As we begin to enter the fall festival season, our minds often turn toward the idea of salvation, resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. This is natural and what might be expected, especially since it is during this season that we have a number of festivals bunched together. Though many thoroughly enjoy the festival and what they point too, many others find themselves separating from co-workers, friends, and sometimes even their own family as they pack up and leave their homes for eight days to observe the festivals. For those who leave their loved ones behind, they probably wonder what is going to happen to the family and friends who do not share in their understanding of God’s way and His plan of salvation. Are they lost? Why can’t they see the wonderful things God has revealed to me? Have they any hope? If the righteous are scarcely saved1, what happens to my “unrighteous” neighbor?
These are all good questions, and they are questions that can be answered from the pages of the Bible. But to understand these things we must look beyond individual scriptural texts. Simply looking up all the scriptures that include the words save, saved, or salvation will not give us a clear understanding. The same holds true for reward, the Kingdom of God, or any other Biblical concept for that matter. To clearly understand these concepts, we must first understand what God is doing and why He’s doing it the way He is.
In this two-part study, we will look at the concept of salvation, resurrection, and the Kingdom of God from the vantage point of what God is doing. The first part will focus on the differences between salvation and reward, then in part two; we will focus on how salvation - and hopefully reward - will be offered to all mankind.
What is God Doing?
What is God doing? Better yet, what has God been doing for the past 6000 years? If we believe that He is trying at this day and time to save the world, we’ll have to admit that He’s not doing a very good job of it. Looking back at all the people mentioned or referenced in the Bible, we see relatively few who seem to have lived a life that would be characterized as being pleasing to God. Men like Abraham, Joshua, King David, Peter, and Paul seem to be some who we might assume lived a life that would lead to eternal life, but the vast majority of others like Cain, Nimrod, Korah, King Saul, Nebechenezzer, and Caiaphas the High Priest, might represent those who were not pleasing to God. Some might suggest that we throw all the Philistines, Midianites, and Pharisees in with that group as well. So even in the “Holy Book”, it appears that the majority were probably not pleasing to God and thus were not “saved”.
If it truly is God’s will that all men are to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth 2, then He must have something else in mind than what we’re seeing. Even after all the efforts of the church, the vast majority of people either do not know of Him, believe in Him, or are willing to follow Him. And then there's Israel. Didn't Paul say that "all Israel shall be saved"?3 It doesn't appear that God is saving them, after all, most of them still do not believe in Jesus.
Is God unable to fulfill His will, or have we misunderstood His will? I believe we have misunderstood His will. I believe God’s will truly is that all men be saved, but I also believe we have misunderstood how he’s going to bring it about.
So how is He going to bring it about? Obviously, He know His role, but maybe we’ve misunderstood our role? Why has God called us? Did God call us so we might “get ourselves saved”, or do we have a purpose in life bigger than even personal salvation? In Peter’s letter to the “pilgrims of the dispersion”4, he said that -
ESV 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellences of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I chose this version instead of the King James version, or even the New King James version, because it translates the Greek word genos (Strong’s 1085) in such a way as to indicate a people, not just a generation of people as the KJV implies. The English Standard translation shows that there is a people whose job is to proclaim the greatness of the God of Israel. And how were they to proclaim the awesomeness of God? By their walk as Peter continues to show -
ESV 1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Conduct and good works. These are the things that will cause the nations to glorify God. This passage, when combined with what Peter had written earlier5shows that the conduct He was expecting of his audience was the same as that expected of Israel 1500 years earlier when Moses said to the generation that would cross over the Jordan and enter the Promised Land -
ESV Deuteronomy 4:5-8 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Israel’s purpose - her calling - was to become a nation of people who walked in God’s ways and received the blessings of doing so. As such, other peoples and nations would be drawn to Israel, and as more and more people came to live like God intended mankind to live, eventually all nations and peoples would become a part of Israel. Israel would become and kingdom that would encompass the earth.
This is the same calling given to God’s people in Peter’s day, and I submit that it is our calling as well. So to answer the previous question, do we then live this godly lifestyle so we can be saved, or were we saved so we could live this lifestyle? To answer that question, we must come to a Biblical understanding of what it means to be saved. So . . . what is salvation?
Paul said to the Ephesians -
ESV Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
This is pretty clear! We were saved before we ever did any “works”. This is a basic tenet of Christianity - works cannot bring us salvation - and I agree!. Paul wrote extensively about this in his various epistles as he battled the Judaizers - even the believing Pharisees - who taught that they had standing before God because of their deeds. So if works cannot bring us salvation, what is the purpose of works? Maybe a better question is “what is the purpose of salvation”? We’ll see as we continue with Paul’s statement -
ESV Ephesians 2:9-10 . . . (salvation is) not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Instead of salvation being the result of works, salvation is what brings us to the point that we can do good works. So it appears that there are some who are already saved, at least in regards to being able to do works. Is this what salvation is all about? “I thought being saved meant going to heaven and being a part of the Kingdom of God” some might say.
