In Matt 24:13, Jesus says the famous words:
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (ESV)
Perhaps the most common understanding of this passage is that we must endure in good works to the end of our physical lives to be saved from hell. This understanding contradicts Paul’s words in Eph 2:8a:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. (ESV)
Notice two differences between Eph 2:8a and Matt 24:13: First, the Matt 24:13 salvation is by enduring whereas the Eph 2:8a salvation is by grace through faith. Second, the Matt 24:13 salvation is future (“will be saved,” from the Greek future tense, sothesetai) whereas the Eph 2:8a salvation is past (“have been saved,” from the Greek perfect tense sesosmenoi). Salvation from hell was by grace through faith and has already happened to me, so what is the future salvation by endurance that Jesus is talking about in Matt 24:13? The answer is in the context.
Matthew 24:13 is part of an answer to the question that Jesus’ disciples asked earlier in the chapter:
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3 ESV)
It makes sense that the salvation in vs 13 should be in the future tense; after all, the disciples are asking about the future. Specifically, they were asking about the 7-year tribulation period. One reason we know that the Tribulation is in view is because Jesus says that the abomination of desolation (which Daniel talks about in Dan 9) will occur during this period. We also know that this is the tribulation because they asked immediately after Jesus said that not one stone of the temple would be left on another – surely a reference to the replacement of the 2nd temple with the temple that Ezekiel writes about in Ez 40-48.
Yep. The temple is still there. (source)
We already know that the salvation in question is not salvation from hell, so what is it a salvation from? In verse 22, Jesus indicates that salvation from physical death is in mind:
And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (ESV)
When Jesus says, “He who endures to the end will be saved,” He does not mean that you must be good until you die to be saved from hell. He is talking about a specific group of people in the future who will need to endure to the end of the tribulation in order to be saved from physical death.
Understanding Matt 24:13 is good news for several reasons. It’s good news to know that we don’t need to endure to the end of the Tribulation because we aren’t in the Tribulation. It’s also good news to know that we won’t even be in the Tribulation, in fact, this is the doctrine that Paul points to for us to encourage each other with.1 Perhaps most of all, it’s a relief to know that we can take Jesus at His word to give eternal life to whomever believes in Him for it:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24 ESV)