The Reign of the Servant Kings
By Joseph C. Dillow
Chapter 6—So Great a Salvation
The tendency to assume that salvation always refers to final deliverance from hell has led many to interpret certain passages incorrectly. When James, for example, says, “Can faith alone save a man,” the Experimental Predestinarians understandably are perplexed about the apparent conflict with Paul. However, if salvation means something other than “go to heaven when you die,” the apparent conflict evaporates.
Usage Outside the New Testament
An adequate discussion of the Greek verb sozo (“to save,” “to deliver”), and the noun soteria (“salvation,” “deliverance”) could easily consume an entire book. This analysis will summarize its meaning in secular Greek and in the Old Testament, and then it will discuss some of the references to these words in the New Testament (over 150 references). In particular, the burden will be to illustrate those usages that establish meanings other than “final deliverance from hell.”
Usage in Secular Greek
The noun soteria is often found in the papyri in the sense of bodily health or well-being (happiness, health, and prosperity)—e.g., Acts 27:34. Salvation could be from the misery of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 14:13; 15:2), from adversaries (Psalm 106:10), or from oppression (Judges 3:31). It evidently includes divinely bestowed deliverance from every class of spiritual and temporal evil to which mortal man is subjected.
By far the most common usage in the Old Testament is of God’s deliverance of His people from their struggles (Exodus 14:30; Numbers 10:9; 1 Samuel 22:4; Psalm 18:3; Isaiah 30:15; 45:17; Jeremiah 30:17). This meaning has been considerably enriched by the New Testament writers when they point out that the salvation of Christ also saves us from our enemies—the world, the flesh, and Satan. Spiritual victory in life is salvation!
Often, however, the word simply means blessing, health, happiness (Psalm 7:10; 28:8, 9; 86:16; Jeremiah 17:14), restoration to fellowship (Psalm 6:3-6; 51:12; Ezekiel 37:23), or the future blessings of the messianic kingdom (Psalm 132:16; Isaiah 25:9; 43:3, 5, 8, 19; 44:3, 20; Jeremiah 31:7).
Certain passages in the prophets have an eschatological dimension. In the last days Yahweh will bring full salvation for His people (e.g., Isaiah 43:5 ff.; Jeremiah 31:7; 46:27; Zechariah 8:7). At that time, in the future earthly kingdom, Israel “will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3), and the entire world will participate in the messianic salvation (Isaiah 45:22; 49:6). The enemies of Israel will be put to shame in that future day, “but Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation” (Isaiah 45:17). The messianic salvation is called the “everlasting salvation” because the kingdom of the Messiah will last forever. The phrase is strikingly similar to the phrase “eternal salvation” in Hebrews 5:9. In Isaiah 52:10 we are told that “all the ends of the world will see the salvation of our God.”
Usage in the New Testament
It is in the New Testament that the full breadth of meaning of salvation comes to the forefront. The verb sozo occurs 106 times and the noun soteria 46 times. The meaning “deliver from hell,” while rare in the Old Testament, is quite common in the New. Statistically, sozo is used 40 percent of the time in this way (Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:30; Romans 8:24; 9:27; 1 Corinthians 5:5; Jude 23) and soteria 35 percent (Acts 4:12; 13:26; Romans 1:16; 10:1; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Ephesians 1:13). Like the Old Testament it sometimes simply means healing or recovery of health. When this happens, the notion of “deliver” disappears altogether, and the word simply means “to heal.” For example, in response to the faith and resultant healing of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, Jesus said: “Your faith has healed (sozo) you” (Matthew 9:21, 22). This sense is quite common—19 percent (Mark 3:4; 5:23, 28, 34; Luke 6:9; 8:36, 48, 50; John 11:12; James 5:15). But there is no instance of soteria used in this sense.
Consistent with its most frequent usage in the Old Testament (LXX), sozo often means to deliver from some danger (19 percent). For example, when Jesus prayed in the garden, he asked, “Save [sozo] me from this hour” (John 12:27)—see also Matthew 8:25; 14:30; 24:22; Luke 1:71; 23:35, 37, 39; John 12:27; Acts 7:52; 27:20, 31, 34; 1 Thessalonians 5:9.