Before continuing with the concept of salvation it’s important that we understand that in the New Testament, the word save, saved, and salvation are used in all three tenses - past, present, and future. For instance, in Paul’s statement above, he used the past tense -
ESV Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
, but in another passage he used the present tense -
ESV1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
In other passages, Paul speaks of salvation in the future tense -
ESV Romans 10:13 For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Thus we can see that - at least in Paul’s understanding - salvation is something that has happened, is happening, and will happen. We therefore have to admit that when Paul speaks of salvation, he is not necessarily speaking of what many believe is the goal of a godly life - heaven or the Kingdom of God.
What then was he speaking of? Let’s dig a little deeper into the concept of salvation and find out.
The Greek word used for saved in all three of the above passages is sozo (Strong’s 4982). In fact sozo is the Greek word from which every instance of the word, save, saved, and salvation is found in the King James version of the New Testament except for Peter’s references to the flood and Luke’s reference to a centurion keeping Paul alive6.
According to Strong’s, the primary meaning of soza is “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction”. Of these meanings, the only “concrete” meaning is “to rescue from danger or destruction”. Applying this meaning to the above-mentioned passages of Paul, we can see that there are some who have been rescued from danger or destruction, others who are being rescued from danger or destruction, and still other who will be rescued from danger or destruction. ‘Seems a little confusing, especially if we’ve got only one concept in mind when we think of the word salvation.
To enhance our understanding, let’s add in a concept of salvation found in the Old Testament.
When we take the Greek word soza and search for how it might be used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament7, one of the first places we see it is in the Psalms -
ESV Psalm 33:16-19 16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.
In this psalm, the Hebrew word translated saved is yasha (יָשַׁע - Strong’s 3467), and in this case, the psalmist is saying that YHVH is the only one who can truly save. Yasha is spelled with the three Hebrew consonants yod (י ), shin ( שׁ ), and ayin ( ע ) all of which have specific meaning in the primitive script. Keeping in mind that Hebrew is an action language, if you were to look at a picture of these primitive letters, you would see a hand, teeth, and an eye, with each representing a certain action. The hand represents deed or action, the teeth - consuming or destruction, and finally, the eye represents looking upon something, even longingly. To the Hebrew people, these letters, in this order would indicate being rescued, followed by the destruction of the one who was pursuing or holding them captive, then a devotion to the one who had delivered them. This is the Hebrew idea of salvation8.
Looking at the Hebrew scriptures, we see that this is indeed the case. The very first place we see the word yasha is in Exodus 2:17. This is also the first place we see someone being saved.
NKJ Exodus 2:16-17 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father's flock. 17 Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped (yasha) them, and watered their flock.
As we see, Moses came by the well and found some renegade shepherds giving Jethro’s daughters grief while they were trying to water their flocks. Moses drove all the men away by himself and then drew water for all the women and their flocks. All the women looked at him as a hero, and the oldest eventually married him.
Keeping in mind that the Hebrew concept of salvation is of a person rescuing you from your enemy, destroying that enemy, and finally marrying the one he rescued - let’s look at the very next passage where we see the word yasha. It’s found in Exodus 14, the story of the Israelites emerging from the Red Sea.
ESV Exodus 14:28-30 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 30 Thus the LORD saved (yasha) Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
This event happened approximately seven days after Passover, very likely on the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. God had appeared as a pillar of fire and as a cloud, and for the previous hours had been manipulating Pharaoh and the Egyptians to where they willingly entered the path between the two towering walls of water. At just the right time, He unleashed the water and it came crashing down on the pursuing Egyptian army. God had saved them from their enemy.
According to tradition, about 43 days later, the Israelites were camped around Mount Sinai where they entered into a covenant of marriage with the God of Israel. Thus Israel followed the Hebrew path of salvation - being rescued from your enemy, seeing the enemy destroyed, and finally marrying the one who rescued you. Notice that Israel did nothing to warrant God’s intervention in their lives. Yes, they did cry out to God, and yes - they did sacrifice a Passover lamb - but they did so only to protect their firstborn. They had no good works. Yet God chose to deliver them from slavery simply because He remembered His covenant with Abraham, and He did so even while they were steeped in idolatry9. Thus we might say Israel was “saved by grace, not by works”. But after they were saved, they were expected to perform good works. Their good works were defined by the Torah. Notice what God said to them while they were still camped at Mount Sinai.
ESV Exodus 34:10 . . . "Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.
