Saturday, August 17, 2019
Did John reveal the truth of the salvation of all mankind in his writings? (Part Two)
“The Savior of the world”
In John 4:39-42, we read that a group of Samaritans referred to Jesus as “the Savior of the world, the Christ.” But were they affirming the truth that every person who has ever lived (or ever will live) will be saved by Christ? As argued in the previous installment of this study, when the word kosmos or “world” is used to denote people in the realm of human society (and not the realm of human society itself), it need not be understood as denoting every person in the world without exception. Later, Christ referred to himself as “the Light of the world”: “Again, then, Jesus speaks to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world. He who is following Me should under no circumstances be walking in darkness, but will be having the light of life.’” Jesus went on to say, “Whenever I may be in the world, I am the Light of the world.” And in John 12:46, Jesus declared, “I have come into the world a Light, that everyone who is believing in Me should not be remaining in darkness.”
Notice that Jesus’ being the “Light of the world” did not mean that, while he was in the world, everyone in the world had “the light of life,” and that no one in the world was (or would be) “walking in darkness.” Many people – both in Israel and throughout the rest of the world – lived and died in darkness, despite Jesus’ status as the Light of the world. What Jesus’ being the “light of the world” meant was that anyone in the world who was following him/believing in him would “be having the light of life” (with the “life” in view being “life eonian”). In the same way, Jesus’ being the Savior of the world (in the sense referred to in John 4:42) should be understood as meaning that anyone in the world who was following Jesus/believing in him would be saved (i.e., they would receive life eonian). Again, the “salvation” that the Samaritans most likely had in view in John 4:39-42 was eonian life and not the salvation that all will enjoy at the consummation (which, again, is a truth we only find revealed in Paul’s letters).
Moreover, it must be taken into account what kind of salvation the Samaritans described in John 4 would’ve most likely had in mind when they referred to Jesus as “the Savior of the world” (for clearly they must have had some sort of salvation in view here). We know that Jesus had been staying with and teaching these Samaritans for two days (John 4:40-41). And it’s reasonable to conclude that what he’d been teaching them during the two days he was with them was not radically different from what he’d been teaching others before (and after) this time. And what had Christ been teaching prior to this time?
Earlier in this chapter, we read that the first Samaritan to whom Christ spoke and taught was a Samaritan woman at a well. And in John 4:13-14, we read the following: “Everyone who is drinking of this water will be thirsting again, yet whoever may be drinking of the water which I shall be giving him, shall under no circumstances be thirsting for the eon, but the water which I shall be giving him will become in him a spring of water, welling up into life eonian.” The salvation of which Christ spoke in his conversation with the woman at the well was clearly the same salvation that is the focus of John’s Account – i.e., “life eonian.” And it’s unlikely that the Samaritans who were taught by Jesus for two days had in mind a salvation that was completely different than the salvation of which Christ spoke when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well.
Further evidence that the expression “Savior of the world” was understood by the Samaritans as meaning, “Savior of everyone in the world who is believing in Christ” can be found in John 3:17-18: “For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him. He who is believing in Him is not being judged; yet he who is not believing has been judged already, for he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God.”
Notice that we’re told that Christ was sent into the world “that the world may be saved through him.” What do the words “saved through Him” mean? In the immediate context, the salvation being referred to here involves the salvation of those who believe “in the name of the only-begotten Son of God” (and not the salvation of unbelievers). This is further evident from the fact that, in the context, the “salvation” in view involves receiving life eonian. Thus, based on the context, the words “that the world may be saved through him” should be understood to mean, “that everyone in the world who is believing in him should be saved” (with “saved” meaning, should “not be perishing, but may be having life eonian”). And when we let this passage inform our understanding of John 4:42, we can conclude that the sense in which Jesus was considered the “Savior of the world” by the Samaritans is that Jesus was (and is) the Savior of everyone in the world who is believing in him, and that the salvation received through him is eonian life.