Salvation of the Troubled
Similar to the idea of “deliverance from danger,” but with a distinctively positive emphasis, are the references in which salvation is viewed as victorious endurance and not just escape, e.g., 2 Corinthians 1:6, where salvation seems to be equated with patient endurance, an aspect of sanctification.
It is probable that the idea of victorious endurance is behind a use of soteria in Philippians that has often perplexed interpreters:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2: 12, 13)
This salvation must be worked for. The phrase “work out” translates katergazomai, which simply means “to effect by labor, achieve, work out, bring about, etc.”—see also Romans 4:15; James 1:3. A salvation that can be achieved by labor is hardly the justification-by-faith-alone kind of salvation offered elsewhere. Neither is any notion of obedience being the evidence of true faith found in this passage; rather, obedience is the condition of salvation.
The salvation to which Paul refers here is related contextually back to his discussion in Philippians 1:19, 20, 27-30.
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance [soteria] through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. (Philippians 1:19, 20)
The thought of deliverance from danger is the obvious meaning of salvation here, but more than that, Paul wants to be delivered in such a way that Christ will be honored in his body. A higher deliverance, a victorious endurance, is in view. He desires that his readers similarly will be victorious in their trials as well, following his example:
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation [soteria], and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. (Philippians 1:27-30)
The apostle aspired to a victorious endurance in which his life or death would magnify Christ, and he exhorts them to aspire to the same goal. Their lack of fear in the face of enemies and their united stand is clear evidence of the reality of their victorious endurance (salvation), which will be evident to all.
This salvation is one beyond their initial salvation in Christ. The first salvation was received by simple faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9), but this one comes by faithful endurance. It consists of Christ being magnified in one’s life. This salvation must be “achieved by labor.” This is the salvation that he wants them to “work out” in Philippians 2:12. They are to continue to bring honor to Christ as they boldly respond to their trials. He is exhorting them to victorious endurance.
Such an interpretation would not be unexpected by readers in the first century, saturated as they were with the idea of salvation found in their Greek Bible. As mentioned above, the most common usage of the word was “deliverance from trials” (for example, Psalm 3:8, 18:3, 35, 46, 50; 35:3; 37:39; 38:22; 44:4—in all these references the LXX employs soteria).
Salvation of a Life
[Reviewer’s comment: This section considers some theologically problematic passages that use the words “save” and “salvation,” which are often erroneously interpreted as being delivered from hell.]
The phrase “save a soul” (Gk. sozo psyche) seems to have a technical meaning of “preserve your physical life.” Jesus used it in Matthew:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life [psyche] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [psyche] for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul [psyche]? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul [psyche]? (Matthew 16:24-26)
It remains for scholars of historical theology to discern how this phrase ever became connected with the idea of deliverance from hell. It is never used that way in the Bible, and such an idea would have been foreign to any Jewish reader of the New Testament. [If in fact this referred to eternal salvation] then the context requires that works, suffering, and taking up one’s cross are necessary conditions for one’s salvation [which is contrary to Scripture]. [In light of this] it is either necessary to redefine faith [for eternal salvation] as being equivalent to obedience [works], which a lexical study will not allow, or reconsider the traditional meaning of “save a soul.”
The phrase “save a soul” is found eleven times in the LXX (Septuagint—Greek translation of the Old Testament), and in each case it has the notion of preserving one’s physical life (e.g., Genesis 19:17; 32:30; 1 Kings 19:11; 1 Samuel 19:11; Judges 10:15; Job 33:28; Psalm 30:7; 71:13; 108:31; Jeremiah 31:6). This meaning is reasonably carried over to the New Testament, unless the interests of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance preempts reason—in such a case then the traditional meaning, “deliver from hell,” is absolutely without parallel in biblical or extra-biblical literature, and yet it is accepted as the starting point for understanding the meaning of “save a soul” in the New Testament.
For the following reasons the references to “soul” in Christ’s comments in Matthew 16:26 above cannot have reference to “deliverance from hell”:
Clause 1: For whoever desires to save his psyche
Clause 2: will lose it.
