Storied Salvation: Part XII


Matthew 2 tells the story of Joseph, Mary and Jesus’ flight into Egypt. The writer is explicit in his use of the phrase “out of Egypt I called my son”, but much less so in what he intends by it. His citation relates to fleeing into Egypt, not from it. The exodus out of Egypt[1] resonates profoundly within the identity of Israel, so much so that Matthew is able to say a lot about Jesus at the outset of his narrative without spelling it out.[2]

“On the surface it is of course not at all obvious how Hosea 11:1 is fulfilled in Jesus escaping from Egypt. But as one reflects more deeply on Jesus relationship to Israel one starts to see how profound the sense might be in which Jesus, fulfills God’s call of his people out of Egypt. Out of Egypt is this useful shorthand for evoking the challenges and the richness of biblical theology.”[3]

Matthew’s soteriology is saturated with hints of resurrection, not only of Jesus but a wider resurrection of the saints.[4] Matthew is the only Gospel to use the phrase “parousia of the son of man.”[5]

Matthew 19:25 and parallels must refer to ‘final salvation.’ It is about a future state of being saved as opposed to being lost, and in the imagery of the Gospels signifies entry to the heavenly banquet instead of exclusion, a welcome by the Son of man and entry to the heavenly kingdom instead of rejection and consignment to eternal fire. . . . This raises the question whether ‘being saved’ refers exclusively to a future state in the next world, or whether it can also refer to those who are already sure of entry to the kingdom.”[6]

Matthew also adopts the other strand of Mark's soteriology: sōzō designates the saving of life within an eschatological horizon (Mt 16:25; 19:25; see also Mt 10:22, 24:13, 22) or salvation from God's final judgment and eternal punishment (Mt 13:41-43; 16:27-28, 19:28, 24:29-31, 37-41; 25:31-46; see also Mt 8:11-12; 10:28)-that is, eschatological life (Mt 7:14; 10:39, 16:25-26; 18:8-9; 19:16-17, 29; 25:46) and participation in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20; 7:21; 13:43; 18:3-4; 19:23-24; 21:31; see also Mt 5:3-12; 19:12).”[7]

Recognition that it is the judging acts of God from which we are saved – to be poured-out in its time at the “end of the age” – is a crucial distinction to make in the NT’s treatment of salvation.

“It is ecclesiology (membership in God’s people) as the advance sign of soteriology (being saved on the last day). It is 'justification' in the present, anticipating the verdict of the future. God will declare on the last day that certain people are 'in the right,' by raising them from the dead; and that verdict has been brought forward into the present, visibly and community-formingly.”[8]

So we are “saved” from a day yet unseen. It is very much akin to the exodus from Egypt. The Hebrews were not “saved” until the death angel “passed over,” but they were marked for salvation when they believed and acted in obedience (a byproduct of belief). Today, salvation has been reduced to “a decision for Jesus” which is shallow and biblically non-existent.

“The majority of occurrences in the New Testament of the Greek verb sōzō (‘to save’) and its derivatives, especially the noun sōtēria (‘salvation’) have to do with the ultimate salvation of believers in Christ Jesus. The same phrase used in the stories of healing is also used of forgiveness of sin (Luke 7.48-50 cf. 18.52), and in the account of the paralytic (Matt. 9.2-8 par.) forgiveness of sin is a spiritual kind of healing concomitant with the physical restoration of health. For the one forgiven this spiritual healing is thus ‘salvation,’ in the sense of admission into the kingdom of God understood as both a present and a future reality. The salvation of individuals is the principal focus of the earlier New Testament writings. In Paul this salvation is both present and future; the two are closely linked in part at least because of Paul's expectation of a prompt Second Coming (Rom. 5.8-11 8.18 1; 25; 18.11). So Paul can speak of those ‘who are being saved’ (1 Cor. 1.18; 15.2; 2 Cor. 2.15), as well as those who will be ‘saved in the day of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 5.5), both Jews (Rom. 11.26) and gentiles (1 Thess. 2.16). This same kind of realized eschatology’ is also found in the synoptic Gospels and in Acts, though in both it is a future salvation that dominates (Mark 8.35; 13.13 par.; Acts 15.11; contrast Luke 19.9: ‘Today salvation has come to this house’ and cf. Acts 47).”[9]

[1] Exo 13:9, 14, 16; 18:1; 19:4, Num 23:20; 24:8; Deut 9:26; 16:1; 26:8; Jos 24:6; Jdg 6:8-9; 1 Sam 12:1.
[2] In context (of Hosea 11), it is obvious that God had called his “son,” Israel, out of Egypt (Exo 4:22-23). The Matthean author does not make mention of this passage blindly or in an unjustifiable out-of-context use, he is far more sophisticated than that. Matthew (and other gospels) makes it clear to his readers that Jesus is undeniably the prophet like Moses from Deut 18. The details given (even numbers) of how Jesus did almost exactly as Moses did, even down to the way he divided the people to feed them (something Moses did in the wilderness) are to take the reader back to the Torah in subtle ways. Most of what he did and said comes right out of the OT. We have (in general) failed to recognize it or make the connections because we don’t know the OT well. As the “new Moses” and ultimate representative of Israel, Jesus relives many of the same experiences described in the Torah that happened to Israel (God’s first-born: Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” Exo 4:22): Jesus survives a gruesome infanticide by a wicked king, has compassion on the people, divides them in groups of hundreds and fifties, in the wilderness alone for 40 days (Israel 40 years), instructed people on a mountain, climbs a mountain with only his closest companions and has visions of glory and light, chooses twelve disciples (12 tribes), offers himself in the peoples stead among many other nuances. In this knowledge it should not be surprising that Matthew makes Jesus appear as the ultimate son who is a firstborn, as he does with Mary as the ultimate “virgin Israel.”
[3] Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Craig. G. Bartholomew (Grand Rapids, MI.: Zondervan, 2004), xxiii.
[4] Matthew is the only Gospel to report the open graves of “saints who had fallen asleep” (27:52-3).
[5] Matt 24:3, 27, 37, 39.
[6] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, “Salvation,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 722.
[7] Joel B. Green, “Salvation,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospel's, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 828.
[8] Wright, Justification, 146-7.
[9] Meier and Metzger, Oxford Companion to the Bible, 669.

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