Summary: We are all familiar with the scripture that says: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” As with many scriptures, this one can be interpreted several different ways but the most common is that we must endure in keeping the commandments of God all the way up to the time we die. But this answer has raised a number of questions. However, that’s because this verse is most often quoted by itself without looking at the context of the subject Jesus was referring to when he made this statement. Once we do that, then this scripture becomes very clear in its meaning. This article not only explains the context but also shows how numerous other scriptures help clarify it as well.
In Matthew 24:13 we read the often-quoted scripture that says: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
As with many scriptures, this one can be interpreted several different ways, but the most common is that we must endure in keeping the commandments of God all the way up to the time we die. The question that many people have asked is, what if we don’t keep all the commandments? Is that considered not enduring? Or another question that’s been asked is, exactly what does “enduring” mean? Does it mean keeping all the commandments all the time, or merely striving to keep as many of them as we can? And what if we occasionally don’t keep the commandments as well as we could? Does that mean we’re not enduring?
These questions arise because this verse is most often quoted by itself without looking at the context of the subject Jesus was referring to when he made this statement. Once we do that, then this scripture becomes very clear in its meaning. Therefore, to fully understand the point Jesus was making, let’s take a closer look at the verses that proceed it.
At the beginning of this chapter we read that Jesus and his disciples had been at the temple in Jerusalem but as they were leaving Jesus said unto them, “Do you see this place? I tell you that the time will come when there will not be one stone left on top of another.”
From there they journeyed a short distance to the Mount of Olives and then sat as they overlooked the city of Jerusalem. It was then that his disciples asked him when this terrible event would take place. Jesus told them what things they should expect to see that would signal the destruction of the temple. He talked about the coming of false Christs who would deceive many, of wars where kingdoms and nations would fight against each other, of famine, pestilence, and earthquakes.
He then prophesied that they themselves would be persecuted for their belief in him, and some would even be killed, while others would be hated. He told how wickedness would abound and how many people would become cold and callous to others. He next said, “when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”
It was then that he said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” In other words, those who are able to endure all of these calamities, without being deceived by false preachers, or caught up in the wickedness of the times, and who remained true to their belief in Christ even when hated, persecuted, tortured, and killed were the only ones who will be saved in the kingdom of God.
In several of Paul’s letters we read his admonition not to make offerings to idols or to eat the meat offered to idols, but without knowing the situation that existed in his time, and even more so after Paul’s death, we can’t really appreciate his warning.
The Romans, especially, worshipped many gods, and it was customary for people to go and pay homage at the temple of each of them. Because eating the meat that was offered to these idols was part of their worship ritual, if someone participated in consuming this food it indicated that they were worshipping that particular god.
Since Christians didn’t believe in these pagan gods, they refused to attend any of their temples or perform any ritual that involved worshipping any false gods. However, this lack of observance for the Roman gods was seen as a great act of disrespect and contempt towards Roman society, and for this reason Christians were viewed as being traitors to Rome and were likewise treated with contempt.
From historical documents we learn that when persecution did come there were Christians who denied the faith rather than subject themselves to torture and death. In an effort to “get along” and keep from being treated as outcasts, there were some Christians who went to the pagan temples and made a show of pretending to worship the Roman gods. They reasoned that since they believed in Jesus Christ as the only true God, and didn’t believe in any of the pagan gods, that it didn’t matter if outwardly they pretended to worship them.
Paul said that those who acted in this way were, in effect, denying the faith, and would not enter into the kingdom of God. Later on, a great debate arose in the church over what to do with those who claimed to be a follower of Jesus Christ but who paid lip service to the Roman gods in order to keep from being tortured, when many other Christians remained true to their convictions and were willing to endure whatever punishment was inflicted upon them.
This is what Jesus was referring to when he said, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” We could more accurately render his words as saying, “But he who is willing to endure all sorts of hardships for my sake, who will not deny me before men, but will remain true to me and have no other gods before me, no matter what the cost, are the only ones who shall be saved.”