Clause 3: But whoever loses his psyche for My sake
Clause 4: will find it.
If the saving of the psyche in clause 1 is physical, it must also be physical in clause 3, and if it is metaphorical in 2, then it must be metaphorical in 4. It obviously cannot be physical in all four clauses because then a man would be preserving and losing his physical life at the same time (clause 1 and 2). The psyche can be “saved” in two senses. The first (clause 1) refers to physical preservation. But the metaphorical sense (clause 2) refers to a common usage of psche, which is the inner self or that which experiences the joys and sorrows of life. To “save the soul” (psyche) in this sense is to secure for it eternal pleasures by living a life of sacrifice now. It is the development of an inner character that will have eternal consequences. There is a connection between our life of sacrifice now with our future capability to enjoy and experience eternal fellowship with Christ in the future (millennial kingdom).
So the danger is that, if a man does not become a disciple, he will lose his psyche. That is, he will forfeit true (victorious) life now and reward in the coming age. The fact that the context is referring to rewards, and not deliverance from hell, is stated in the next verse, which is an integral part of this passage and specifically an extension of verse 26:
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. (Matthew 16:27)
Clauses 2 and 4 therefore refer to the losing or gaining of rewards in the coming age, which loss or gain is relative to discipleship. Saving one’s life (clause 1) means what it means every place else in the Bible, “to preserve one’s physical life.” There was a temptation among Christ’s followers to avoid martyrdom and suffering to save their lives. Paradoxically, when a man schemes to preserve his own life, he will lose the very thing he really wants, happiness and blessing (clause 2). However, if he is willing to die for Christ (clause 3), he will find the very pleasures and blessings he really sought in addition to rewards in the coming age (clause 4).
Keeping this in mind helps to understand some passages that are fraught with theological difficulty, such as in the book of James:
Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save [sozo] your souls [psyche]. (James 1:21)
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save [sozo] him? (James 2:14)
[Reviewer’s note: The book of James is written to Christians (vss. 2, 16) regarding the various trials they were facing (vs. 2) to assure them that those who endure the trials will experience a “salvation”—spiritual benefits in the present life and rewards in the age to come (vss. 3, 4, 12, 21, 25).]
The form of the question in verse 14 requires a negative answer. No, faith without works cannot save! If salvation in James refers to final deliverance from hell, only with great [theological bending] difficulty can it be brought into harmony with Paul, a harmony at the expense of the plain meaning of the text. Works clearly ARE a condition of “salvation” according to James. But what is the content of that salvation?
James takes us back to the teaching of his Master in 1:21 when he refers to the saving of our lives (psyche). The expression “save your lives” is the same one used by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:25 (parallel passages are Mark 8:25; Luke 9:24; 21:19: John 12:25). That “salvation” does require work and self-denying service to Christ. It does not constitute final deliverance from hell. Rather, it involves the preservation of physical life now, a victorious perseverance through trials, and a glorious reward for our faithful service in the future.
Nowhere does James tell us that works are the inevitable result of the faith that delivers from hell. But then, if it does, James is teaching eternal salvation by works—a severe contradiction with Scripture regarding this specific subject.
Receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls (psyche—“lives”). (1 Peter 1:9)
Peter’s is endeavoring to encourage his readers toward steadfastness in trials (1:6), which are both external and internal (2:11). The warfare against them is severe, and they need victory in the battle; they need deliverance, or “salvation” (soteria). Only by daily obedience to the truth can their “souls” be “purified” so that they can love fervently (1:22).
Peter reminds them that they have been “born again to a living hope” (1:3) “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for” them (1:4). This inheritance is the “reward of the inheritance” (Colossians 3:24) of which Paul spoke. All are appointed to this at spiritual birth but only those who persevere in faith will obtain the intended goal, which is “ready to be revealed in the last (end) time” (1:5). The salvation to be revealed is the consummation of our salvation in the glories of the messianic era. This is the future tense of salvation. Only those Christians who maintain (persevere in) their faith will experience protection now and have a share in that great (millennial) future.
Even though they are distressed by various trials, they rejoice in the prospect that, if they remain steadfast, they will “obtain an inheritance.” Indeed, Peter says, the intended result of these trials is that after the suffering they may receive “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:7). First comes faithful perseverance under suffering, and then comes honor from Christ at His revelation.
As they gaze at this glorious future salvation, they obtain benefits of that great future in the present. This is essentially the meaning in verse 1:9, both contextually and in line with the fact that most often psyche refers to one’s physical life (as easily seen in the use of the word in the LXX, e.g., Psalm 3:2; 35:3; 42:11; 1 Samuel 19:5;). It does not mean “go to heaven when I die” or final deliverance from hell; rather, it means “deliverance from enemies.” Unless there are contextual indications to the contrary, there is no reason to depart from this universal sense.
That this is the intended meaning in 1 Peter 1 seems to be confirmed by the fact that they are receiving this salvation now (present tense). As they are steadfast and faithful, they experience the benefits of their future salvation in the present. In other words, vs. 9 has sanctification and not justification in view. It is not an act of faith that will give them victory but a life of faith that delivers them from present enemies and provides them “real time” spiritual victory.
Some have objected that this cannot be true because the next verse begins, “Of this salvation, the prophets . . . .” (1 Peter 1:10). The salvation referred to in this verse is clearly the future salvation of the soul and not its present salvation. Since the salvation in vs. 10 refers back to the salvation in vs. 9, it is argued that the salvation in vs. 9 must be future as well. In this way some notion of “entrance into heaven” is read into the words. However, in vs. 9 the salvation is an extension into the present of the benefits of the future salvation. So both verses are speaking about the same thing. When the future salvation is experienced in the present, it is a salvation from the present enemies of the people of God. When experienced in the future, it is the final and permanent deliverance from all enemies. However they are now able to earn this salvation in the future as a reward (Gk. komizo, “receive”) and to have the benefits extend to the present.
What is the present expression of future salvation that they are receiving? In what way does steadfast faith bring salvation to their souls (lives) now? What is the salvation of a life (soul) in the present? It is not deliverance from hell or entrance into heaven! The battle in which their souls (lives) were engaged and from which they needed deliverance was the battle against fleshly lusts (2:11), the battle for purity (1:22), and the battle for survival in the midst of trials (1:6). These are the enemies these readers face. As they trust God and set their gaze on the great future and remain faithful to Him now, they experience the salvation that consists of victorious perseverance in trials and triumph over the pollutions of the age. They are by this means “protected” (a military term, 1:5) from their “enemies.”
A final illustration of a usage of the world “salvation” that seems to equate it with deliverance from the enemies of the people of God in the present is found in a passage that is most often used as the means to “eternal salvation” (deliverance from hell). The passage is found in chapter 10:
That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9, 10)
[Reviewer’s comment: Of all the passages of scripture thus far explained by the author, this is the one most difficult for the reviewer to understand. The author endeavors to explain the “salvation” of this passage as referring to a “deliverance from temporal devastation,” based on the context prior to and following the passage. This may in fact be the case; although, the reader of this review is directed to the argument made by the author of the book within the book so that he may decide for himself. Nevertheless, this review will include the following paragraphs verbatim by the author, which recaps his view of this passage. It is significant though that all the Old Testament passages quoted by Paul in this context appear to deal with Israel’s deliverance from temporal enemies.]
This confession is unusual because it is the only place in the New Testament where a condition in addition to faith is added for salvation. The Gospel of John, which was written expressly for the purpose that we might believe and as a result be saved (John 20:30, 31), never mentions confession of Christ as Lord as a condition. If we must confess Jesus as Lord in order to be saved, then a man could not be saved by reading John’s gospel!
[Reviewer’s comment: It is the reviewer’s position that this passage can be adequately explained should one see the salvation of this passage as indeed being “eternal salvation,” i.e., deliverance from hell.]
