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Great are the Offices He Bears (1): Saviour

T Wilson, Glasgow

Samuel Medley’s beautiful hymn, "Come let us sing the matchless worth", makes much of the glories "Which in the Saviour shine". One of the verses begins with memorable words:

Great are the offices He bears,
And bright His character appears,
Exalted on the throne.

No child of God would refuse to express in song such worthy sentiments, or "the very stones would speak" (see Lk 19.40). When a needy sinner first meets Christ, it is as Saviour. His cry might be in Peter’s words: "Lord, save me" (Mt 14.30), but from a plight worse than sinking under the waves. From that moment onwards, he speaks reverently of the One who is "our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3.18); "our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2.13, JND, RV).

Among the earliest titles associated with the Lord Jesus in exaltation was the title Saviour. In answering the Sanhedrin’s charge, Peter and the other apostles declared in their testimony: "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour" (Acts 5.30-31). The Jewish leadership answered God’s action in presenting His Son, by causing Him physical pain and putting Him to shame upon a Roman cross. Their two actions, the apostles declared in their witness, God has immediately answered in giving Jesus two titles – Prince and Saviour.

At His incarnation, the angel announced that to Israel was born "in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2.11). When the wise men arrived from the east, they spoke of one "that is born King of the Jews" (Mt 2.1-2). The throne that the One acclaimed as Prince and Saviour now occupies is not the throne of David, but the very throne of God. God has addressed Him in remarkable language: "Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool" (Acts 2.34-35). Man’s rejection of Christ did not catch God by surprise, as His exaltation of His Son to the place of privilege and power confirms. Heaven acknowledges Christ as Prince and Saviour.

The word "saviour" is not uniquely a New Testament concept. The noun is used in the plural of the judges that Nehemiah recognised had been given by the Lord to save Israel out of the hand of their enemies after the death of Joshua and the elders that out-lived him (Neh 9.27; Josh 24.31). Those saviours were given "according to (the Lord’s) manifold mercies". Obadiah prophesied of coming deliverance that will bring rebellious Edom’s territory under the rule of Mount Zion; then the kingdom shall be the Lord’s, he adds to encourage his readers. Strange as it sounds in our ears, Obadiah speaks of the involvement of coming "saviours" in that day (Ob v.21). Clearly, the prophet is using the term in the same sense as Nehemiah did of Israel’s earlier deliverers. The deliverance that God had wrought for their fathers He will provide for them, when they seek Him with a pure heart.

Of great interest to the Christian are the occurrences of the word "Saviour" when used of Israel’s God. It was a title that Jehovah used of Himself in several passages: e.g. Is 43.3: "I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour"; Is 43.11: "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour". D E Hiebert notes that "the Hebrew term rendered "saviour" is a participle, rather than a noun, indicating that the Hebrews did not think of this as an official title of God but rather as a descriptive term of His activity". However, the godly in Israel employed the participle exclusively of those Jehovah raised up, and to describe God Himself as "the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble" (Jer 14.8). In Holy Scripture, David would appear to have been first to use this participle of his God, confessing Him to be "my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour" (2 Sam 22.3). David’s language would portray his Saviour as active on his behalf both in defence and attack – the shield to defend, the horn to attack. It also noted that his Saviour, his "high tower" placed him out of reach of his enemies, but that same blessed One was within reach of David to afford him refuge at all times. In the Old Testament prophecies concerning Christ, "Saviour" is not one of His titles.

The New Testament word for "saviour" was in common usage among Greek-speakers as a title of their gods, but the term is never used by New Testament writers of men or their false gods. We read of "God my Saviour" (Lk 1.47); "God our Saviour" (1 Tim 1.1; 2.3; Titus 1.3; 2.10; 3.4; Jude v.25); "the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Tim 4.10). Primarily, the New Testament reveals the Lord Jesus as Saviour. As noted, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus include the name "God our Saviour", but also reveal that salvation is found in "the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour" (1 Tim 1.15; Titus 1.4); "our Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Tim 1.10). He is also "the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 2.20) and as already noted, "our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ", and "the Saviour of the world" (Jn 4.42; 1 Jn 4.14). In respect of His care for the Church, He is called "the Saviour of the body" (Eph 5.23).

How important is the Lord’s great office as our Saviour! In early Christian life we learned about the three tenses of the verb "to save".

A past conclusion – "we were saved" Titus 3.5, et al
A present condition – "we are being saved" 1 Cor 1.18, et al
A future consummation – "we will be saved" Rom 5.9-10, et al.

We came to the Saviour in all our need as sinners. On the basis of His sacrificial death, our guilty past was dealt with at that moment. Many had that never-to-be-forgotten experience before reading that in Him "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins" (Eph 1.7); and that "In (him)…we have obtained an inheritance" (Eph 1.11). Through Jesus Christ our Saviour, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon us richly (Tit 3.6). The Saviour dealt with our past, provides for our present needs, and will complete the great work He has begun: "…we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil 3.20-21). Some time after the Rapture, He who "was once offered to bear the sins of many…shall…appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb 9.28). He will then deliver beleaguered saints who will have come through the Great Tribulation. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then we shall we also appear with him in glory" (Col 3.4). Then the unbelieving, who were ever sceptical about the Christian’s salvation, even "the most incredulous (will confess)…that the precious promises which nourish in the day of patience the hearts of those who look for Jesus, are no wild fable, but the faithful word of God" (Pridham).

Little by little, since that memorable day when He saved us, we have been grasping how great is the salvation we have found in our Saviour (Heb 2.3). Our exercise has been to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge or our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3.18). Meanwhile, that knowledge has extricated us "from the pollutions of this world", and caused us to eschew careless living. We know that diligence is required that there might be richly furnished to us "the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1.10-11, JND). What a privilege it will be to reign with Him! Despite what we were when He found us in our sins, the exalted Prince and Saviour has said, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne" (Rev 3.21).

To be continued.


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