In the book of Revelation Jesus said that he who overcomes will “eat of the hidden manna… shall be clothed in white raiment… not have his name blotted out of the book of life… will be made a pillar in the temple of my God… and will sit with me in my throne” (See Revelation chapters 2 and 3).
The question is, what must we overcome in order to receive these heavenly rewards?
At the time when John wrote these words, the saints were facing severe persecution by the Roman government. John himself wrote the book of Revelation while in exile on the island of Patmos, and legend says that he was sent there because the authorities tried several different ways to kill him, including throwing him into a vat of boiling oil, but he couldn’t die.
In this context, the word “overcome” as used here seems to clearly indicate that he who endures or is willing to suffer through persecution rather than being overcome by it, are the ones who will inherit heaven. And as we look at the history of these early saints we find that this is exactly what they believed. Many of them were willing, and almost anxious to be put to death for their faith in Jesus because they thought it would bring them greater glory in heaven,
In Revelation 2:25 the Lord told the saints who were being persecuted by their government, “But that which ye have already, hold fast till I come.” This counsel to hold fast to that which had been given to them is what it means to endure, especially as it pertains to enduring persecution without denying the faith.
When Joseph Smith was in Liberty jail, where he was confined in what could rightly be described as a dungeon, given very little food to eat, bedding to sleep on, or even blankets to keep him warm during the cold winter days, he cried out in anguish to the Lord asking, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” In response, the Lord answered him saying, “Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:1,7-8).
In our day we see Christians in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Egypt who are willing to endure being tortured and put to death for their beliefs at the hands of people who hate them, rather than denounce their faith in Jesus Christ. In America and Europe Christians are also facing persecution but in a different form. Instead of being physically harmed they are being subjected to ridicule, scorn, harassment, threats of violence and some of them are being sued in an effort to rob them of their livelihood.
Under conditions like these, it is understandably difficult for people to endure such hardships. The natural desire of nearly everyone is to do whatever is necessary to avoid suffering, but Jesus taught “And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first and counteth the cost?” (Luke 14:27,28).
There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus and those who want to accept Him as their Savior must be willing to pay that price and bear whatever cross they may have to suffer. As the Lord told Joseph Smith, “if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high.” But those who are not willing to bear the cross they are made to carry the Lord doesn’t consider them to be part of his fold.
Jesus emphasized this point when he said, “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven, but whosever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32,33). This same message is shown in the parable of the five foolish virgins of whom the bridegroom said, “Verily I say unto you, I know ye not” (Matthew 25:12), or the parable of the talents where he cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness (Matthew 25:30).
It can rightly be said that those who are not willing to stand up and confess their allegiance to Christ in the face of persecution in any of its forms have departed or fallen from the faith. But there are other ways people can fall away from their belief in Christ than just through persecution.
In the parable of the seed Jesus described four different things that can happen to someone who hears the gospel. One is that the seed falls on barren ground and takes no root, meaning that there are people who will refuse to accept Christ’s offer of salvation no matter how many times they’ve heard it. The second thing that can happen is that a person gladly accepts Christ as their Savior but they have no roots in the gospel soil and before long their faith in him withers away and dies. The third thing that can happen is that a person can have a firm belief in the gospel and for a while live it with enthusiasm, but in time they are overcome by the cares of the world which chokes off their spiritual growth, causing them to fall away from serving God. The fourth thing that can happen is for someone to not only accept Christ but remain strong and steadfast in their commitment to him no matter what happens in their life.
A person endures to the end by being firm in their conviction, unwavering in their devotion to Jesus, faithful to the commitment they made to Christ when they accepted him as their Savior, and persistent in striving to keep his commandments. In this context the word endure means being loyal to Christ under any and all circumstances, being some one who Christ can depend on at all times, and whose faith in him is strong, sure, and reliable.
In our day the Lord has said, “[If ye] continue in these things even unto the end… you shall have a crown of eternal life at the right hand of my Father, who is full of grace and truth” (D&C 66:12). As long as we are willing to continue following Christ, no matter what happens, we are promised to “have a crown of eternal life” where we will sit “at the right hand of [God].”
