While covering this week’s material with the teachers Wednesday night, I remembered an old post that might add some interesting depth to the subject. Here it is re-edited for our present purposes.
Most commentaries, heavily influenced by Luther and Calvin, speak of “salvation” as getting to go to heaven when we die. Modern churches often speak of making “Jesus your personal Savior,” as though Jesus could be owned personally.
But, of course, this isn’t quite right. And part of the inadequacy of this perspective is that it completely ignores the Old Testament’s use of “salvation.” And we really can’t understand the Old Testament idea until we understand the long-standing promise of a new heaven and new earth.
The NIV speaks of “salvation” 80 times in the Old Testament. “Save” and its variants are used 246 times! I’m guessing we can gain some depth of understanding by tracing “salvation” through the Old Testament.
The Song of Moses declares,
(Exo 15:2) The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
“Salvation” here is rescue from the Egyptians. We next read of the Song of Moses in Revelation –
(Rev 15:2-3) And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God 3 and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages.”
Again, “salvation” is spoken of as God’s victory over our enemy (the beast) for our benefit.
When God delivered David from Saul, David sang,
(2 Sam 22:2-3) He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; 3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior — from violent men you save me.
Many times thereafter, “salvation” is spoken of as God’s protection of Israel. But toward the end of Isaiah, we see a new concept being revealed — everlasting salvation.
(Isa 45:17-18) But Israel will be saved by the LORD with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting. 18 For this is what the LORD says — he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
Israel had fought many wars, and the promise of “everlasting salvation” was for an end of conflict and, especially, an end to defeat.
(Isa 49:5-6) And now the LORD says — he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength — 6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
Now we begin to see “salvation” as not just God’s protection of Israel but his rescue of the nations.
(Isa 51:5-6) My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.
Now, we see “salvation” in apocalyptic terms, referring to an entirely new age. For God’s people to be saved everlastingly, the old world has to be replaced.
Just before speaking of the suffering Servant, Isaiah speaks of salvation in terms of good news –
(Isa 52:7-10) How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.
The gospel is God’s salvation — his rescue and protection — being extended from Israel to include “all the nations.” But if all the nations are to saved, who are they to be saved from?
And then, Isaiah looks ahead to the new heaven and new earth in language later borrowed by Rev 21 –
(Isa 60:18-21) No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. 19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. 21 Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.
The language is originally in terms of national salvation — no violence, no destruction, no loss of land. But the language then becomes cosmic — something much bigger than an end to defeat in battle is coming!
One of the last prophecies of the Old Testament continues to redefine “salvation” –
(Zec 9:9) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
In the New Testament, we hear Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, speak in decidedly Old Testament terms about salvation –
(Luke 1:68-75) “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. 69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David 70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), 71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us — 72 to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham: 74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
He prayed for salvation from Israel’s enemies, not salvation from sin. And as was true from the Song of Moses, salvation for the community of the saved. The idea of a “personal Savior” so far is utterly foreign to the scriptures.
At first, the two ideas — salvation from warring enemies and going to heaven — seem entirely contradictory. But Peter helps pull it all together –
(1 Pet 1:3-5) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
“Salvation” doesn’t happen when we die. Rather, although it’s kept for us in heaven, it won’t be revealed until the Eschaton. But this salvation is also our inheritance. Again … it’s the new heaven and new earth. You see, salvation is not just avoiding hell — it’s being rescued from our enemies and troubles. It’s not just about sin and hell.
But salvation is also immediate and present: those with faith “are shielded by God’s power.” There is the salvation of God’s present protection of his people, and then there’s the full salvation at the end that’s even better.
Moreover — and this is very important — salvation is not mainly personal. It’s mainly communal. The community of the faithful is saved. God is the Savior of Israel — now, the new Israel — not Israelites individually.
It’s a subtle — and hard to express — point. But we are saved into the community of the saved. We aren’t saved to have a personal relationship with God so much as we are baptized into the saved community.
(Jude 1:3) Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
You see, God long ago promised to save Israel. In Jesus, the Gentiles were grafted in.
(Rom 11:11) Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
There is certainly an individual aspect to our salvation. Of course. But the element we overlook — as Westerners — is that it’s mainly about the household of faith.
(Eph 2:19-20) Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
We are baptized into the body of Christ and into Christ. We aren’t baptized into salvation. We are baptized into the saved body — the community of the saved. And God’s salvation is not for me so much as for Israel, to which I’ve been added.
And this “salvation” is God’s protection both today and in eternity. Peter says we’re “shielded by God’s power” today, but later, we’ll receive salvation — in a new earth where no enemy can take our land and no one can trouble us. God will rescue us so we can serve him without fear.