Saturday Jul 29, 2023

Soteriology Lesson 11 - Salvation from What?

Saved from God’s wrath

     Being saved from God’s wrath means we will never experience eternal separation from Him in the lake of fire. John wrote, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). And Paul said, “having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Rom 5:9). Also, When writing to the Christians at Thessalonica, Paul assured them they would be saved “from the wrath to come” (1 Th 1:10). This last verse could refer to the eternal wrath all unbelievers will experience because they have rejected Christ as their Savior, which is the lake of fire (Rev 20:15). However, it could also refer to the wrath of the Tribulation (Rev 6-18), whereby God will judge the world after the rapture of the church (1 Cor 15:51-53; 1 Th 4:13-18). Christians living in the dispensation of the church age will be spared from both forms of God’s wrath, so there is no need to be concerned with this.

Saved from Satan’s domain of darkness

     As Christians, we are also saved from “from the dominion of Satan to God” (Act 26:18), and transferred from Satan’s “domain of darkness” (Col 1:13a) into “the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13b). This transference happens at the moment of faith in Christ and is a spiritual reality that is true for all Christians. The kingdom of Christ mentioned here does not refer to the future eschatological kingdom that will come, in which Jesus, a biological descendant of David, is prophesied to rule over the world in righteousness.[1] Rather, it refers to the current spiritual kingdom where God rules in the hearts of His people. Concerning this passage, Ryrie states, “It refers to the kingdom into which all believers have been placed (Col 1:13), and it is entered by the new birth. The Ruler is Christ; in this concept of the kingdom He rules over believers only; and the relationship exists now.”[2] And Fruchtenbaum adds, “The Spiritual Kingdom is composed of all believers, and only believers, of all time. The means of entering this Kingdom is by regeneration by the Holy Spirit. In the present age, from Acts two until the Rapture, the Spiritual Kingdom and the Church are synonymous, but only during the period between Acts two and the Rapture.”[3]

Saved from the coming tribulation

     Jesus, when speaking to the church at Philadelphia, said, “Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 3:10). The hour of testing here refers to the time of the future Tribulation that follows the rapture of the church. Robert Thomas affirms this, saying, the hour of trial refers to “the future period of trouble just before Christ’s personal return to earth.”[4] Charles Ryrie adds, “The promise of Revelation 3:10 not only guarantees being kept from the trials of the Tribulation period but being kept from the time period of the Tribulation. The promise is not, “I will keep you from the trials.” It is, “I will also keep you from the hour of trial” (NIV).”[5] Fruchtenbaum states:

  • "In this passage, the Church is promised to be kept from the period of trial that is about to fall upon the whole earth. In the context of the Book of Revelation, it is the Tribulation found in chapters 6–19 that is this period of trial that is to fall upon the whole earth. It is from this period of trial that the Church is to be kept. This verse does not say that the Church will be merely kept safe during the trial, but it will be kept from the very hour of the trial, that is, from the very time of it."[6]

Saved from hell

     Scripture reveals we are saved from hell. Jesus talked about hell (Matt 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33), saying, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). The word hell translates the Greek word Gehenna (12x in the NT), which means “a place of fire.”[7] Biblically, it is a place of eternal torment. Moisés Sylva notes, “Gehenna is elsewhere referred to by such phrases as ‘the blazing furnace’ (Matt 13:42, 50), ‘the eternal fire’ (Matt 25:41), and ‘the fiery lake’ (Rev 19:20 et al.). Gehenna is distinguished from Hades, which evidently houses the souls of the dead before the last judgment; indeed, Hades along with death will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).”[8]

     Hell is that final place of suffering where all unbelievers go. Speaking to unbelievers at the end of the Tribulation, Jesus said, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41), and of them He said, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46). John tells us, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Concerning hell, J. I. Packer wrote:

  • It is thought of as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7, 13), of weeping and grinding of teeth (Matt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (2 Th 1:7–9; 2 Pet 3:7; 1 Th 5:3), and of torment (Rev 20:10; Luke 16:23)—in other words, of total distress and misery. If, as it seems, these terms are symbolic rather than literal (fire and darkness would be mutually exclusive in literal terms), we may be sure that the reality, which is beyond our imagining, exceeds the symbol in dreadfulness. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Such are the issues of eternity, which need now to be realistically faced.[9]

What about those who never hear the gospel?

     Someone might say, “What about those who never hear the gospel message about Jesus? Are they condemned to hell?” The Bible reveals that God is “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25; Psa 58:11), that He “is a righteous judge” (Psa 7:11), and is “righteous in all His ways” (Psa 145:17a). This means God is absolutely fair to everyone, and no one will go to hell who did not choose it.