“I will draw all to myself”
The next verse I’ll be considering is John 12:32, where Christ declared, “And I, if I should be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to Myself.” Because of Christ’s use of the word “all” here, some believe that he was revealing the truth of the salvation of all humanity. Although I would agree that Christ did have his death in view here (which is clear from the inspired commentary provided by John in verse 33), I don’t believe Christ was, at this time, revealing that all humanity would be saved by virtue of it. Instead, the larger context indicates that Christ had in view all whom God had given to him, and whom he will be raising up on “the last day” to enjoy life eonian in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel.
Among those who see Christ’s words in John 12:32 as an affirmation of the salvation of all humanity, some have pointed out (correctly) that Christ didn’t say “all kinds of people.” I agree whole-heartedly that we shouldn’t read “all kinds of people” into the text, and that the word “all” undoubtedly refers to every single individual of the category of people who are in view here. But the question we then need to ask is this: “Which category of people did Christ have in mind when he used the word ‘all’?” Should we just assume that, because Christ himself knew that all humanity would be saved by virtue of his sacrificial death, that he necessarily had the salvation of all humanity in view when he spoke these words? I don’t think so. Although it’s perfectly valid to point out that Christ didn’t say “all kinds of people” here, it’s equally true that Christ didn’t say “all mankind” or “all people” here, either. There’s no more indication that Christ was referring to “all mankind” here than there is that he was referring to “all animals,” “all Israelites” or “all celestial beings.” Those who think Christ had all humanity in view here are simply reading “mankind” or “people” into the text.
Now, it’s of course true that we have to read some category of people into the text here. Whatever the term “all” refers to here, it must refer to all of something rather than to all of nothing! So to determine what the term “all” refers to in this verse, we have to look to the surrounding context. And when we do so, we find that the last time Christ referred to a category of people as “all,” he was referring to those who will be receiving life eonian. In John 6:37, 39 we read: “ALL that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out….And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of ALL that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Compare these verses with John 17:2, where Christ declared that “all” which the Father had given to him would be given life eonian (although some versions translate the word pan in this verse as “everything,” it’s the same word translated “all” in John 12:32). It is this “all” – i.e., everyone whom God had given to Christ to raise up “on the last day” – which Christ had in view in John 12:32.
Christ went on to refer to this category of people – i.e., all those given to him by the Father – as the “sheep” for whom he was going to lay down his life (or “soul”). In John 10:4, 9, 11, 15, 16, we read: “When [the shepherd of the sheep] has brought out ALL his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Christ went on to attribute the unbelief of those around him to the fact that they were not “of [his] sheep” (John 10:26-27). They were not, in other words, among the “all” that the Father had given to Christ, to raise up on the last day.
In light of the above verses, it’s clear that Christ laid down his life or “soul” for all who would come to constitute the “one flock” to which he was referring. Even though it’s revealed elsewhere that Christ’s death procured the salvation of all humanity (as well as the reconciliation of all intelligent beings to God, whether terrestrial or celestial), the focus of these verses (and indeed of Christ’s earthly ministry as a whole) was most assuredly not “all humanity.” Rather, the focus was on that special category of Israelites who had become (or would become) “children of God” by their faith in him, and who would thus enter into the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel to enjoy “life eonian” in this kingdom. It is every member of this category of people who is to be drawn to Christ, in accord with Christ’s words in John 12:32.
But what is the nature of the “drawing” referred to by Christ in John 12:32? And when will it take place? To answer these questions, let’s consider another prophetic reference to Christ’s death in John’s Account. In John 11:49-53 (which, it should be noted, is a passage that appears in the chapter that immediately precedes the one to which the verse under consideration belongs), we read the following:
The chief priests and the Pharisees, then, gathered a Sanhedrin and said, “What are we doing, seeing that this man is doing many signs? If we should be leaving him thus, all will be believing in him, and the Romans will come and take away our place as well as our nation.” Now a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being the chief priest of that year, said to them, “You are not aware of anything, neither are you reckoning that it is expedient for us that one man should be dying for the sake of the people and not the whole nation should perish.” Now this he said, not from himself, but, being the chief priest of that year, he prophesies that Jesus was about to be dying for the sake of the nation, and not for the nation only, but that He may be gathering the scattered children of God also into one.
