Many years ago when I was seeking God and asking questions about the Gospel, I had two zealous Christians walk up to me and say “Are you saved?” Now at the time I had no idea what they meant. But later on, someone told me these two Christians were concerned about the salvation of my soul. Since then, I have done more exegetical work on the topic of salvation in the Bible. Thus, I have concluded salvation is much more extensive than the fire insurance Gospel that Christians are trained to pitch to people. You can see a introduction on the topic here by Bakers Online Dictionary of Theology.
This past summer I was approached by some young teenagers who were our evangelizing in the downtown area where I live. They asked me “What is salvation?” I honestly think they were trying to quiz me to see if I was really a Christian. I responded by saying salvation is to enter into the rule, or realm of God. Thus, Jesus is the King who allows you to do this. Now I could of responded in a number of ways to their question. But after this response, they look puzzled. They assumed I was going to say salvation is to be ‘saved’ from hell. But I think the discussion of the kingship or kingdom of God is important.Most recently I have been reading Joel B. Green’s Salvation: Reframing New Testament Theology.
Here is what Green says;
“To speak of “God’s kingdom” is immediately to raise questions of language. In recent decades, some have objected to the use of the word “kingdom” because it possesses inherently masculine connotations; for this reason, some have chosen to translate the Greek word βασιλεία (basileia) with the English term “reign” instead. This is both helpful and unfortunate. It is helpful insofar as it underscores the important insight that βασιλεία (basileia) often refers to God’s powerful rule, God’s activity in the world. However, it overlooks the key observation that in the Gospels, God’s kingdom has an inescapably spatial sense. In fact, the single most frequent action that happens with respect to God’s kingdom is that it is “entered” (Matt 5: 20; 7: 21; 8: 11; 19: 23, 24; 21: 31; 25: 34; Mark 9: 47; 10: 23, 24, 25; Luke 18: 17, 24, 25; John 3: 5), with the corollary that people can be “in” (Matt 5: 19; 11: 11; 13: 43; 18: 1, 4; 20: 21; 26: 29; Mark 14: 25; Luke 7: 28; 13: 28, 29; 14: 15; 22: 16; 22: 30) or “out” (Matt 23: 13) or “not far from” (Mark 12: 34) the kingdom; additionally, when the kingdom appears as the subject of verbs, the kingdom is said to “come,” “draw near,” and so on. Accordingly, “kingdom” is more than “reign,” for it also includes the notion of “realm.” Also problematic is the ease with which the translation of βασιλεία (basileia) as “reign” allows us to reduce God’s work to the “life of the spirit” or to God’s activity in people’s hearts or to restrict the reach of God’s activity as though God’s rule were present and active only among those people who have submitted to God’s reign. Moreover, although it is true that βασιλεία (basileia) possessed hierarchical and masculine connotations in Roman antiquity, this did not keep Jesus from using the term in ways that actually subverted those connotations. If “masculinity” was correlated in the Roman world with the exercise of power and self-control, for example, then Jesus’ claim that “God’s kingdom” belongs to little children must surely have been shocking.”
Green goes onto say:
“How might Jesus’ contemporaries have understood “God’s kingdom”? Granted that, as in most other areas, Second Temple Judaism had room for a variety of views concerning the kingdom, we can nonetheless summarize four central features. First, to speak of God’s kingdom is to speak of God’s activity— creating, providing, leading, sending, calling, liberating, judging, conquering, caring— and God’s domain, inclusive of the whole cosmos, though centered on Israel. If God’s kingdom was understood as a reality of present existence, then eschatological hope would center on the future, cosmological revelation of God’s already-present reign. Second, God’s kingdom entailed a vision of God’s universal, peaceable rule. God’s rule spells justice, the triumph of righteousness and establishment of peace in the world, shalom. Accordingly, many would have heard in references to God’s kingdom an eschatological hope focused on God’s coming in power to restore and vindicate God’s people. Third, the disclosure of God’s kingdom necessarily evokes response from God’s subjects, responses cast either as allegiance or rebellion, responses that provide the basis for royal judgment. Fourth, and finally, the Gospels situate Jesus within those currents of Second Temple Judaism that tied the actualization of God’s kingdom to a hope in God’s raising up an anointed king, the Messiah. What is the relationship of these expectations to Jesus’ ministry? Are these hopes actualized in Jesus’ coming? The only possible answer is equivocal: Yes and No. We must say yes because this is precisely what the Gospels broadcast, that Jesus not only shares these expectations but actually regards them as being actualized in his ministry. Christ, anointed king, who announces and enacts the kingdom. Wherever Jesus is engaged in ministry, there God’s kingdom is on display. We must answer no because Jesus did not perform in the expected way.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, even John the Baptist was baffled by the direction of Jesus’ mission: Where is the anticipated fiery judgment on Israel’s enemies (Matt 3: 11-12; 11: 2-3; Luke 3: 16-17; 7: 18-20)? If we follow the Gospels, then, we realize that Jesus interpreted his mission from within Israel’s story against the backdrop of the Roman Empire. Jesus’ advent as God’s anointed king, then, marks the decisive disclosure of God’s royal rule, together with the consequent unmasking of all rules, all authorities, all powers that would compete with God’s sovereignty. The time of restoration was at hand, evil was being exposed and rolled back, peace with justice was being established throughout the world, and God was present to rule: all in Jesus’ ministry.”-Green, Joel B. Why Salvation? (Reframing New Testament Theology, Abingdon Press.
Over the years, I have noticed that about 8 out of 10 Christians think salvation is only about the afterlife. When I ask them how they view the resurrection, they seem a bit puzzled. This is because they tend to think ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’ is final destination. A few things to remember:
The resurrection of Jesus teaches that the restoration of the whole man in bodily existence is the destiny of the Lord’s people. Also, Jesus did not appear as a ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ apart from a body to people.Contrary to what many people think, salvation in the Bible is not the deliverance from the body, which is the prison of the soul. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. Eternal life is a quality of life that does not start when we die, but right now in the present (John 17:2).While heaven is part of our salvation experience, in the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm.