It won’t do to imagine salvation as a personal experience, unconnected to the woes of the world. In the Bible’s story, salvation is not relief from personal guilt. Salvation is God saving his people from enslavement to evil, from the crushing affliction we experience under rulers like Pharaoh. Salvation is God rescuing his creation from evil, into his reign.
The present injustice is inevitable as long as people take power over each other instead of recognizing our true sovereign. That’s true at every level: interpersonal relationships, communities and corporations, national and international relations.
The good news is that our heavenly monarch is saving his world from this enslavement, re-establishing the earth as it was designed to be — his kingdom.
But it doesn’t happen instantly. That’s because our heavenly sovereign doesn’t grasp power back from us or force us into submission. Instead, he humbled himself and became our servant (Philippians 2:5–11). Our true ruler is a public servant.
Since our sovereign comes in gentleness, earthly powers can and often do increase the suffering of God’s people. That’s what Moses felt:
Exodus 5:23 “Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to save them!”
Salvation language has its roots in the Exodus story. Sure, individual Israelites were saved from slavery, but that’s not the right way to tell the story. Salvation means God bringing them out from evil rule, to be the people under his rule instead:
3:8 I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land …
6:6 I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm …
Salvation language comes into focus at the Red Sea:
14:13 “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord …”
14:30 The Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians …
The way God saved his people defines them. It becomes their story:
18:8-10 Moses told his father-in-law … how the Lord had saved them. Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had saved them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has saved you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has saved the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.
Salvation from evil into God’s reign is the defining story of God’s people. It’s the definitive revelation of God’s character. God saves his people from those who pretend to power, into his governance:
20:2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
29:46 I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them.
The Bible’s first song is the song of salvation. God’s people sing of their release from the reign of evil, into God’s reign:
15:1-2, 18 I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation … The Lord will reign forever and ever.”
Rescue into God’s reign! This is the salvation language that permeates the story of Israel. It’s the theme of the Psalms. It’s the hope of the prophets. Even when Israel ceased being the representative kingdom of God and fell back under the rule of the nations, God declared he would yet save them. Jesus and John the Baptist proclaimed the day of salvation for God’s people: “God’s reign is at hand!”
That’s why Jesus chose Passover — the exodus festival — to confront the rulers of this world. Salvation is the exodus from the world’s oppression under evil rule, into the governance of God’s Son, his anointed ruler (Christ).
Brothers and sisters, we have to stop marketing salvation as personal benefits for individuals. It’s time to announce the good news of the kingdom. God is saving his world from oppression, into communal life under the ruler he has appointed.
New creation is appearing in communities where Jesus is recognized as Lord. But the real challenge is to live like this while the rest of the world isn’t doing so yet.