     God has revealed Himself to everyone. In a general sense, He has made Himself known through His creation. Knowledge of God’s existence is clearly revealed through His creation.[10] David wrote, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. 2 Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge” (Psa 19:1-2). God is declared and revealed through His creation, much like a painter is revealed through a masterpiece painting. The apostle Paul wrote of God’s wrath which is revealed toward those who reject Him after they come to the know about Him through His creation. Paul wrote, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Rom 1:18-19). There’s nothing wrong with God’s revelation of Himself through his creation. The problem lies in people “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18b). Furthermore, God has made Himself known “within them”, which means that each person with normal mental capacity intuitively knows that God exists. In theology, we call this the sensus divinitatis, or sense of the divine. Paul continues his line of reasoning, saying, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20). Those who reject God after becoming aware of Him, are held morally responsible and are “without excuse” for their choices before a holy and righteous God who will hold them accountable. Robert Mounce states:

  • Seeing the beauty and complexity of creation carries with it the responsibility of acknowledging the Creator both as powerful and as living above the natural order. Disbelief requires an act of rebellion against common sense. It displays fallen humanity’s fatal bias against God. Although the created order cannot force a person to believe, it does leave the recipient responsible for not believing.[11]

     Of those who are negative to God, three times it is written that He “gave them over” to “the lusts of their hearts” (Rom 1:24), and “to degrading passions” (Rom 1:26), and “to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Rom 1:28). Once God permits a person to operate by his sinful passions, that person is given a measure of freedom to live as he wants, but not without consequence, both in time and eternity.

     If someone is positive and wants to know God personally, then He will make certain that person receives gospel revelation in order to be saved. If the person goes negative and does not want to know Him, then God—who is no bully—will let that person go his own way, but will hold him accountable for his decision. For those who are negative to God and reject Him after coming to know about Him through His creation, that rejection is sufficient to condemn that soul forever. The only heaven they will ever know—if we can call it heaven—is the life they’ll enjoy in this world during their fleeting time on earth. But after they die, all unbelievers will suffer for eternity in hell, forever separated from God, with no hope of their situation changing. Robert W. Yarbrough states:

  • Jesus spoke repeatedly of ‘the fire of hell’ (Matt 5:22) and ‘eternal fire’ (Matt 18:8). He urged his followers, ‘Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell’ (Luke 12:5). The double-edged nature of Jesus’ ministry is well summarized in John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Those who reject God’s righteousness become targets of his wrath (Rom 1:18, 24, 26, 28; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6; Heb 10:26–31; Rev 19:11–21).[12]

     Those who spend eternity in hell are there by choice and not by chance. According to J. I. Packer, “Scripture sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it by loving darkness rather than light, choosing not to have their Creator as their Lord, preferring self-indulgent sin to self-denying righteousness, and (if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to Him (John 3:18–21; Rom 1:18, 24, 26, 28, 32; 2:8; 2 Th 2:9–11).”[13]

     Those who stand before the great white throne for judgement (Rev 20:11) will know the One who is sitting on that throne, and they will know they are there to be judged for their sins. Not a single person will ask, “Who are you?” For they will all know Who He is, and that they are there to face judgment for eternity. All this is avoidable if one will only acknowledge God and respond positively to the gospel of grace and believe in Christ as Savior. One needs only to believe in Christ as Savior to avoid eternity in hell. God has made a way for all to be saved, so if any are not, it’s by their choice and not because there was no divine provision available. When one turns to Christ as Savior, he has forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7) and eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). These have their names written “in the Lamb's book of life” (Rev 21:27). But the opposite is true, for “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[1] The Lord focused specifically on David, promising that one of his descendants would rule forever (2 Sam 7:16; Psa 89:3-4, 34-37; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-15). This descendant would be a righteous king (Isa 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-18), and his kingdom will last forever (Dan 2:44; 7:13-14; 1 Cor. 15:24). Jesus is identified as that king (Luke 1:30-33). When Jesus came, He repeatedly offered the earthly kingdom to Israel (Matt 3:1-2; 4:17; 10:5-7), a literal kingdom that was future (Matt 6:10; Luke 19:11; Acts 1:3-6). But they rejected Him and His offer (Matt 11:20; 12:14; Mark 15:12-15; John 19:15); therefore, the earthly kingdom was postponed for a future time (Matt 21:43; cf. Matt 19:28; 25:31; Luke 22:28-30; Acts 1:3-6; Rev 20:4-6).

[2] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 461–462.

[3] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah : A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 663.

[4] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1992), 284.

[5] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 563–564.

[6] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah : A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 153.

[7] Moisés Silva, ed., “Gehenna” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 548.

[8] Moisés Silva, ed., “Gehenna” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 548.

[9] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 261–262.

[10] God has also revealed Himself in special ways in the person of Christ (John 1:18; Heb 1:1-3), through the Scriptures (Luke 16:31), and through the lives of His people (Matt 5:16). However, if the unbeliever goes negative at the moment of God consciousness, he/she may never know anything more about God through special revelation, as He is under no obligation to reveal Himself further. 

[11] Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 78.

[12] R. W. Yarbrough, “Atonement,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 390.

[13] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993), 262–263.

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