I have argued that “salvation” in the context of Peter’s sermons in the early chapters of Acts means the salvation of at least some part of Israel from the coming disaster of the war against Rome, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews, the humiliation of a nation. This prospect is part and parcel of the “word” that is proclaimed by the disciples in Jerusalem: only those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus will be saved and will experience the life of the age to come. But what of those who lose their lives for the sake of this gospel? Yinka asks the question:
Wondering how martydom of the righteous plays into this. In what sense is one who has called on the name of the lord, only to lose his/her head, ‘saved’?
One way to approach this would be to say that at the individual level, in the New Testament context, “salvation” consists basically of being incorporated into a saved people: the individual shares in the salvation of the community, in the new creation life of the community, in the historical viability of the community, in the hope that this community will inherit the nations (cf. Rom. 4:13). Our context is different today, but in principle there is no reason why we should not speak of personal salvation in similar terms. Faith does not get us to heaven. Faith gets us into the community of God’s people.
But the “salvation” of the community was gained through martyrdom—Christ’s martyrdom in the first place, but practically speaking also through the martyrdom—the self-sacrifice—of those who, in obedience to him, took up their cross and followed him down the dangerous path leading to life.
Those who lost their lives in the course of this eschatological transition, for the sake of the gospel, were not so much “saved” as became part of the means of salvation. So Paul was able to speak about his own Christlike sufferings as being for the sake of the mission and destiny of the church:
Now I rejoice in the sufferings for your sake and I complete what is lacking of the afflictions of the Christ in my flesh for the sake of his body, which is the church…. (Col. 1:24, my translation)
What he is saying here is that he has not yet suffered, in his own flesh, to the degree that Christ suffered—that is to the point of death, so that he too might be raised with Christ (cf. Phil. 3:10-11). Those who suffer as Jesus suffered will not so much be “saved” as vindicated and rewarded by being given the same authority as Jesus to reign with him in heaven throughout the coming ages (cf. Rev. 20:4).