According to John’s inspired commentary on Caiaphas’ prophecy, Jesus was going to die not only “for the sake of the nation” but also so that “he may be gathering the scattered children of God also into one.” But what will this “gathering” involve? Well, we know from prophecy that, after Christ returns to earth and begins restoring the kingdom to Israel, all believing Israelites are going to be gathered into the land (see, for example, Deut. 30:1-5; Isaiah 11:11-12, 27:13; Jeremiah 29:14; Ezekiel 11:17; 20:34, 41-42; 28:25; 36:24-27; 37:1-14; etc.). In accord with these prophecies, we read the following in Matthew 24:30-31: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Mankind in heaven, and then all the tribes of the land shall grieve, and they shall see the Son of Mankind coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory. And He shall be dispatching His messengers with a loud sounding trumpet, and they shall be assembling His chosen from the four winds, from the extremities of the heavens to their extremities.”
Where will these “chosen” ones be assembled? Answer: they’re going to be assembled to the location to which Christ will be returning at this future time (i.e., the land of Israel). It’s reasonable, then, to understand the “gathering” of “the scattered children of God also into one” referred to in John 11:53 (as well as the implied gathering of the children of God within the nation of Israel) as involving their being assembled to Christ after he has returned to earth. And if that’s what this “gathering” by Christ will involve, then it’s also reasonable to conclude that, when Christ begins gathering the scattered children of God “into one,” he will be drawing them to himself at this time. Moreover, not only will the living “children of God” be drawn to him at this future time, but those who will have died before his return to earth will be drawn to him as well (by virtue of their being restored to life in his presence on “the last day”).
Thus, when we let the broader context of John’s Account inform our understanding of John 12:32, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that the “all” whom Christ said he would be drawing to himself will be all of the “sheep” on whose behalf he – as the Good Shepherd – laid down his soul. That is, Christ was referring to “all” that the Father had given him, and who will be enjoying life eonian in the kingdom that is to be restored to Israel.
“The whole world also”
The final verse from John’s writings that I’ll be considering is 1 John 2:2. Here’s the verse in its immediate context: ”My little children, these things am I writing to you that you may not be sinning. And if anyone should be sinning, we have an Entreater with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Just. And He is the propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins, yet not concerned with ours only, but concerned with the whole world also.”
This isn’t the only time John used the word translated “propitiatory shelter” in his first letter. The word appears again in 1 John 4:9-10: “In this was manifested the love of God among us, that God has dispatched His only-begotten Son into the world that we should be living through Him. In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loves us, and dispatches His Son, a propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins.” John’s “we,” “us” and “our” in these verses refer, I believe, to those constituting the “Israel of God” (not those in the body of Christ, who I don’t think are even “in the picture” here). And – as argued in my 2018 article on John’s expectation and doctrinal position concerning salvation, the way in which this company of saints benefits from Christ’s propitiatory work on their behalf involves a faith that requires righteous conduct in order for them to be saved (as James so clearly affirmed in his letter to the twelve tribes).
In light of the larger context of John’s letter as well as what we read in the letter to the Hebrews, the sense in which Christ should be considered a “propitiatory shelter” concerned with the sins of John and those to whom he wrote is, I believe, as follows: Christ, through his sacrificial death, became Israel’s Chief Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek (see Hebrews 6-10). Through “his own blood,“ Christ “entered once for all time into the holy places, finding eonian redemption” (Heb. 9:11-12). And because Christ “has an inviolate priesthood,” he is “able to save to the uttermost those coming to God through Him, always being alive to be pleading for their sake” (Heb. 7:23-25). In these verses, the “eonian redemption” and salvation that is in view is not something that all people without exception will receive and enjoy. In contrast with the salvation that all people will enjoy after Christ has delivered up the kingdom to the Father and God has become “All in all” (1 Cor. 15:24-28), the salvation referred to in Hebrews 9:11-12 refers to an allotment in what Peter referred to as “the eonian kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:11).
