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The Mystery of Salvation
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The Mystery of Salvation

John Voon

The grace of salvation, when it was first ordained, was hidden in the wisdom of God. Rom 16:25-26 says, “(God) is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal, but now is manifested ...“ (see also 1 Pet 1:20).

In the Old Testament times, salvation can be known through the deliverance of Noah’s family and the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Moses said to the people, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of Jehovah, which he will work for you today.” This continued even after their entry into Canaan where God’s hand was seen each time they were oppressed. Thus, salvation had been the theme of many prophecies and many Psalms but very few knew what salvation truly is.

At the ushering in of the New Testament times, John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, a phrase also used by Jesus.

Mt 4:23 states, “And Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Mt 24:14 continues, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony into all the nations.”

What is “the gospel of the kingdom”? It is the tidings of salvation. Thus, in the message of the New Testament, “Salvation” and “gospel” can be used interchangeably. Jesus Himself is Salvation (Lk 19:19), and the mystery of God is Jesus Christ (Col 2:2). 1 Tim 2:10 talks about “the salvation which is in Christ Jesus” while old Simeon said under inspiration, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Therefore, it is never erroneous to say that the tidings of salvation equals the gospel.

From ages past, “Salvation” had been hidden, but when the New Testament age arrived, salvation was manifested. But for the world to know this “Salvation” through human wisdom is impos­sible. Even such a one like John the Baptist required the revelation of the Holy Spirit in his knowledge of this “Salvation”. He who had announced repeatedly, ‘I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove ... and it abode upon him ... and have borne witness that this is the Son of God”, “the Lamb of God” also said, “I knew him not; but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said to me, ‘Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:29-34).

The priests, the scribes and the Pharisees were men of carnal minds. Before their countrymen, they had status, followers, the Mosaic Law and the ordinances as their glory. Their hearts in complacency, could never be inclined to receive life and salvation in Jesus. Moreover, Jesus in their eves was not one of noble back­ground, but a Nazarene, son of Joseph, only a carpenter by trade. They had no idea, of course, that this apparently lowly one, was Israel’s long awaited One, whom they had expected for generations, to fulfill their Salvation, the very Son of God (Is 53:1-3; Lk 24:21). Only few could want to believe on the Lord and Saviour who was raised a commoner! Jn 9 records the conversations revolving a blind person who was healed. A reading on the entire chapter makes it clear that the Jews and the Pharisees were from the start denying the healing that Jesus had wrought for the blind man. However, when the conversation led to the blind man testifying for himself, and confounding the Jews and Pharisees with questions, they, fearing the lost of face, cursed him b saying, “Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us.” And they cast him out. We see thus, the stubbornness and arrogance of the Jews and Pharisees. A prejudiced person will not learn, just as it is written in Jn 3:19, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil.”

The Lord Jesus preached the gospel on the one hand, and on the other exercised the power of heaven. Healing, exorcising, raising the dead, He caused any to believe that He came from heaven, sent from God as Redeemer for the fulfillment of God’s salvation plan. For this cause He said, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (Jn 14:11, see also 10:38). This is the most elementary form of faith, but yet the priests and the Pharisees continued to view Christ according to external appearance as before, maintaining that “by the prince of the demons casteth he out the demons”.

Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (Jn 1:49), “And they that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God” (Mt 14:33). Martha, sister of Lazarus, likewise said, “Yea, Lord: I have believed that thou art the Christ, the Son of God.” These neverthe­less, continued seeing Christ from the worldly perspective, thinking that He would soon restore the Kingdom of Israel and become its earthly King. When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, “the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice from all the mighty works which they had seen; saying, ‘Blessed is the King that cometh in the name of the Lord ...“ (Lk 19:37-38). “These things understood not his disciples at the first but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they … (Jn 12:16).

