Salvation is one of the biggest words in the Bible. We might describe it as “all that God has for us in Christ.” Although often used in a specific way, generally it includes justification, sanctification, and glorification. It involves the redemption that buys us out of sin’s slavemarket and God being propitiated. It embraces reconciliation to God and unification with all the redeemed. We still are “waiting for the adoption,” our body’s redemption (Rom 8:23). And there is so much more!
So when the words “saved” or “salvation” are used, we must not jump to the conclusion that, in every passage, it means salvation from the penalty of our sins. This will mislead us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, “But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now before we begin to examine the context, let’s first enjoy the glorious truth that God, from the beginning, had us in mind. And that, whatever it completely means, we can look forward to experiencing “the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Nor should we miss the security we have because we are being prepared for this “through sanctification by the Spirit.”
A TEXT WITHOUT A CONTEXT IS A PRETEXT
Now let’s notice the context. Second Thessalonians has a clear purpose. It is “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (2:1). However, Paul explains that they were mistaken if they thought “the day of Christ had come” already (v 2). The persecution they were passing through was severe, but it was not the Great Tribulation.
How could they be sure? Because there was a series of events that must come first:
- “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first…”
- “and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (v 3).
- then, approximately 3 years later, “he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself
that he is God” (v 4).
- this horrific chapter will end when “the Lord will consume [this Antichrist] with the
breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (v 8).
- tragically, many will “perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (v 10), and instead “believe the lie” (v 11). Therefore they will be “condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (v 12).
Then comes our verse 13. You now can see the contrast immediately.
- did not believe the truth
- worship the Man of Sin,
- a man who exalts himself to become God,
- called “the mystery of iniquity” (v 7)
- have pleasure in unrighteousness
- perish in this final holocaust
- did believe the truth
- worship the Son of Man,
- God who humbles Himself to become man,
- called “the mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16)
- are sanctified (made righteous) by the Spirit
- are chosen to be saved out of this experience
If you think I’m going too far from the text by saying that this particular use of “salvation” has to do with our ultimate salvation out of the world, note the next verse: “to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 14). This is the final step in the promise of the gospel. We are saved from sin’s penalty through justification at the moment of belief; we are being saved from sin’s power through the process of sanctification; and we will be saved from sin’s presence at the moment of our glorification. This is Paul’s final argument. The Day of Christ could not have commenced because the saints will be raptured out before that.
A similar statement is made in his letter to the Romans: “…having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom 5:9). The future tense, “we shall be saved,” is not pointing back to the cross but ahead to the Rapture, because it was God’s decided choice “from the beginning” to take those that are Christ’s away before His judgments fall.
WATCHING AND WORKING
Paul then applies these future certainties by addressing present realities. He warns against idleness, the assumption that, if the Lord is coming, we’ll just idly wait for that (2 Thess 3:6-12). And he warns against weariness, and the danger of giving up because the Lord hasn’t come (v 13-14). So here is the double admonition we need: watch for His coming, but as you watch, work!
Let me also include Paul’s double benediction in 2:16 and 3:16: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work.” “Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.”
Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.
—Harriet Beecher Stowe