Moreover, we can also infer that, in Heb. 7:23-25 (where Christ is said to be pleading for the sake of those coming to God through him), the author was referring to the same mediating and priestly role that John had in view when he referred to Christ as “an Entreater with the Father” (1 John 2:1), and which is clearly connected with Christ’s work as the “propitiatory shelter” concerned with sins. As Israel’s Chief Priest, Christ is the one through whom Israel’s sins can be pardoned (1 John 1:7, 9), and through whom those “coming to God through Him” can thus be saved and receive “eonian redemption.” Thus, when we read that Christ is “the propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins, yet not concerned with ours only, but concerned with the whole world also,” we can conclude that John understood the benefits of Christ’s propitiatory work as a blessing that is conditionally received by believers, as opposed to something that will be automatically and unconditionally applied to all people without exception at the end of Christ’s reign. But in what sense did John believe Christ to be the propitiatory shelter concerned with the sins of “the whole world also?” And who, exactly, did John have in mind by the words, “concerned with our sins, yet not concerned with ours only”?
In order to determine which categories of people John had in view here, let’s again consider John’s commentary on Caiaphas’ prophetic words in John 11:49-53 (for in this passage I believe we find a parallel to what John wrote in 1 John 2:2): “Now this he said, not from himself, but, being the chief priest of that year, he prophesies that Jesus was about to be dying for the sake of the nation, and not for the nation only, but that He may be gathering the scattered children of God also into one.” It should be emphasized that we can’t understand “the nation” to be a reference to every individual who constituted the nation of Israel in that day. This is evident from the fact that the individuals referred to as those “scattered abroad” are “the children of God” (i.e., believers); thus, by “the nation” John must’ve had in mind the children of God (i.e., believers) who were living in the geopolitical territory of the nation of Israel.
Let’s now compare the last verse of the above passage with 1 John 2:2:
“And He is the propitiatory shelter concerned with our sins, yet not concerned with ours ONLY, but concerned with the whole world ALSO.”
“He prophesies that Jesus was about to be dying for the sake of the nation, and not for the nation ONLY, but that He may be gathering the scattered children of God ALSO into one.”
The striking similarities in the grammatical structure and terminology of these two statements cannot be a coincidence. When we compare these two verses, it becomes evident that John’s “our” in 1 John 2:2 corresponds with “the nation” of John 11:53, while “the whole word” of 1 John 2:2 corresponds with “the scattered children of God” of John 11:53. And just as “the nation” should be understood as a reference to the believers (or “children of God”) living within the geographical territory of the nation of Israel, so the expression “the whole world” can be understood as a reference to believers who were (or will be, in the future) living outside of the geographical territory of Israel. This interpretation is consistent with what we’ve seen to be the case with the use of the term “world” in John’s Gospel (which need not be understood as a reference to every person in the world without exception, but to a certain category of people in the world).
John’s addition of the word “whole” simply emphasizes the fact that the people in view whose sins have been (or will be) pardoned – and who will thus come to be among the “children of God” – are not merely from one region or country of the inhabited earth only, but from every tribe, people, language and nation. John referred to these “scattered children of God” in chapter seven of Revelation:
After these things I perceived, and lo! a vast throng which no one was able to number, out of every nation and out of the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lambkin, clothed in white robes and with palm fronds in their hands. And they are crying with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation be our God's, Who is sitting on the throne, And the Lambkin's!" And all the messengers stood around the throne and the elders and the four animals. And they fall on their faces before the throne and worship God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be our God's for the eons of the eons. Amen!"
And one of the elders answered, saying to me, "These clothed in white robes, who are they, and whence came they?" And I have declared to him: "My lord, you are aware." And he said to me, "These are those coming out of the great affliction. And they rinse their robes, and they whiten them in the blood of the Lambkin. Therefore they are before the throne of God and are offering divine service to Him day and night in His temple. And He Who is sitting on the throne will be tabernacling over them. They shall not be hungering longer, nor yet shall they be thirsting any longer; no, neither should the sun be falling on them, nor any heat, seeing that the throne-centered Lambkin shall be shepherding them, and shall be guiding them to living springs of water, and every tear shall God be brushing away from their eyes."
out of every nation and out of the tribes and peoples and languages.” Rather than identifying these people as Gentiles, I believe this language identifies them as the descendents of those Israelites who were scattered and dispersed among all the nations, and who today exist throughout the world instead of in the land of Israel (for more examples of references to the dispersion of Israelites among all the nations, see Deut. 30:1-3; Isaiah 11:12; Ezekiel 6:8-10; 11:16-17; 20:23-24; 22:15; 36:17-20; Dan. 9:7; Acts 2:5, 8-11; James 1:1).
