Who are “the elect” in 2 Tim. 2: 10: “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”?
One view is that the words “the elect” refer to all believers. Certainly all believers are chosen in Christ (see Eph. 1: 4) and are thus “elect” (Col. 3: 12), or chosen. However, look at the position of the word “also” in the Scripture in question. Now if the reading had been ‘For this cause I endure all things for the sake of the elect that they might obtain the salvation also which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’, then the meaning would indeed have been that while those spoken of had obtained other blessings in Christ Jesus, the apostle now desired that they might obtain salvation as well. However, Paul had earlier said in the same epistle (2 Tim. 1: 9) “who has saved us” and hence salvation is viewed in this letter as a present possession by all believers. Instead the use and location of the word “also” in the passage before us indicates the presence of two distinct companies before the mind of the apostle.
Furthermore the word “also” is linked with “they”—“that they also may obtain …”. The implication is clearly that while others had obtained salvation, Paul desired that “the elect” also might do so. This is strengthened by the use of a pronoun for “they” in the Greek which puts emphasis on the word (the translator has indicated this in English by putting “they” in italics). Hence the sense is that while all believers have obtained salvation, Paul desires that a company designated as “the elect” may also do so.
Another view is that the term “the elect” refers to those who have not as yet believed the Gospel but, because they are chosen of God, would yet do so in the future. However, this view does not justify the language used in the setting of the verse. Paul does not just desire the salvation of these persons in general terms but he describes that salvation in a distinctive way. He desires that they may obtain the “salvation which [is] in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (my emphasis). We shall see the significance of this in a moment.
Now the Lord Jesus speaks of “the elect” in Matt. 24: 24, Mark 13: 20 and Luke 18: 7. Careful reading of these passages will show that the term is used of the Jews and not Christians. Peter also uses the word “elect” in 1 Pet. 1: 2 in relation to Jewish believers. Israel as a nation was chosen by God (see Deut. 7: 6; 14: 2) and called “mine elect” (Is. 45: 4; 65: 22). Not only that, but the Lord said to the Samaritan woman of John 4 “Salvation is of the Jews” (v22). This expression does not just mean that the Saviour was a Jew (although true) but that salvation was Israel’s inherent right as chosen of God. Ultimately “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11: 26)—not every individual but the whole nation—all twelve tribes. Paul recognised the peculiar place that Israel had (see Rom. 9: 4, 5) and experienced intense emotional suffering over his nation’s present position in rejecting their Messiah. In Acts 28: 20 he said that “on account of the hope of Israel I have this chain about me”––language strikingly similar to the beginning of our verse in 2 Timothy 2: “For this cause I endure all things for the sake of the elect”. Thus I understand “the elect” refers to unconverted Jews in Paul’s nation. He longed for their salvation. He had said to the Romans “Brethren, the delight of my own heart and my supplication which [I address] to God for them is for salvation” (Rom. 10: 1) and his desire expressed to Timothy is “that they also may obtain the salvation which [is] in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2: 10).
As already mentioned, the rest of the words in the verse substantiate this interpretation. He did not just desire for Israel the salvation they will have fully in the world to come, but “the salvation which [is] in Christ Jesus”—that is, present spiritual salvation, which like other present Christian blessings (such as redemption and eternal life), are located in the Man in the glory at the right hand of God. Finally, the apostle adds the words “with eternal glory”. Israel throughout their history had experienced glorious examples of temporal salvation from their enemies—perhaps the greatest being the crossing of the Red Sea (see Ex. 14: 13). However, Israel’s national salvation, both in the past, and in the future in the world to come, is marked by glory that will have an end. By contrast, the glory associated with the saints of the present time is eternal.
Hence the weight of the evidence indicates that “the elect” in 2 Tim. 2: 10 are unconverted Jews of the nation of Israel.