A very simple solution to this difficulty is to return to the definition of salvation in the immediate context. This salvation is not deliverance from hell but is the same salvation mentioned in vs. 1, divine aid to the believer as he struggles against his temporal enemies. This was the deliverance Israel failed to enjoy. Only one thing is necessary, according to the book of Romans, for salvation from hell: belief. But two things are necessary for us to enjoy the full salvation spoken of in this context, which includes God’s blessing, His individual and spiritual salvation in this life: (1) faith in Christ and (2) submission to His lordship. Furthermore, it is not inevitable that a man who believes in Christ will also confess Him as Lord. Paul makes this plain in the next verse: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).
Salvation in this verse has the same meaning it did in vs. 1 and vs. 9, God’s divine aid to his people in time. Believing with the heart results in final deliverance from hell, but confession of the lordship of Christ is necessary for the kind of salvation mentioned here, salvation from present enemies. Instead of confession of Jesus as Lord being the inevitable result of salvation as the Experimental Predestinarians teach, Paul, to the contrary, says that salvation is the inevitable result of confessing Jesus as Lord! But this is not a salvation from hell. Just as a confession of Jesus as Lord results in salvation, so calling upon the name of the Lord has the same effect: “For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
The phrases “call upon the name of the Lord” and “confess Jesus as Lord are parallel and they compliment each other. Both result in “salvation.” But the salvation in view must be determined by the immediate context in Romans and the Old Testament citations. This verse (10:13) is a quotation from Joel 2:32 and refers to the physical deliverance from the future day of wrath upon the earth and the restoration of the Jews to Palestine and not deliverance from hell. Salvation in vs. 13 means exactly what it meant in vs. 1, vs. 9, and vs. 10: practical aid in the struggle against the enemies of the people of God. No doubt deliverance from hell is included in the concept in all four verses, but the focus is deliverance in time and victory. This is made very clear in the following verses where Paul defines the salvation as the divine aid a believer receives when he calls upon the name of the Lord.
In the New Testament, “calling upon the name of the Lord” is something only those who are already justified can do. A non-Christian cannot call upon the name of the Lord for assistance because he is not yet born again. Paul says to the Corinthians: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).
[Reviewer’s comment: It is noteworthy that men first started to “call upon the name of the Lord in Genesis 4:26, and the phrase is also mentioned in 1Kings 18:24; Psalm 116:17; Joel 2:32; Zephaniah 3:9.]
Wherever Christians met in worship, they would appeal to their divine Lord for assistance by calling upon His name. Christians were known by this title; they were simply those who called upon the Lord (Acts 9:14, 21). Paul similarly urged Timothy to flee youthful lusts and to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call upon the name of the Lord” (2 Timothy 2:22). Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, “called upon the Lord” and asked Him to receive his spirit (Acts 7:59).
The point is that to call upon the name of the Lord was a distinctively Christian privilege. Non-Christians cannot call upon Him and to call upon Him is not a condition of salvation from hell but of deliverance in time from the enemies of God’s people. When a man believes, the result, Paul says, is righteousness. He is delivered from hell. When he confesses Jesus as Lord (calls upon His name), he is saved (delivered) from all enemies of the people of God in time.
Salvation of a Wife
Another passage that has exercised much exegetical ingenuity is found in 1 Timothy:
Nevertheless she will be saved [sozo] in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Salvation in this verse is something like “spiritual health,” a full and meaningful life. This fits the context. Paul is indicating that women will find their primary destiny by fulfilling their role as a mother if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.
Salvation of a Christian Leader
There is salvation for Christian leaders:
Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save [sozo] both yourself and those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)
Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered [saved] your soul [life]. (Ezekiel 33:9)
Both Timothy and Ezekiel are regenerate and justified saints who are still in need of being saved, of finding spiritual wholeness, or possibly, as one writer suggested, of “continuous preservation from surrounding evil.”
Reigning with Christ in the Kingdom
Often in the Old Testament salvation has messianic overtones. It refers to the future regathering of the nation of Israel and their establishment as rulers in a universal kingdom under the kingship of David’s greater Son. It is not surprising then to find that both sozo and soteria often have similar connotations in the New Testament: joint participation with Christ in the coming kingdom rule.