“And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, ‘Go and make ready for us the passover, that we may eat.” “And when the hour was come, Jesus sat down ... and he said unto them, ‘With desire I have desired to eat the passover with you before I suffer, for I say unto you, I shall not eat it, until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.” “And the cup in like manner after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant is my blood, even that which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:7-20). None of the twelve understood what Jesus meant by these words. Judas was busy plotting his betrayal. The rest were still thinking and debating about who was the greatest among them, and perhaps not without indignation for the brothers, James and John (Mk 10:35-41). Such a state of affairs worked into the heart of the Lord sorrow upon sorrow. So as the time of His suffering drew nearer, in great agony of Spirit He spoke, saying, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth…”  (Jn 16:12-13).

That evening, Judas the betrayer, led men to his Master and saluted Him with a kiss. Thus was the Lord arrested, charged and condemned to death. His hands and feet were impaled to a cross, and blood flowed freely from the wounds. With His body firmly nailed to the cross, He was lifted up from the earth, His entire weight supported by only three nails. Then He was left to bleed to death. Only at death was He set free from the unbearable agony.

When the Lord died, the multitude of His disciples were scattered like sheep, leaving behind a few young men, some womenfolk from afar, and His mother, watching helplessly from a distance, the pitiful sight of the crucified Lord, and bearing with the insults, mockery and cursing of passers-by who rejoiced at His plight.

Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus, could be counted as men of honour and upright, for their spirit of justice determined that Jesus was a good man, whose death was only the result of unjust oppression. With righteous indignation, they bravely sought permission from Pilate to have the body of Jesus, to prevent its abuse, the act of which showed at the same time, their silent resentment for the priests and the rulers. The joint action of these two men made them stand out as a stark contrast to their contemporaries, for they reckoned Jesus as a prophet, sent from God.

After three days, news of Jesus’ resurrection was noised abroad. Different individuals, including certain disciples and a few women, all testifying that the body was missing and that they truly had seen the risen Lord. The minds of the disciples then could be best described as confused, frightened, and doubtful. One of them remarked in response to all these reports, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:24-28).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ became an established fact. He retained His human form and could eat and drink, but at the same time could appear and disappear. Once the Lord appeared in the midst of His disciples who had gathered together, and expounded to them once again the Word of Life He had previously communicated to them, and also the prophecies in the Scriptures. He opened their mind, that they might understand the Scriptures and know assuredly that it was written beforehand that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead (Lk 24:36-46). Christ Jesus Himself is salvation, and His life, death and resurrection was all for the purpose of redeeming mankind.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared and disappeared in the midst of His disciples for a space of forty days. Once He appeared in a gathering of the disciples and said these very significant words,   as the Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (Jn 20:21). It is like saying that since He had accomplished the work which the Father had entrusted Him, to lay the foundation of salvation, it is now time for Him to send His disciples to preach this salvation. When Jesus, according to God’s plan of salvation proclaimed God’s love and accomplished the work of redemption, He possessed the power of God in His hands. Now, He says, “even so I send you”, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation ... And these signs shall accompany them that believe”, “the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed” (Mk 16:15-20).

Prompted by his concern for the church, Peter, though advanced in age, wrote to several churches, … you, who by the power of God are guarded through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time … receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Concerning which salvation the prophets sought and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you ... which things angels desire to look into” (1 Pet 1:5-12). The way God’s salvation was planned, developed and finally revealed, were things angels desired to look into. It is shown clearly that the mystery of salvation was unknown even to the angels.


Salvation and Covenanting

A study of the Scriptures imparts us the knowledge that man and the world in which he dwells were created by God. The dominion over the entire world was also given to man by God. Thus, man began to know God and establish a relationship with Him. This relationship, however, came about through a covenant, which both parties were expected to covenant (Dan 9:14) who will ever surely remember His covenant made with man (Gen 17:7). If man were to transgress the covenant, he would be reckoned a sinner and would have to face its curse (Gen 17:14, Hos 6:7). Having covenanted with God, man’s position was raised, for he would enjoy the care and protection of God, just like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Gen 20:1-4,26:23-25, 31:42). God’s relationship with Adam, Noah and Abraham were all sealed with a covenant. In all instances, God desired their subjection and obedience (Gen2:15-17, 6:17-22,12:1-4, 17:1-4, 7-10).

