While analyzing every New Testament use of the Greek verb “sozo” (σῴζω), meaning “to save,” I was surprised to find an instance I never noticed before.
Paul uses this verb 29 times in his letters (31 if you include Hebrews), and almost every instance has been consistently translated as some variation of “to save” in regards to our spiritual redemption and deliverance. When we look in the New Testament as a whole, and specifically in the Gospels, this verb is also often used in a more general sense when Jesus heals someone. The sick, lame, and blind are often “made well” (sozo) by Jesus. So we do see broader NT usage that’s not limited solely to spiritual salvation. However, Paul consistently uses it in the sense of spiritual salvation, which were most familiar with. (Here’s a list of every NT use.)
Although in Paul’s letters “sozo” has been consistently translated as some form of “to save,” there is one exception found in 2 Timothy 4:18, where it reads “will bring me safely”:
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (NIV 2 Timothy 4:18)
Most translations have some form of the phrase “will bring me safely.” Nothing is wrong with this translation. It does communicate the Paul’s overall meaning here.
However, it also unfortunately obscures the Paul’s use of “sozo” here. The entire phrase “will bring [me] safely” is translated from the future tense of “sozo,” meaning “he will save” (sosei; σώσει). This is significant because Paul has previously and consistently used this verb to communicate spiritual deliverance.
Young’s Literal Translation is one of the few that translate it as “ will/shall save”:
and the Lord shall free me from every evil work, and shall save me — to his heavenly kingdom; to whom is the glory to the ages of the ages! Amen.
I find this particularly interesting. Here Paul, near the end of his earthly ministry, is anticipating the Lord’s continued protection and ultimate future salvation into Jesus’ kingdom. He writes that the Lord “will save me into his heavenly kingdom.”
If you survey all the scriptures, Paul describes our salvation not only as a past event, but also as an ongoing process and a future hope. Just as God has delivered us from sin and death at our conversion, we are still being saved and ultimately will be saved.
Paul himself was no exception, as we see in his second letter to Timothy. He knew the value of perseverance, of running the race to the end. After writing that the time of his “departure” had come (2 Timothy 4:6), Paul writes:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Why will God rescue Paul from every evil work? Why will Jesus save him into the kingdom? It is because he’s “kept the faith.” He’s poured out his life as a servant in praise to God. He’s wholeheartedly trusted God with all that he has. He now looks forward to the completion of his salvation when he receives the “crown of righteousness,” given to those who persevere and joyfully anticipate Jesus’ glorious return.