He Shall Save His People
WHEN OUR LORD came into this world He came to save. This was the meaning of the name given Him, Jesus, which according to its roots in the Hebrew language signifies: Yahweh-Saviour.
Therefore, when Mary “was found pregnant by holy spirit” (Matt.1:18), the messenger of the Lord said to Joseph, “Now she shall be bringing forth a Son, and you shall be calling His name Jesus, for He shall be saving His people from their sins” (1:21).
THE PROMISE OF SALVATION
This promise is a most important declaration of God’s intention. It forms a solid basis for all that is recorded throughout the book of Matthew. Indeed it must never be forgotten in the midst of stern warnings and fearful events, least of all in the account of the evil and darkness surrounding the rejection and crucifixion of this One Who came to save. The promise remains alive and true even though it is left unrealized at the close of Matthew’s account.
In fact, by the end of Matthew, even though unrealized, the great work of saving sinners from their sins had been made certain of eventual realization by the death and resurrection of Christ. This was the Lord’s own testimony at the passover meal, when He spoke of His blood “shed for many for the pardon of sins” (26:27,28; see also Matt.20:28). In addition, the truth was stated unintentionally at the very time in which it was being established. While Jesus was being crucified the religious leaders of Israel scoffed at Him, saying, “Others he saves! Himself he cannot save!” (Matt.27:42). The first statement is absolutely true, and it is true because He did not save Himself. Thus the opening clause of their mocking is transformed in grandest irony into the greatest testimony to truth that they had ever spoken!
Behind every struggle and every sermon of warning and instruction recorded in Matthew’s account lies the promise of salvation from sins. Behind every failure of Israel, the stubborn resistance to the testimony of the Lord and the scheming and the cries for His crucifixion, the promise still stands. “He shall be saving His people from their sins.”
We recognize that “His people” refers to the nation of Israel in the book of Matthew (cf Matt.2:6; 10:5,6; 15:24). But the narrow viewpoint of Matthew’s account does not restrict God in His operation of bringing salvation from sin to mankind. As Paul later testified, in words much like those of the messenger, “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim.1:15). Indeed Paul uses the language of Israel’s prophets to reveal that every knee shall bow in the Name of Jesus, and every tongue shall acclaim with the avowal of salvation: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (cf Isa.45:23; Phil.2:9,10; Rom.9:10).
The promise of Matthew 1:21 focuses on one nation, but the point we wish to note now is that it is a promise of salvation from sins, and a promise from God. The scope of this salvation will eventually encompass all mankind (cf Rom.5:18; 1 Cor.15:22; 1 Tim.2:4; 4:10), but our concern here is the force of this promise. Is it possible that other words and events recorded in Matthew can reverse this great declaration of chapter 1?
No! this promise relating to our Lord and the purpose God had in bringing Him into this world remains in operation and can never be set aside until it is fully realized. Jesus will be known and praised by Israel as their Saviour, even as Paul also testified, “thus all Israel shall be saved” (Rom.11:26).
SAVED FROM SINS
The promise of salvation from sins can be traced through the Scriptures even as far back as Genesis 3:15,16, but clearly stated with regard to Israel in a passage such as Psalm 130:7,8. “And He Himself shall ransom Israel from all its depravities.”
Ezekiel also prophesied Yahweh’s new covenant with Israel: “When I save you from all your uncleannesses I will call to the grain and increase it . . . . Then you will remember your evil ways and your actions which were not good, and you will be disgusted in view of yourselves on account of your depravities and your abhorrences. Not on your account will I be doing this, averring is my Lord Yahweh, let it be known to you. Be ashamed and be mortified for your ways, house of Israel. Thus says my Lord Yahweh: In the day I cleanse you from all your depravities, then I will cause the cities to be indwelt, and the deserted places will be rebuilt” (Ezek.36:29-33).
