For years I struggled with the apparent contradiction and inconsistency of salvation in the New Testament. For example, have you ever wondered why the New Testament speaks of salvation as completed – yet incomplete – decades after the cross? If you have never noticed this, you are not alone. Let’s take a look…
Even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
1 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.
For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.
1 Peter 1:5
Who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The above texts clearly teach salvation had been received (Ephesians 2), was being received (1 Corinthians 1), and was ready to be received (1 Peter 1) decades after the death of Jesus. So much for salvation being a “finished work” at the cross.
The question is, are we – nearly 2000 years after the cross – still waiting for and expecting our salvation? Is our salvation yet incomplete, as theirs was at that time? And why was theirs incomplete? Didn’t the “work of the cross” consummate salvation for man, and wasn’t that salvation imputed once his faith was placed in Christ?
We will now examine some of the texts in the New Testament which speak of “a salvation” that the church was still expecting well after the cross. And, as we shall see, they were eagerly expecting it within their lifetime (their generation).
Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.
Now read the next verse in the NLT, and feel the sense of urgency in Paul’s words.
“The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of light”. (Romans 13:12)
The above text is so powerful that we should not just a couple points before we move on. First, the phrase “to wake from sleep” is an allusion to the resurrection of Daniel 12:2, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake…” Second, the phrase “you know what hour it is” is an allusion to Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection in John 5:28-29, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice…and come forth…”
To reiterate, both Daniel 12:2 and John 5:28-29 refer to the resurrection. Therefore, since Paul in Romans 13:11 alludes to both these “resurrection texts” in the context of “salvation”, this is powerful evidence that the salvation he said was “near”, was in fact the resurrection (eternal life) of both Daniel and Jesus. Let’s go on….
But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
1 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
1 Thessalonians 5:8
But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation
It is worthwhile noting that Apostle Paul said the Church had only “one hope” (Ephesians 4:4). Therefore, the Church’s “hope of salvation” was the same hope of all 12 tribes of Israel – the hope of the resurrection (Acts 24:14-15, 26:6-8). This strengthens our point above concerning the connection between salvation and resurrection in Romans 13, John 5, and Daniel 12.
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?
So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God (See Mathew 3:7-12 regarding the “imminent wrath” to come)
Based on the above texts we can see that decades after the cross – although an initiated reality in Christ – salvation was yet….
Near (Romans 13:11)
A Hope (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
A Process (1 Corinthians 1:18, Hebrews 1:14, Hebrews 9:28)
But why? And what was that salvation? And why were those who had already been saved still expecting it? How could they have it, yet be waiting for it?
I offer the following as a biblical explanation:
Their salvation was a process. An eschatological first century process that had been initiated, yet awaited its consummation.
It turns out that this process of salvation was a two-edged sword if you will. On one edge, it was salvation from the eschatological (last days) wrath of God which the Old Testament prophets said would come upon the nation of Israel in their last days if they would not repent. Take a look….
If they were wise, they would understand this, they would discern their latter (last-D.D.) end…. Is not this laid up in store with me, sealed up in my treasuries? Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly. For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free…. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear, as I live for ever, if I whet my glittering sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me…. Praise his people, O you nations; for he avenges the blood of his servants, and takes vengeance on his adversaries, and makes expiation for the land of his people.
Malachi 3:1, 4:1-5
Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple….4:1 For behold, the day comes, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch… And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts… Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.
But on the other edge, it was the eschatological (last days) salvation of the righteous remnant of Israel of all ages (and the grafted in gentiles) who had now been liberated from sin and death through the sacrifice of Christ. This was also foretold by the prophets.
He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
What this means is that the salvation from wrath and for redemption which the saints were eagerly anticipating in the New Testament, was the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy which was to occur in Israel’s last days, at the end of her Old Covenant age in AD70. What this also means is that the “unsaved” (unfaithful) would not be saved from wrath, they would experience it.
Notice that in Isaiah 35:4, the coming of the Lord is both in vengeance (wrath) and in salvation (redemption). What this means is that both wrath and salvation would come to Israel at the same time, meaning through the same event. And according to both Old and New Testaments, that same-time-event was the coming of the Lord (See Isaiah 25, 35, Hebrews 9:27-28, 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10, Romans 2:5-10).
