TODAY’S READING: LUKE 19-20
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10
Here is a simple, direct statement from Jesus about his mission. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. However, even though the statement is simple and direct, I believe the meaning has been totally missed by most. I know I missed it for a long time.
I think many, if not most, Christians think Jesus came to save sinners, which is typically understood to mean those who live an immoral life based on a specific code of conduct. This specific code of conduct would include sins such as drinking, swearing, lying, lusting, murdering (which is always said to be different than their own justified killing in war or killing by God), etc. If someone does not get in line with this personal code of conduct, then God is going to burn up him or her in hell. Therefore, Jesus saves us from our sin by making it possible for us to keep this specific code of conduct, thereby preventing our eternal destruction due to the wrath of God.
I used to believe this, but now I have come to understand who Jesus save and what it means to be saved in an entirely different way.
Who did Jesus come for? Who is saved?
Who are the lost?
The Greek word for lost is apollymi. It derives from the word olethros, which means to destroy. The prefix apo in this case basically means completely. So, the essential meaning of apollymi is destroy utterly or completely.
But, the word apollymi can also mean to perish or lose. However, these meanings are reflexive. Reflexive means
- directed or turned back on itself
- of, relating to, characterized by, or being a relation that exists between an entity and itself (“is equal to” but not “is the father of”)
- of, relating to, or constituting an action (“he perjured himself”) directed back on the agent or the grammatical subject
- characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior
So, when apollymi means or is translated perished or lost it has the idea that the action of perishing and being lost is something that one does to themselves. In fact, if we study carefully the times when apollymi is translated perish or lost, then we will see this is true. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Jesus says that if we take up the sword to defend and protect our lives or to get even with our enemy then we die cause ourselves to die by the sword.
In Luke 13:3 and 5, Jesus said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus said this about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices and the eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell. Most understand the blood that Pilate shed in the temple as a military confrontation. The tower of Siloam was likely a part of the temple. Therefore, it’s likely that these two incidents are connected,especially since they are nowhere else mentioned in scripture or other historical writings.
So, Jesus asks if the people involved in this military confrontation were any worse sinners or offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem. Therefore, unless you repent of the your desire for military conflict then you cause yourself to perish too.
In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus said, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger.” (Luke 15:17) The younger son realized that his father’s servants had plenty of food yet he causing himself to die of hunger because he refused to repent and go back to his father.
In John 3:16, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” We know God’s love because of the cross. Jesus laid down his life there. He blessed all who persecuted him by forgiving all of his persecutors completely. If we do the same as Jesus, then we will not cause ourselves to perish.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) If we try to find, protect, keep, defend, our life then we will cause it be lost. However, if we cause our life to be lost by laying it down, forgiving others, blessing our enemies instead of seeking to kill them, for Jesus’ sake then we will find our lives.
Notice that in these cases it is our own evil that comes back upon us to destroy us. This theme is repeated throughout the Old Testament. Most prominently, the theme is found in Psalm 7:15-16, which says, “He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”
Our own violence descends upon our skull. That’s an extremely important point when we consider where Jesus crucified by our own violence – Golgotha, the place of the skull. Where did the cross need to be driven into to stand upright? My skull. Therefore, the cross destroys my own violent tendencies.
When apollymi is translated destroyed, the destruction typically is done to someone else.
“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15)
“And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.” (1Corinthians 8:11)
Notice that we are the ones who destroy, not Jesus. Instead of destroying, Jesus died for these people.
Jesus does not destroy. The gospels repeatedly declare that the people wanted to destroy him.
Why do we destroy? Because we are of our father the devil as Jesus said in John 8:44. And, it has always been Satan that is behind every destructive act. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10:9-10, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” God was not destroying people in the wilderness after the exodus. Satan was.
Now, you might try to quote Jude 5, which says, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Translated this way, Jude 5 is in complete contradiction to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:9-10.
But, I believe this is a poor translation of Jude 5. The problem is the word “afterword.” It is the Greek word deuteros. Deuteros simply means second. Jude 5 literally says “a second” or “the second” destroyed those who did not believe. Translated that way, it was Jesus who saved a people out of Egypt but a/the second that destroyed those who did not believe. Translated this way Jude 5 fits in exactly with what Paul says.
So, the lost are those who are destroyed by Satan and by others. And, the lost are those who bring destruction upon themselves because they look to violence for the answer. They seek to repay their enemies evil for evil. But, their violence comes back on themselves. So, by taking the sword they die by the sword. The lost perish from their own violence.
It is the lost that Jesus came to save.
Therefore, we are saved when we do what Jesus said
- love your enemies
- do good to those who hate you
- bless those who persecute you
- show mercy
- forgive as you have been forgiven
This is what the cross was all about. This is why the cross was symbolically driven into our own skulls on Golgotha. The cross, the self-sacrificing love of God that is merciful and forgiving to all, was meant to cause us to repent from violence, evil, and wickedness.
Jesus is our savior when we follow him and give up violence as a way to fix the world and make things right, as a means of justice.
There’s actually an ancient letter from a proconsul that uses the Greek word for savior in just this way. It says, “Providence, which governs the course of our lives, has shown attention and goodness and has provided for the most perfect good for life by producing the emperor [Augustus], whom it has filled with virtue in order to make him a benefactor of humanity. So it has sent to us and to others a savior [sotera] who has put an end to war and will restore order everywhere.” But, Augustus attempted to bring an end to war through war. Much like World War 1 was said to be the war to end all wars.
So, the term savior was applied to a Roman emperor, a warring and conquering military victor. This sheds light on why Paul said he was not ashamed by the gospel of his savior, his savior who died on the cross, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing [apollymi], but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
What is the word of the cross?
Laying down your life for others?
It is not violence, killing, murdering, war.
That’s why it is folly to those who are perishing, those who are destroying and being destroyed by their own violence. The perishing cannot understand how non-violence will solve anything. It’s complete and utter folly to them.
“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 4:3)
Again, the gospel is the message of the cross. It is Jesus’ message of self-sacrificial love. It is his message of non violence. The gospel is a message of loving enemies, not taking vengeance. But, it is veiled to those who are perishing, those who are destroying and being destroyed by their own violence. It is veiled to the lost.
Why is it veiled to them?
“In their case the god of this world [Satan, the Destroyer] has blinded the minds of unbelievers [those that don’t believe in the self-sacrificial love and non-violence of Jesus], to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
How is the veil removed?
“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (2 Corinthians 3:16)
The veil in the temple was torn after Jesus proclaimed forgiveness on the cross. When we turn to the Lord and believe his message of self-sacrificial love for enemies and non-violence then the veil that hid God’s true nature from us is torn. Then, we are no longer blinded by Satan that the way to make things right is through violence. When the veil is torn and we know the truth about God’s ways, the we are saved.
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
Satan uses all kinds of power to do false signs and wonders so that his way of violence, his murdering and lying, appears like the way we should go. Satan uses all sorts of wicked deception so that the perishing, the lost, the destroying and those being destroyed by their own violence, believe violence, hating enemies, and vengeance are the ways to make things right.
But, Satan can only do this when we refuse to love the truth, which is the message of the cross, the message of self-sacrificial love for enemies, even to the point of becoming a martyr if necessary.
So, who is saved?
The lost. Those that perish because of their own violence, evil, and wickedness. Those that are destroyed by Satan.
What does it mean to be saved?
It’s not simply following a moral code of conduct. To be saved means that we believe Jesus’ message from the cross. And, as a result of that message we practice self-sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness so that we can participate in the reconciliation of the world to God. The saved know that this is how we make things right.