When God told Abraham of His intention to covenant with him, he immediately fell on his face and worshipped, showing his trust and gratitude. And God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, saying, “I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee”, “And! will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” And again, “Thou shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised ... and it shall be a token for a covenant betwixt me and you … He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised : any my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Gen 17:9-13). “And the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that soul shall be cut off from his people, he hath broken my covenant” (Gen 17:14).

The Decalogue which God announced to the Israelites in the wilderness was a covenant extended from the everlasting covenant He had made with Abraham, made necessary by the quantitative growth of the Israelite population. The nation, beginning from then, through the time of the judges till the kings, based their civil legislation on the Ten Commandments. God Himself also judge according to their external principles. The covenant of circumcision remained good, for throughout their generations, the people of Israel circumcized their males on the eighth day of birth, without exception. This is the old covenant.

The Jews, from the people of Israel till the present time, recognize only the Old Covenant communicated by Moses. They deny the New Covenant given by Jesus (that is, Salvation through Christ Jesus).

That which we Christians received in the New Covenant, initiated and propagated by the Lord Jesus Himself. This New Covenant was announced on the last Passover feast Jesus had with His disciples, when He instituted the love feast. The Lord said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:20). We know thus that the New Covenant involves the Lord covenanting with believers with His own blood. If any man truly believe in the salvation of Jesus Christ, he should be motivated to covenant with the Lord Jesus.

The New Covenant found its initiation in Christ, but must be met with the believers’ acceptance of what is done by Him, thereby establishing a personal relationship with the Lord. Some may ask, “What exactly is being motivated to covenant with the Lord?” The answer is, “Believe and be baptized” (Mk 16:16). Baptism is the Lord’s command. It is also the arrangement for the covenant between God and man.

The Decalogue is a covenant, which God initiated when He announced it. Israel’s obedience answers to being motivated. The Old Covenant was made with the blood of calves and goats (Heb 9:18-20, Ex 24:6-8).

Abraham believed God’s promise and was circumcised. When men believe Jesus as the Saviour of the world, they ought also to “believe and be baptized”. New Testament believers receive only baptism, for circumcision is no longer necessary.

The question may be asked, “Since Jesus by His own blood has covenanted with believers, is the New Covenant completed? Why then talk about the necessity of baptism in completing the covenanting process? Is there a Bible basis to maintain that a believer must receive baptism before he can truly be said to have entered in the Lord’s covenant?”

Abraham believed the promise of God and received circumcision according to God’s command. “And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house … every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the self-same day, as God had said unto him. And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised … And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised” (Gen 17:17, 23-25).

If the covenant is seen as a piece of fabric, circumcision can be seen as the underside while the command of God as the upper side. Likewise, a person’s receiving of the salvation of Christ, that is, belief and baptism, is the underside while the blood of the covenant is the upper side.

The Apostle Peter tells of his unique understanding of the covenantal nature of baptism by alluding it to the Deluge in which eight souls were saved through water according to God’s covenant with Noah (1 Pet 3:20,21). This demonstrates the fact that the shed blood of Christ points to a covenant involving two parties, one beckoning, one responding. Since there are essential steps towards establishing a covenant, negligence with respect to any of them may invalidate the covenant.

The Apostle John, in support of the same truth, expounds it in another way: “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one.”

Reading through both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, one cannot escape the fact that water, blood and the Holy Spirit are instrumental in covenant-making. “Wherefore even the first covenant hath not been dedicated without blood. For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses unto all the people according to the law, he took the blood of the cows and the goats with water and scarlet bull and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you … And according to the law, I may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb 9:18-22). Christians must be clear that the covenant between the believer and Christ is a pillar in the grace of salvation. (To be continued)

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Author: John Voon