As a matter of fact, the coming of the Lord in salvation (to avenge and vindicate the persecution of his saints) and His coming in wrath (to judge and destroy those persecutors) was a prominent Old Testament theme which Jesus continued to teach throughout his ministry (Mathew 21-22 and their parallel texts), as did his disciples (2 Thessalonians 1:4-10).
Therefore, since the salvation of Israel and the judgment of Israel would both occur at the coming of the Lord, if we can identify the time of Israel’s judgment, we will by implication identify the time of Israel’s salvation and the coming of the Lord.
In other words, since these “eschatological elements” (salvation, judgment, coming of the Lord) are all interconnected, if we can identify the time of one, then we have identified the time of all!
What follows is powerful evidence that the judgment (wrath of God) upon Old Covenant Israel was in fact being poured out in the first century, and did culminate in the events of Jerusalem’s destruction in AD70.
First let’s start with John the Baptist. After all, he came as the prophet to Israel to begin the great transition period (the second exodus) from one covenant to another, from one age to another. John was Elijah the prophet and the “voice of the messenger” who was sent to prepare the way of the Lord before the “great and terrible day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5, Mark 1:2-4, Mathew 11:7-15, 17:10-13)
Listen to Johns message…
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand… You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Jesus also prophesied of the same coming wrath (“the sentence of hell”) that was to come upon that wicked generation, for shedding the blood of the righteous.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. Thus, you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore, I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation.
Now watch this….
Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians declares that Jesus’s prophecy of the filling up the measure of their father’s sin (Mathew 23) was being fulfilled by the Jewish persecution of the church in that generation. And, that the wrath that John said was “coming“, had now “come”. The days of God’s vengeance had arrived.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men, by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!
These New Testament texts are clear, the wrath (vengeance) that was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets to come upon Israel in her last days (Deuteronomy 32) was reaching its climax and would very shortly come upon them, in that generation. And, Jesus was definitive as to when this wrath (vengeance) would come upon those persecutors of his Church.
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written. Alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people… And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near…. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place
In my opinion, Luke 21 is “eschatologically loaded”. It places Israel’s wrath-judgment (vs.18-22, 34-36), her redemption-salvation (v.28) and the coming of the Lord (v.27) all within that (his) generation (v.32).
Thus, in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, the wrath and vengeance of God was poured out on rebellious Old Covenant Israel. The city was destroyed by fire and the “trees that did not bear good fruit were hewn down, and cast into that fire” (Mathew 3:10). But, the righteous were delivered from this wrath and received their salvation (redemption) at the coming of the Lord. They were “gathered as his wheat into his granary” (Mathew 3:12)
Therefore, we conclude that:
- Both the salvation and wrath (judgment) of Israel were a first century eschatological process, destined to culminate at the same time.
- That salvation and wrath (judgment) of Old Covenant Israel was the salvation and wrath anticipated to come by the New Testament writers, which they said had come upon their generation.
- That salvation and wrath (judgment) of God as prophesied and anticipated in both Old and New Testaments, was to come upon Israel at the coming of the Lord (Deuteronomy 32, Isaiah 35, 1 Thessalonians 1:4-10, Hebrews 9:28).
- The wrath of God fully came upon Old Covenant Israel in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. This was the full payment for the full measure of their sins.
- Therefore, since salvation and wrath were “same time events”, and since the wrath of God came upon Israel in AD70, then by the most powerful implication, the salvation (redemption) of Israel and the coming of the Lord came in AD70 during those “days of vengeance” and “redemption”. (Luke 21:20-22,27,32).
The coming of the Lord in AD70 was both in vengeance (judgment), and for salvation (redemption). Vengeance and cursing on “those wicked servants” who “would not have their king to reign over them” (unfaithful old covenant Israel), but in salvation and redemption for those who would “bring forth the fruits of the kingdom” (faithful new covenant Israel – the Church). (See Mathew 21-22)
I think the apostle Paul explains it nicely in these words….
2 Thessalonians 1:4-10
Therefore, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering, since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed
When the Lord Jesus was “revealed” as King from heaven through the judgment of Israel/Jerusalem, he gave “rest” (Hebrews 3-4) to the “afflicted” (the Church-true Israel) and inflicted “vengeance” (wrath) upon those who were their persecutors (the unrepentant Jews). Both wrath and salvation were in fact same-time-events which were to come upon Israel at the coming of the Lord in AD70, signaling the end of the Old Covenant age, and the full establishment of Kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth.