Salvation as the survival of the people of God
We might suggest, then, that ‘Jesus’ death for us’ is effective in two particular respects. First, it is the basis for the salvation of the people of God during the eschatological crisis: Israel will not be completely annihilated by the coming judgment because Jesus has died ‘as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28; Mk.10:45). The disciples in Judea will be saved by fleeing to the mountains (Matt.24:16-18; Mk.13:14). Peter is conscious of the historical urgency motivating the preaching of the gospel when he exhorts the crowds on the day of Pentecost, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation’ (Acts 2:40). It is in this context of catastrophic judgment on Israel that he asserts, ‘And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’ (Acts 2:21). When later he tells the council in Jerusalem that ‘we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus’ (Acts 15:11), he has in view the impending judgment on the city and the fall-out from that event for the wider Roman world: it is not Jews alone who need to be saved from the coming wrath (Acts 11:12).
Those who do not ‘survive’ the ‘birthpangs’ of the new age, who die because they have chosen to follow the same path as Jesus, will be raised with him and share in his kingdom. The leading argument of Romans 5-8 is that those who have been justified by faith and therefore have peace with God (5:1), who can expect to be saved from the wrath of God (5:9), have a hope of sharing in the glory of God through the experience of suffering (5:2-5; 8:17, 18, 29-30). But prior to this historically limited eschatological hope, justification by faith provides the basis on which people become ‘descendants’ of Abraham (4:11-13; 9:8), members of a community drawn from all the nations, who will ‘inherit the world’ (4:13). Salvation and justification are essentially corporate categories: what matters is that there continues to be a justified people of God, not that individuals are approved for entry into heaven.