Three Ways to Be Saved
Since the time the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-11), the church has been longing for His return. When will our dear Savior come back to establish His kingdom on this earth? In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus gave us a clear word on this subject. It is brief and all-inclusive, giving all people, not just the church, essential wisdom related to the end times. His words cut to the heart of the matter of His coming, saving us from trivial questions and concerns. His description unfolds to us how we all can be saved into His coming kingdom, and how we all can be prepared. Jesus described three ways to be saved, all related to the end of this age. It begins in this way:
Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, "Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down." As He was sitting on the
Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, "Tell us,
when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:1-3)
What Israel Should Do
The first part, from verses 4 to 31, pertains to the Jews. In God's plan of salvation, the Jews come first (Acts 26:23; Rom. 1:16). These verses are to be taken literally and physically. Many items are mentioned which are Jewish in nature, such as the holy place of the temple (v. 15), the Sabbath (v. 20), a distinctly Jewish observance, Judea (v. 16), the home land of the Jews, and most importantly, the expectation of the coming Messiah--the Christ (v. 5, 22-24, 26).
This word is not spoken to all Jews, but to those Jews on earth during the end times who have faith toward God. Only those who have faith can be saved. While there are many people on earth who have a Jewish heritage, only those with faith in God will be saved (Rom. 2:17-29). For a Jew, to believe God is to believe His holy scriptures, composed of the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17; Luke 24:44). And as James made clear, faith without works is dead (James 2:26). If you are a Jew, you need to keep God's commandments (Matt. 19:17). These commandments include the proper way to worship God (Lev.1-5). Jews must worship God in the temple in Jerusalem by means of animal sacrifices (Deut. 16:16; 1 Kings 11:36). Jews who have faith also expect a Messiah to come (Deut. 18:15; Dan. 9:25; John 10:24). If you are Jewish and do not have these things, you are lacking faith.
During the end times, for a Jew to be saved, they need to be actively pursuing these things. Many Jews right now are endeavoring not only to strictly follow the commandments, but also to restore the temple worship in Jerusalem. It is to these faithful ones Jesus directs His words. As Paul, a converted Jew, explained in Romans 9-11, the Jews today have been hardened in their heart so as to not realize Jesus is the Christ (Rom. 11:8, 25). Yet in the end, when Jesus appears from the heavens, all Israel will see Him and repent. At this time all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26-27).
It is a mistake to apply these verses to Christians. Jesus has lovingly warned the faithful Jews concerning the time of His appearing. Jesus tells them to flee when they see the abomination (idol) set up in the temple. As the scripture explains, the beast, a satanically empowered ruler, will set up his image in the temple in Jerusalem and force people to worship him (Rev. 13:14-15; 2 Thess. 2:3-4). This event will trigger the Great Tribulation, which will last 3 and one-half years (Rev.13:5). Let's read:
"Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath.For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will." (Matt. 24:15-21)
When Jesus finally appears, during the last battle at Armageddon (Rev. 16:13-16), He will come to save the faithful Jews who will be on the brink of extinction by the beast and the armies of the earth (Rev.19:11-21). At the last moment, Jesus will appear from heaven, and then Israel will mourn as they finally realize that Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for:
"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory." (Matt.24:30)
What Christians Should Do
The next section, from Matt. 24:32 until Matt. 25:30, is spoken to Christians. While the Jews are God's people following the commandments, Christians are God's people following Jesus as the Spirit (Rev. 14:12). Since the church is a spiritual entity, the items in this section are greatly symbolic rather than literal.
First, Jesus tells us to watch the fig tree, which is an ancient symbol of Israel:
"Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near." (Matt. 24:32)
Christians need to keep an eye on the state of Israel. Israel became a nation in 1948. That is when the long dormant fig tree first put out its leaves. Some day in the future the temple will be rebulit in Jerusalem and the worship restored. When we see this, summer, that is the return of Jesus, is near.
Second, Jesus warms His church to not be carried away with the concerns of this age:
"For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matt. 24:37-39)
Christians who do not heed this warning will be left behind during the Great Tribulation:
"Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left." (Matt. 24:40-41)
The Great Tribulation will be a time of ripening for the Christians who are immature (c.f. 1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:11-14). The ripe ones will be taken early (Rev. 14:4), while the majority will be taken after the tribulation (Rev. 14:15). Tribulation is like sunshine that helps Christians grow, as long as they learn to have roots that absorb His supply of grace (Matt. 13:5-6;20-21).
Third, Jesus shows us what proper Christians should be doing at the end times: feeding the church of God the spiritual food:
"Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he come." (Matt. 24:45-46)
All Christians have a spiritual gift that they should use to supply the household of God, the church, with grace (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Peter 4:10). If we are not feeding God's people, we are either mistreating His people, or are lost in the concerns of the world, as Jesus described in His parable:
"But if that evil slave says in his heart, 'My master is not coming for a long time,' and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards..." (Matt.24:48-49)
Such Christians will be punished at the Lord's coming.
"...the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 24:50-51)
Fourth, Jesus describes, by means of a parable of 10 virgins, how to carry out such a feeding ministry (Matt. 25:1-13). We need to be like virgins, unattached to this world and seeking only our lovely bridegroom, Jesus (2 Cor. 11:2). We also need to be filled with the Holy Spirit of God inwardly, which is symbolized by the oil. If we don't have this inward, daily love for the Lord and infilling of the Spirit, we will be unprepared at His coming. Thus, some Christians will be wise, and some will be foolish (Eph. 5:15-20).The foolish will miss the reward of the kingdom.
"Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps." (Matt.25:1-4)
Fifth, Jesus shows us how to serve Him (Matt. 25:14-30). While the parable of the 10 virgins shows us the key to the inward supply of grace, which is the substance of God we have enjoyed, the next parable of the talents shows us how to faithfully multiply this grace by giving it to others. This is outward service. Again, some Christians will be found faithful and get a reward, while others will miss the reward of the kingdom:
"His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'" (Matt. 25:23)
"Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 25:30)
To summarize, these are the matters that Christians should take care of before His coming: 1) watch Israel, which is a kind of "clock" for the coming of Christ; 2) don't get distracted by this age; 3) be active feeding other Christians the spiritual food; 4) be one who loves the Lord and who is filled in the spirit; and 5) faithfully multiply the grace the Lord has given you.
What the Nations Should Do
There is yet a third type of person who will be on the earth during the end times. They are called the nations, composed of everyone else who is not a faithful Jew or a Christian. As mentioned already, the last 3 1/2 years of this age will be the Great Tribulation, when the beast mentioned in Revelation 13 will persecute and even kill those of faith. During this time, Jews will be fleeing Judea, and Christians (those who have been left behind to ripen) will also be fleeing the beast. According to Revelation 14, an eternal gospel will be preached at this time. It is a general gospel, which preceded the revelation of the Law through Moses as well as the revelation of Jesus through the apostles:
"And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."(Rev. 14:6-7)
Notice there is no mention of faith in Christ or even of following the commandments. It does not mention God as redeemer or as a Father, but as the Creator. It is identical to the general gospel Paul spoke of in Romans which applies to all mankind, even those who have not read the Bible or have never heard of Jesus:
"Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened." (Rom. 1:19-21).
During the Great Tribulation, Jews will not be able to practice their faith due to the takeover of their temple by the beast, and apparently the fleeing Christians, left behind from the rapture of the first fruits, will not be preaching Jesus. So God will send His eternal gospel through angels. This gospel is directed toward the nations. If they receive this gospel through faith, and fear God and give Him glory, they will take action. Faith without works is dead. The key work they can do, which manifests their faith in the eternal gospel, is to help the persecuted Jews and Christians. When they help God's people, Jesus, at his judgement throne on earth after the Great Tribulation, will count their good works as something they did for Him, thus ushering them into the kingdom of God:
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink . And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'" (Matt. 25:31-40)
Apart from faith it is not possible to be saved. But there are three ways to be saved in the end times. The nations that refuse this eternal gospel and simply go along with the persecution of the beast, not helping the fleeing people of God, will perish.
God loves man. He desires all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth. The only way to be saved is through faith. Faith means I reject my way of salvation and take God's way of salvation. Faith means I agree with God, obey God, and join myself to God in a loving, trusting relationship. If you are Jewish, direct your faith toward the word of God and diligently seek to follow His commandments. Seek to restore Jerusalem, the temple, and the proper worship. And eagerly expect the Messiah. If you are a Christian, seek to love the Lord Jesus, be filled with the Spirit of God and be active to feed the church of God. To all else, especially those on earth during the Great Tribulation, fear God and seek to help those persecuted by the beast.
May the Lord's kingdom come! Amen! Come quickly Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all!
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.