Who are the elect in 2 Tim. 2: 10?
Three companies are given this title in Scripture: Israel (see Is. 45: 4), the Church (see Col. 3: 12) and angels (see 1 Tim. 5: 21). The view of many is that those referred to as the elect in 2 Tim. 2: 10 are Christians but I think that this is incorrect. The verse reads “For this cause I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which [is] in Christ Jesus with eternal glory”. Before looking at the detail of the verse, we must remind ourselves that in Scripture there is nothing missing that should be there on the one hand and that there is nothing superfluous that need not be there on the other. Hence every word given in the verse in question must be essential for its correct interpretation.
Now if Christians are in mind, then the word “also” is made redundant. The presence of this word clearly supposes two companies: those who have obtained salvation and those who, as yet, have not but are “elect”. Now all saints at the present time are “elect” (Rom. 8: 33) but it is only those for whom Paul desires salvation that are here called “elect”. If Paul was thinking of Christians, the verse could simply have been ‘For this cause I endure all things for the sake of the elect that they may obtain…’ and the word “also” would not be required. But it is there. Not only that, but the preceding word “they” is emphatic, further accentuating the distinction between the two companies. Thus I think that the elect are Israel.
The apostle was in prison and bound but he rejoiced that “the word of God is not bound” (v9). This was his final imprisonment. On the occasion of his first detention in Rome he says “for on account of the hope of Israel I have this chain about me” (Acts. 28: 20). He had previously written to those in Rome saying “that I have great grief and uninterrupted pain in my heart, for I have wished, I myself, to be a curse from the Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen, according to flesh; who are Israelites” (Rom. 9: 2, 3). It was his intense love for his own nation that had resulted in his first imprisonment. When the recorded history in Acts closed, Israel as a nation had been set aside judicially, any hope of the kingdom being established on earth had evaporated and the glad tidings of that kingdom were no longer proclaimed. Israel thus lost her priority for blessing. While all this marked a radical change in the ways of God, it would be difficult to imagine that the apostle’s intense love for those of his nation had diminished. Hence it would be no surprise then if his deep affection for Israel had been the cause of his imprisonment recorded in 2 Tim. 2: 10. Let us now see if the rest of the detail of this verse will bear out this view of Israel as the elect.
The salvation that Paul desires that the elect may obtain is particular and not general. It is not just salvation but “the salvation which [is] in Christ Jesus”. Salvation was not unknown to Israel as the OT proves on many an occasion. From the Red Sea and onwards God had intervened to save them time and again. But the salvation they had experienced in the past was always national, on earth and temporal. The salvation that Paul desired for “the elect”, however, is identified with the Man in heaven, “in Christ Jesus”, and is eternal and individual. Paul had just spoken of the glad tidings as “my glad tidings” (2 Tim. 2: 8). One of the features of Paul’s unique presentation of this message is that he identifies our blessings with Christ where He is now. Redemption, eternal life and the love of God (see Rom. 3: 24; 6: 23; 8: 39) are all said to be “in Christ Jesus. Apart from a single mention by Peter, this term “Christ Jesus” is peculiar to the writings of Paul.
But 2 Tim. 2: 10 does not end with “the salvation which [is] in Christ Jesus”—the words “with eternal glory” are added. The force of these words can be appreciated when we remember that Israel had known something of glory in the past, especially in the kingdom under Solomon (see 2 Chron. 7). But that glory, like their salvation, was national, earthly and temporal. However, the glory that accompanied this salvation that Paul desired for “the elect” was “eternal”. It cannot pass without notice that Peter, writing to Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Christ says in his benediction “But the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus …” (1 Pet. 5: 10). This “eternal glory in Christ Jesus” is clearly contrasted with the temporal glory they had known in the past as Israelites. Now their calling is no longer to temporal glory on earth linked with a Messiah here but to eternal glory with Christ where He now is. Parallel this with Paul’s desire in 2 Tim. 2: 10 for the elect and it is clear that the elect that Paul had in mind must be the nation of Israel.