“THE hundred and forty-four thousand are the firstfruit of the millennial harvest (14:4; Lev.23:10). The vast throng are symbolized by the festival of ingathering (Lev.23:39-42). They appear with palm branches in their hands (7:9). They dwell in the tabernacle or booth of the Enthroned One (7:15). These, as well as the hundred and forty-four thousand who are sealed, are able to stand in the great day of His indignation.”
Knoch goes on to say, “All the symbolism employed places them among the saved of the sacred nation. Israel itself did not keep the feast of ingathering (Neh.8:16,17) until after the return from Babylon. Then they celebrated it with great rejoicing (Ezra 3:11,12). How can it possibly figure a company of aliens, to whom these festivals do not apply? It was never kept in the wilderness, because it was reserved for the land, when they dwelt in houses. It was to remind them of the wilderness, when they dwelt in booths.
“All this typical teaching is for naught if we transfer this scene to the nations. We have a firstfruit, but no harvest, in Israel. We have a limited number saved, all males, scarcely more than one per cent of the nation. We have the favored people doubly decimated, and bring unnumbered aliens into their fold. The vast throng, as well as the hundred and forty-four thousand are Israelites, to whom the promises pertain.”
a special phrase denoting the sufferings of the faithful in Israel at the hands of the other nations.” See Christ’s words in Matthew 24:19-21, where the same expression is found (for a more in-depth look at what this “great affliction” will involve, how long it will last and where else it is referred to in Scripture, see part four of my study on the timing of the snatching away).
Whether this vast throng is to be understood as comprised of Gentiles or Israelites (or a mixture of both), I think it’s reasonable to view the people who are in view as constituting the “scattered children of God” who are to be “gathered into one” by Christ. It is these who, although dwelling throughout “the whole world,” will receive the same pardon of sins as John and the original recipients of his letter received by virtue of Christ’s propitiatory work on their behalf.
 It should be noted that the faith that was required for the salvation of those to whom Christ ministered during his time on earth could not be separated from their righteous, obedient conduct. For example, in Matt. 7:21-23 Christ declared: “Not everyone saying to Me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will be entering into the kingdom of the heavens, but he who is doing the will of My Father Who is in the heavens. Many will be declaring to Me in that day, 'Lord! Lord! Was it not in Your name that we prophesy, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name do many powerful deeds?' And then shall I be avowing to them that 'I never knew you! Depart from Me, workers of lawlessness!'”
Notice how Christ contrasted “doing the will” of God with being a worker of “lawlessness.” Those to whom Christ spoke would’ve understood “doing the will of the Father” as involving righteous conduct (e.g., keeping the commandments which were summed up in what Christ referred to as the “greatest commandments” in Matt. 22:36-40). In contrast, “workers of lawlessness” would’ve been understood as those who didn’t do the will of God by keeping his commandments. Thus, although John would’ve considered faith in Christ as being absolutely essential to the salvation of those to whom he wrote (John 20:31), he also would’ve believed that the faith by which one could have “life eonian in his name” had to be combined with, and expressed through, obedient conduct. Apart from such conduct, the faith of those called through the gospel that we find revealed in John’s Account would be “dead,” and thus unable to save them (cf. James 2:14-26). For more on this subject, see my 2018 article on John’s expectation and doctrinal position concerning salvation.
 Even Paul understood the redemptive benefit of Christ’s propitiatory work as something that was conditionally applied only to believers (as opposed to Christ’s work as “a ransom for all,” which will ultimately benefit all humanity). According to Paul, it is by “faith in His blood” that one benefits from Christ’s propitiatory work (Rom. 3:25-28). When those called through Paul’s evangel of the Uncircumcision believe the evangel (and thus believe that Christ died for their sins), the believer is “justified gratuitously in His grace,” and receives the “righteousness of God” that is “through Jesus Christ’s faith” (Rom. 3:21-24).