In pointing to Jesus as Israel’s Saviour from their sins, the messenger was directly renewing the promise of salvation given in the Sacred Scriptures. The fact that Israel’s depravities continued in the face of many serious warnings and clear instructions from Matthew 3 up to the crucifixion itself does not abrogate this promise. The reality of continued sin and its dire consequences in the very presence of the Lord and His ministry can only make the promise that much more marvelous and needed.
What is recorded in Matthew is that the promise of salvation from sin is renewed in the Person of the Saviour, Jesus. But the fulfillment of that promise does not come about. Yahweh had said through Ezekiel, that He would cleanse Israel from all their uncleanness. But in Matthew we find Jesus telling Israel what they must do to cleanse themselves. Before the Lord Himself cleanses Israel, the fact that they are unable to cleanse themselves despite the very presence of their Saviour must be established. The time had not yet come for the salvation to be realized. But it will come, and when it comes it will be perceived and appreciated that it was due to the faithfulness of God and not to the obedience of the nation (cf Rom.3:3,4).
COMMANDS, WARNINGS AND JUDGMENTS
The promise was salvation from sins, but starting with John in the wilderness the message recorded in page after page of Matthew is one of commands for repentance and warnings of indignation and judgment to come. It is perhaps understandable, therefore, that the glorious promise of 1:21 has become overshadowed in people’s minds by such stern and fearful words as the following:
“Progeny of vipers! Who intimates to you to be fleeing from the impending indignation? Produce, then, fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt.3:7,8).
“Yet already the ax is lying at the root of the trees. Every tree, then, which is not producing ideal fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire” (Matt.3:10).
“He will be scouring His threshing floor, and will be gathering His grain into His barn, yet the chaff will He be burning up with unextinguished fire” (Matt.3:12).
“. . . whoever may be saying [to his brother], ‘Stupid!’ shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire” (Matt.5:22).
“Now, if your right eye is snaring you, wrench it out and cast it from you, for it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body be cast into Gehenna. And if your right hand is snaring you, strike it off and cast it from you, for it is expedient for you that one of your members should perish and not your whole body pass away into Gehenna” (Matt.5:29,30).
“Enter through the cramped gate, for broad is the gate and spacious is the way which is leading away into destruction, and many are those entering through it. Yet what a cramped gate and narrowed way is the one leading away into life, and few are those who are finding it” (Matt.7:13,14).
“. . . many from the east and the west shall be arriving and reclining with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, yet the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth” (Matt.8:11,12).
“And do not fear those who are killing the body, yet are not able to kill the soul. Yet be fearing Him, rather, Who is able to destroy the soul as well as the body in Gehenna” (Matt.10:28).
“And you, Capernaum! Not to heaven shall you be exalted! To the unseen shall you subside, for, if the powerful deeds which are occurring in you had occurred in Sodom, it might remain unto today” (Matt.11:23; cf verses 20-24; 12:41,42).
“Every sin and blasphemy shall be pardoned men, yet the blasphemy of the spirit shall not be pardoned . . . neither in this eon nor in that which is impending” (Matt.12:31,32; cf verses 36,37).
“Even as the darnel, then, are being culled and burned up with fire, thus shall it be in the conclusion of the eon. The Son of Mankind shall be dispatching His messengers, and they shall be culling out of His kingdom all the snares and those doing lawlessness, and they shall be casting them into a furnace of fire. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth” (Matt.13:40-42; cf verses 49-51).
“Now if the blind should be guiding the blind, both shall be falling into a pit” (Matt.15:14).
“For whosoever may be wanting to save his soul shall be destroying it. Yet whoever should be destroying his soul on My account shall be finding it” (Matt.16:25).
“Now if your hand or your foot is snaring you, strike it off and cast it from you. Is it ideal for you to be entering into life maimed or lame, or, having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the fire eonian? And if your eye is snaring you, wrench it out and cast it from you. Is it ideal for you to be entering into life one-eyed, or, having two eyes, to be cast into the Gehenna of fire?” (Matt.18:8,9).
