Here’s Richard Bauckham being onto something yet again in his book on Revelation (The Theology of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
Commenting on the new revelation of the scroll which only the Lamb is worthy to open (5:1-9) Bauckham writes:
“The content of the scroll is not that faithful Christians are to suffer martyrdom or that their martyrdom will be their victory: these things are already clear in 6:9-11; 7:9-14.”
Indeed, Bauckham points out that rather:
“The new revelation is that their faithful witness and death is to be instrumental in the conversion of the nations of the world. Their victory is not simply their own salvation from a world doomed to judgment, as might appear from chapter 7, but the salvation of the nations.”
Ahh. In case you need further clarification, Bauckham continues:
“God’s kingdom is to come not simply by saving an elect people who acknowledge his rule from a rebellious world over which his kingdom prevails merely by extinguishing the rebels.”
(How often is this the way the story is told?) Bauckham provides the appropriate, (i.e., biblical) alternative:
“It is to come as the sacrificial witness of the elect people who already acknowledge God’s rule brings the rebellious nations also to acknowledge his rule. The people of God have been redeemed from all the nations (5:9; emphasis from Bauckham) in order to bear prophetic witness to all the nations (11:3-13; his emphasis again)” (84).
In you, yes. God wishes to save you because he wants to work his love and grace and mercy in you. But a coin has two sides–God wishes to save you because he wants to work his love and grace and mercy through you as well.
Many of us have the habit of not articulating this other side of the coin so well when we’re talking about what it means to be a Christian. We emphasize the matter of personal salvation, which is important, as a resolution to a legitimate problem and a satisfaction of an urgent need, but we don’t emphasize strongly enough (or mention at all) that this is about signing on board to be the way God in turn saves the entire world.
Facing this problem head on, another brilliant British New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, in his Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), makes this comparison:
“The theological equivalent of supposing that the sun goes round the earth is the belief that the whole of Christian truth is all about me and my salvation” (23; emphasis Wright’s).
In other words, believing “that the whole of Christian truth is all about me and my salvation” is self-centered, naive, short-sighted, and .. wrong.
Wright says on the next page:
“God is rescuing [saving(!)] us from the shipwreck of the world, not so that we can sit back and put our feet up in his company, but so that we can be part of his plan to remake the world” (24).
Here’s an illustration of this point that Wright provides in another book, my single favorite book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the MIssion of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008):
“To suppose that we are saved, as it were, for our own private benefit, for the restoration of our own relationship with God (vital though that is!), and for our eventual homecoming and peace in heaven (misleading though that is!) is like a boy being given a baseball bat as a present and insisting that since it belongs to him, he must always and only play with it in private. But of course you can only do what you’re meant to do with a baseball bat when you’re playing with other people. And salvation only does what it’s meant to do when those who have been saved, are being saved, and will one day fully be saved realize that they are saved not as souls but as wholes and not for themselves alone but what for God now longs to do through them” (199-200).
Yes, that preaches. Wright did a fantastic job in his book emphasizing how the Gospel is more (much more!) than Jesus saves you from you sins so you won’t go to hell. He described the over-whelming emphasis of Scripture on life in Christ and the new occupation of kingdom/Christ ambassador. What an invitation! Come to Christ for salvation and find yourself completely satisfied, not only inwardly (personally), but also externally (inter-personally, socially, etc.).
If I’m not mistaken, there was a Spiritual Formation class at my undergrad with the current chair of the Bible department. He said much of what Wright says. Our salvation and our life journey (the joys and pains) we go through under God’s sovereign care are not ultimately for us. However, at the same time we definitely benefit from them.