It is possible that this is the thought behind our Lord’s saying: “But he who stands firm to the end will be saved [sozo]” (Matthew 24:13). The context refers to the terrors of the future tribulation. If the content of the salvation here is positive, then a great motive for endurance has been provided. It may be preferable to view the salvation here as the receipt of the kingdom and the right to rule there. The condition of salvation in this passage is steadfast endurance that does not yield under persecution but perseveres to the final hour, i.e., either the end of the tribulation or the end of life.
[Reviewer’s comment: The author then ties the passage to that portion of Christ’s discourse from the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24:3-25:46) that deals with the judgment of the Gentiles (nations) during the tribulation, which specifically mentions the coming millennial kingdom.]
Another verse to the young Timothy:
Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect so that they also may obtain the salvation [soteria] which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:10)
While many commentators understand the “elect” to refer to the unregenerate who have not yet believed (but certainly will), there is good reason to understand the term in this context as a virtual synonym for a regenerate saint. First of all, in every usage of the term applied to men, in the New Testament it always refers to a justified saint. Conversely, it never refers to someone who was elect in eternity past but who has not yet entered into the purpose of his election justification. The word eklektos (Gk. for “elect”) is used 22 times in the New Testament. Jesus says that for the sake of the “elect” the days of the tribulation will be shortened (Matthew 24:22; Mark 13:21). Even the “elect,” He says, can be led astray (Mark 13:22). Paul tells us the “elect” are the justified (Romans 8:33) and that they are Christians, “chosen of God” (Colossians 3:12). The Christian lady to whom John writes is the “chosen lady” (2 John 1, 13) and the “chosen” of Revelation 17:14 are faithful Christians.
It is best to understand that the “elect” here refers to Timothy and the faithful men of vs. 2. Timothy is being exhorted to suffer in his ministry to the “elect.” The idea of Paul suffering for the sanctification and growth of the churches is a common New Testament theme, as in 2 Corinthians 1:5, 6; 4:12; Colossians 1:24.
Here then are saved people in need of salvation! The salvation in view is sanctification or, perhaps, more precisely, victorious perseverance through trials (1:8; 2:3, 9). Elsewhere in the Pastorals, “salvation” has referred to aspects of sanctification so there is no reason why it cannot have such a meaning here as well (e.g. 1 Timothy 2:15; 4:16). The setting is the dismal situation of apostasy (in 1:15, shortly to be identified, 2:17, 18). Paul reminds Timothy that loyalty to the profession of faith (vs. 11) does not go unrewarded (Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12). If they persevere, they will not only obtain victory but eternal honor (vs. 10), reward at the judgment set of Christ.
Salvation in the Book of Hebrews
Moving as he does in Old Testament context, it is to be expected that the writer of Hebrews would use the word soteria in a sense more akin to its Hebrew background. For him salvation is participation with Christ in the future kingdom rule. He distinguishes his usage of the term from the meaning of final deliverance from hell when he says:
So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait [apekdechomai] for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin [Gk. choris, “apart from sin”], for salvation [soteria].
The verb apekdechomai commonly means to “wait eagerly” or “wait patiently” (see Philippians 3:20; 1 Peter 3:20; 1 Corinthians 1:7). This salvation does not deal with the removal of the negative (it is choris from sin, “apart” from sin). Rather, it refers to a salvation that will come to those Christians who are waiting eagerly for the Lord’s return. The verse seems to precisely parallel Paul’s anticipation of receiving the crown of righteousness, which goes to those who “have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). The readers of the epistle would understand to what he was referring. Indeed, the major theme of the book is to exhort them to continue to wait patiently, to endure faithfully in the midst of their trials:
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise. (Hebrews 10:35, 36)
Some of the readers were considering throwing away their confidence, returning to Judaism. They would not be the ones found waiting eagerly, who have “labored to enter into rest” (Hebrews 4:11), and who have “done the will of God” (10:36), i.e., finished their work. His meaning becomes transparent in Hebrews 1:14, 2:3 and 2:10:
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation [soteria]? (1:14)
The fact that he is thinking in Old Testament terms, quoting the Psalms, and anticipating this salvation as future (“will inherit”) suggests that he is thinking of the messianic salvation proclaimed by the prophets mentioned above (compare Hebrews 1:8, 9 with Psalms 45; Hebrews 1:13 with Psalms 110:1).