“There shall be lamentation and gnashing of teeth. For many are the called, yet few are the chosen” (Matt.22:14; cp 24:51; 25:30).
“Serpents! Progeny of vipers! How may you be fleeing from the judging of Gehenna?” (Matt.23:33).
“Jerusalem! Jerusalem! who art killing the prophets and pelting with stones those who have been dispatched to her! . . . Lo! left is your house to you desolate” (Matt.23:37,38).
“Then shall He be declaring to those also at His left, ‘Go from Me, you cursed, into the fire eonian, made ready for the Adversary and his messengers’ ” (Matt.25:41).
“And these shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian” (Matt.25:46).
THE CRUCIFIXION OF THE SAVIOUR
The bleakness increases after these fearful prophecies of Matthew 24 and 25, for the time of the crucifixion has come. Every reader of Matthew should ask now if the question has not arisen before, What has happened to the great promise of 1:21?
It has been shown in chapters 3 through 25 that God’s people Israel are sinners and need to be saved from their sins. Matthew 26 and 27 make this indisputable. But also, anticipating what is revealed later, this darkest of all events recorded in this book becomes the basis for the full and glorious realization of 1:21.
Jesus came as the Saviour. His Name means Yahweh- Saviour. And every knee shall bow in that Name, and every tongue shall acclaim the avowal of salvation, that Jesus Christ is Lord. None of these warnings and none of the coming operations of wrath and judgment can keep Jesus from saving His people Israel, and indeed all the descendants of Adam, from their sins.
THE TEACHING OF EVERLASTING HELL
Inestimable harm has been done by taking passages like those above and stringing them together in such a way that Matthew 1:21 is submerged in our thinking. And this harm has been greatly increased by Bible translations which render the word “Gehenna” by “hell,” and the word “eonian” by “everlasting.” Few concepts have so effectively distorted the evangel of salvation, centered in Jesus Christ, as the teaching of everlasting hell.
The book of Matthew provides an especially good testing ground for this whole controversy concerning the ultimate fate of mankind. It is filled with statements and phrases, most of which are the Lord’s own words, which have been used to adjust radically the meaning of the promise of salvation from sins given at the beginning of the book and long before in the Old Testament. What the Lord speaks is so. But because He speaks of human sinfulness and failure and the certainty of judgment does not move His great Name, Saviour, into second place behind Judge or Condemner. It is necessary that He speak of indignation and judgment upon the wickedness of Israel and the nations and all mankind, but salvation from these very things must have the last word, because Jesus is the Saviour.
Is it possible that One Who came to save sinners should end up saving but a few and becoming the great Stumbling Stone for the rest to their eternal condemnation? All His roles, as Judge, as Condemner, even as Stumbling Stone (cf Rom.9:32,33), can only serve to the end of His manifestation as the Saviour.
It is proposed here to examine the many passages in Matthew which are used so often in support of an unending hell, whether of conscious torment or hopeless annihilation, considering them carefully in their context and in the context of the whole of Scripture. It is especially pleaded that the opening promise of this book, the words of Matthew 1:21, never be forgotten. Let these words from a messenger of the Lord help shape our understanding of the many severe and fearful warnings and predictions of the book.
This is necessary, for not only future times of indignation and condemnation but also present evils pressing on us from every side, easily distract our thoughts from the good news of salvation in Christ. The very real dangers spoken of by the Lord and the very actual troubles in our own lives must not turn our eyes from the One Who saves from them. The dangers and troubles and failures, the sins and their judgment as well, all these must be, for otherwise there is no reason for Him to be the Saviour. The fact of human sin and divine judgment on wicked thoughts and words and acts should make the good news of salvation continually more welcome and glorious to us. But to view the condemnation of sinners as beyond the power and province of the Saviour is most shameful and exceedingly harmful to our lives and growth in faith.
Everlasting hell cannot be so if Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!
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