger (Matthew 5:21-26) or from adultery to lust (Matthew 5:27-30). He preached against divorce (Matthew 5:31-32), taking oaths (Matthew 5:33-37), and retaliation (Matthew 5:37-42). He preached that one should love their enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). He taught about the merit of laying up treasure in heaven instead of storing up treasure on earth (Matthew 6:19-21) and not to be anxious about material things (Matthew 6:25-34).
It, therefore, was consistent for Jesus to have given a stern warning that few people will make it to heaven and many will wind up in hell. The word meanings demonstrate this contrast.
It is worth noting that after Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus made a clear distinction between the saved (healthy tree) and the lost (diseased tree) as reported in Matthew 7:15–20 (ASV 1901), which reads:
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. 16 By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but the corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Finally, Jesus ended His sermon by distinguishing between the wise man who builds on the rock and the foolish man who builds on sand. This account is in Matthew 7:24–27 (ASV 1901):
24 Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: 25 and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. 26 And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: 27 and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof.
There is an eternally infinite difference between what Jesus taught per Matthew 7:13-14 and what Americans believe overall about heaven and hell. This difference should be a compelling incentive for you to re-review your salvation experience. In writing The Salvation Meter I have had the privilege of revisiting my salvation, and I confirmed that I am saved. Praise God!!
Please answer the following questions that deal with Jesus’ teaching that so many more people will go to hell forever than go to heaven, as well as what Americans believe about heaven and hell. If you have the chance, you may want to review Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, especially His teachings that present contrasts.
Question 1-34: Do you agree that many people wind up in hell and few get into heaven? Please explain your answer and include your estimate in percentages, or relative terms of how many people will be in heaven and in hell.
Question 1-34A: Does Greg Laurie’s statement that out of 121 people, only 1 thinks they will go to hell and 120 think they will go to heaven surprise you? Please explain your answer.
Question 1-34B: The Arizona Christian University study reveals that about one in five people who think they are going to heaven base their entrance on their works. Why do you think that is the case? Is it biblical to say that a person can gain entrance into heaven based on their works? Does Ephesians 2:8-9 impact the validity of a works-based salvation theology? How so? Please explain your answers.
Question 1-34C: Why do more Americans believe in heaven than believe in hell? Is the existence of hell biblical? Please explain your answers.
Question 1-34D: Why would someone say that a person who does not believe in God can still get into heaven? Is there support in the Bible for such a mindset? Please explain your answers.
Question 1-34E: Matthew 7:28-29 teaches that Jesus’ audience was astonished by what He taught. Does the reaction of His audience to His teaching cause you to pay more attention to what Jesus taught per the Sermon on the Mount? Please explain your answer.
Question 1-35: Does what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:13-14 prompt you to make sure of your salvation? Do the definitions of the Greek words used in the original text increase the intensity of the contrasts between the ways to heaven and hell, and the number of people who will travel those ways? Please explain your answer and include your opinion about whether your using The Salvation Meter will assist you in making sure of your salvation.
Question 1-35A: Do you think that too many people wrongly believe they are going to get into heaven? Please explain your answer.
Question 1-36: Does Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:13-14 cause you to want to invest the time and effort necessary to use The Salvation Meter effectively? Please explain your answer.
Question 1-37: Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted God’s expectations with mankind’s actions. Are any of these contrasts especially persuasive to you? Do these contrasts cause you to want to spend the time and effort to use The Salvation Meter? Please explain your answer.