Surely, the immediate associations with the quotations from the Psalms would lead us to think of the future messianic kingdom and not redemption from hell. Furthermore, as argued in the previous chapter, the verb “to inherit” always has the sense of “to obtain by works” in the New Testament; therefore, this salvation is obtained by works. That there is a salvation that can be obtained by works is taught elsewhere in Hebrews 5:9. Believers do not “inherit,” “obtain by obedience,” the salvation that is from hell. But they do obtain by obedience an ownership in the future consummation. To inherit salvation is simply to obtain ownership with the King of His future kingdom.
We are therefore justified in being skeptical of the interpretation that says that salvation here is deliverance from hell. That is why F. F. Bruce says:
The salvation here spoken of lies in the future; it is yet to be inherited. . . . That is to say, it is that eschatological salvation which in Paul’s words is “nearer to us than when we first believed” (Rom. 13:11), or in Peter’s words is “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5). (The Epistle to the Hebrews, by F. F. Bruce)
It is commonly recognized that the warnings of Hebrews are parentheses in his argument. From 1:4 to 2:18 he is presenting the superiority of Christ to the angels. It is not to angels that the rulership over God’s works has been commissioned but to God’s King Son and His companions (1:9; 2:10). In the middle of the argument he inserts a warning, Hebrews 2:1-4, in which he exhorts them not to neglect this great future, this great soteria (salvation). Then in Hebrews 2:5 he picks up the argument he momentarily departed from at the end of Hebrews 1:14. The “for” (gar) refers back to 1:14:
For [gar] He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. (Hebrews 2:5)
The subjection of the world to come is the soteria “of which we are speaking.” He then gives an exposition of Psalm 8:1-9, which is in turn David’s exposition of the final destiny of man as is set forth in Genesis 1:26-28. To “inherit” that salvation is simply to have a share with Christ in ruling in that kingdom. This contextually is the “great salvation” that they are not to neglect:
How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation [soteria] . . . . (Hebrews 2:3)
The neglected salvation is not our final deliverance from hell; that is not the salvation “about which we are speaking.” Rather, it is the opportunity to enter into the final destiny of man, to reign with Christ over the works of God’s hands (Hebrews 2:8, 9). There is something conditional about entering into this salvation. It is the salvation he has just mentioned in 1:14. He tells us there is a danger from which we cannot escape if we neglect it. For the writer of the epistle the danger to which he refers is not loss of justification, “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). Our eternal destiny is secure. What is contingent is whether or not we will be “richly rewarded” and “receive what He has promised” (Hebrews 10:36), which is achieved only “through faith and patience” (Hebrews 6:12).
While one could conclude that the Lord’s teaching to Nicodemus in John regards salvation from hell, the context of Hebrews 2:5-10 speaks of another salvation that was also mentioned by Christ, as in Matthew 19:28; Luke 12:31, 32; 22:29, 30). The coming kingdom of heaven announced here by Jesus is none other than the predicted kingdom-salvation of the Old Testament. It is the time of the restoration of the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6). The miracles that confirmed it (Hebrews 2:4) are powers of the coming age (Hebrews 6:5). Such a salvation, joint participation with Christ in the coming kingdom rule, is contingent upon our faithful perseverance and obedience, as is made clear in Hebrews 5:8, 9.
Salvation is a broad term. However, only with difficulty can the common meaning of “deliver from hell” be made to fit into numerous passages. It commonly means “to make whole,” “to sanctify,” “to endure victoriously,” or “to be delivered from some general trouble or difficulty.” Without question, the common “knee-jerk” reaction that assumes that “salvation” always has eternal deliverance (from hell) in view has seriously compromised the ability of many to objectively discern what the New Testament writers intended to teach. As a result, Experimental Predestinarian views have gained wider acceptance than they should have.
A similar problem exists in regard to the definition of “eternal life.” Once again a kind of instinctive response to this term sets in. Without due consideration of contextual matters, it is often assumed, without discussion or proof, that the term invariably means “to be born again.” As we shall see in the next chapter, this is not always the case.