The key to understanding this principle is found in the covenant we make at the time of our baptism. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we describe that covenant as taking upon ourselves the name of Christ and promising to keep his commandments, but there is a deeper significance to this covenant than most people are aware of.
For example, when a woman marries a man she takes upon herself the name of her husband and promises to love, honor, cherish, and obey him, in good times and in bad times. That is the same promise we make to Christ when we are baptized. A wife who either dishonors her husband in the way she treats him or is unfaithful to him, or deserts him when things are not going well has broken her wedding vows, and when she does the husband has the right to divorce her. In the same way, those who pledge their loyalty to Christ and covenant to obey and subject themselves to him may find themselves cast out if they dishonor their promise to him.
But perhaps a clearer example can be found in the contract someone makes when hired by a company. As long as the employee shows up everyday for works and performs their duties in a way that is appropriate and acceptable by the company, they remain employed by that firm. But if they make a habit of failing to show up for work on time, or are slothful or negligent in performing the work for which they are being paid, or flagrantly disobeying the company’s rules, then that company has the right to terminate their employment.
In the same way, when someone who has made a sacred promise that they will be a loyal citizen of the kingdom of God, and have pledged their allegiance to Christ as their king, but then deliberately chooses to disregard or dishonor that oath, they have, in effect, lied to God, and God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7). In such a situation, they have become an unprofitable servant and are in danger of being cast into outer darkness. On the other hand, those who have been true to their covenant and are faithful citizens of his kingdom, will become fellow-citizens with the heavenly saints and will be numbered among the household of faith (Ephesians 2:19).
It has often been said that it doesn’t matter how fast we’re progressing to become like Christ but whether we are on the road that leads to him and are heading in the right direction. Jesus judges us on the intent of our heart, rather than on the strength of our abilities. If our hearts are inclined toward worshipping God and our eyes are set on his glory, that’s what matters most to him. He can help us improve what we are lacking but he can only do that if we are willing to let him. Christ will endure in helping us to become like him but only as long as we are willing to endure in being close to him.
And there is yet another way to understand this principle. Among those who have physical and mental challenges there is an event known as the Special Olympics. Those who participate in these sports are those who are in wheelchairs, who wear leg braces and have difficulty walking, and people with Downs Syndrome or other forms of intellectual disabilities. One of the events that these people participate in is a race, but unlike most races where there is only one winner, even the slowest person who crosses the finish line is cheered and celebrated as a winner.
Compared to our Father in heaven, we are all challenged with spiritual disabilities, but in the race for eternal life, God is willing to give everyone who crosses the finish line the same gift. But to receive that gift a person must keep moving forward until they finish the race. No matter how long it takes, as long as a person is willing to continue striving until they make it to the end they will receive the ultimate prize. They may get tired and stop for a while along the way, but no matter how slow their progress may be, as long as they persist they will eventually reach their goal. It is only those who quit the race and give up trying who never make it to the end.
The same is true for those who get a college degree. Those who graduate with honors are given the same degree as those who just barely passed their tests with the lowest grades. And those who do fail their tests because they had trouble grasping the subject matter, but who keep retaking the courses they need until they finally get a passing grade, likewise receive the same degree as everyone else.
This is why reactivation is so important because if we can help someone who has fallen away from their commitment to Christ get back on the right path, we have saved a soul. It doesn’t matter how far behind they’ve gotten. What matters is that they are once again moving forward in the right direction.
Far from thinking that enduring to the end in order to become saved means needing to continually put forth a tremendous amount of energy in keeping all the commandments all the time, it simply means never giving up in remaining faithful to Christ in every situation. And when we fail to do even that, there is the “get out of jail” card called repentance.
Of course, the more effort we put into improving our spirituality the faster we will progress, and the sooner we will achieve eternal life. As difficult as it may be at times to endure well the trials, hardships, heartaches, suffering, and dangers that comes with being a follower of the Lord, what makes this task easier to bear is that Christ is not only merciful and forgiving of our shortcomings, faults, weaknesses, and sins, but he is also extremely patient. He will give us all of eternity to become like him if that’s what it takes. The only thing that will prevent that from happening is if we choose to give up on Christ.
Related talks can be found at The Nature of Salvation