Thus Israel was saved in the Red Sea so that they might learn the Torah, teach it to their children, and eventually become a people that would be the envy of the nations. History points out that those who went through the Red Sea did not fulfill their calling, never-the-less, they were saved for that purpose: From the vantage point of 1st century Israel, the salvation of the generation who passed through the sea was in the past. Yet God has not abandoned His people, therefore those He was calling in the 1st century were being saved for the same purpose of their forefathers, and again - from their vantage point, those who would come after them would be saved in the future in order to fulfill the same calling.
This appears to be what Peter was talking about 1500 years later.
ESV 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
If this is true and God does not change (which He does not 10) then our salvation is for the same purpose. We are saved by grace through faith in our Deliverer (Messiah Yeshua) so that we can proclaim God’s greatness in this age and in the age to come.
What then is our reward? Like salvation, the best place to find the meaning of that word is in the Old Testament, and the first place we see the word reward is in regards to Abraham -
ESV Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
This took place just after Abraham and his men defeated the four kings and rescued his nephew Lot. He then met with Melchizedek. At this point in his life, Abraham was childless, yet he understood that his reward included children and grandchildren and a nation full of descendants. The “faith chapter” in the book of Hebrews says this about Abraham -
ESV Hebrews 11:8-9 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.
Notice that Abraham was called before he was ever asked to obey, but once he was called, he did obey, leaving behind everything but his household. And why did he do so?
ESV Hebrews 11:10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
Abraham never received his reward during his lifetime. He never saw the promised multitude of descendents; in fact, he only saw his descendants through the second generation. He is still awaiting his reward, and he will see it in the resurrection at which time countless millions - maybe even billions of people will have some of his blood flowing through their veins. More importantly, he will see a nation of Hebrews - people who like himself, crossed over into a way of life that is pleasing to God, and those people will be the ones who make up the Kingdom of God.
The Hebrew word translated reward in the above passage is sakar (שָֹכָר - Strong’s 7939) and is primarily translated as hire, reward, and wages. We might then say that the wages of Abraham’s obedience is a nation of God-fearing “Hebrews” that will populate the Kingdom and proclaim God’s greatness. This seems to be a theme throughout the Tnakh, that the reward of the righteous is to have godly offspring. Take for instance this passage from the Psalms -
ESV Psalm 127:3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward (wages).
We can see this more clearly when we couple the above passage with this passage in Malachi where God chastens the men of Judah for acting treacherously toward their wives. In speaking of the Jewish men and their wives, God said -
ESV Malachi 2:15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.
Godly offspring is the reward of God’s people, but one’s offspring is not necessarily his physical children. It can also be those who you help lead to God and His way. Proverbs says that -
ESV Proverbs 11:18 The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.
In this passage, the Hebrew word for sows is zara ( זָרַע - Strong’s 2232) which means to sow or scatter seed. In other words, sowing the seeds of righteousness brings reward, and I submit that greatest reward a righteous man could have is to see his offspring walking in God’s way; and second to that would be seeing others turn to God because of the seed he has sown. Yeshua alludes to this when He spoke this parable to His disciples -
ESV John 4:35-38 35 Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
In the future harvest at the end of this age and on into the millennial kingdom, the sowers and the reapers will enjoy the rewards of their labors - a people walking in the ways of God. Paul states the same thing to the Corinthians -
ESV 1 Corinthians 3:5-8 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.
On the evening before He was crucified, Yeshua summed it up by saying -
ESV John 15:8 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
Thus we see that - at least in part - our reward in the kingdom will be the joy we have when we see the multitudes that have turned to God by our word and our example. Maybe another part of our reward will be the opportunity to work with those same people, preparing them to be examples of God’s lifestyle and to be teachers of righteousness as well.
So has God set out to save the world? Yes, but not necessarily in this age. The salvation of mankind began with Abraham’s calling, and God’s people have been a part of that calling ever since. That calling will continue throughout the Messianic age as more and more people seek the God of Israel and the way of life He offers. We’ve been called, and we’ve been saved so that we - just like ancient Israel - can learn of God’s ways and be a light to the nations. And because we have been saved, we can “work the fields” - bringing others to this way of life, and in so doing, we earn wages that will be paid to us in the Kingdom of God, for Yeshua said -
NKJ Revelation 22:12 " . . behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work.
1 1 Peter 4:18
2 1 Timothy 2:3-4
3 Romans 11:26
4 1 Peter 1:1
5 1 Peter 1:13-16; 22-25
6 Does not include the places where “save” mean “but” or “except”
7 The Septuagint (LXX)
8 Derived from Brad Scott’s web site - www.wildbranch.org
9 Joshua 24:14-15
10 Malachi 3:6
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