How Were People Saved in the Old Testament? (Part 2)
This is the second of a two part series on salvation in the Old Testament, the first of which can be read here.
Clearer Revelation in the New Testament
Thus the Old Testament is not corrected by the New Testament but is rather more clearly explained and expanded in light of New Testament revelation. The New Testament is in the Old Testament contained, and the Old is in the New explained.
Now here are some things that Christ said about Old Testament revelation. In John 5:46-47 Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
And in Luke 16:19-31, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Here is what two disciples experienced on the road to Emmaus after Jesus’s resurrection:
‘Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself ‘ (Luke 24:13-27) ‘… He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:44-45).
Here again Jesus explains that people in Old Testament times had Moses and the Prophets to hear what God says about salvation.
The following are some of the Old Testament scriptures that the risen Christ surely explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In Genesis 3:15, figuratively speaking, Satan would strike Christ’s heel by his death on the cross. The resurrection of Christ crushed the head of Satan. A head wound is more deadly than a wound to one’s heel. Satan cannot undo what Christ accomplished for us on the cross.
In Genesis 22:1-18, Abraham can be seen as a picture of God the Father sacrificing his one and only son, Isaac, who is a picture of Christ. Isaac was an amazingly willing participant, who was old enough and able to carry the firewood, yet willingly laid on the firewood awaiting death.
In the sacrificial system God gave to Moses, those animals were a picture of Christ’s atonement. John the Baptist in John 1:29 said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Also, in Romans 8:3, “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”
In Isaiah 7:14, he was the child that was to be born of the virgin and will be called Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.
In Isaiah 9:6-7, Christ is the one who is spoken of where it says, ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulder. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.’
In Isaiah 11:1-3a, Christ is ‘A shoot, [that], will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.”
In Isaiah 42:5, it is Jesus Christ ‘who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people and life to those who walk on it.’ In the New Testament, John chapter 1:1-3,10,14a, agrees with the Christ being the creator where it says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’
In other words the Creator himself became one of the creatures. He was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem. In Colossians 1:15-16 it states that “he is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.’
And it is very evident that Christ told the disciples on the road to Emmaus how Isaiah 53 speaks about himself.
‘Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors’ (Isa. 53).
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus quotes from the Old Testament book of Isaiah chapter 61. ‘ “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” ‘ Christ was claiming to be the one who all this scripture is speaking about.
I could also mention Psalm 22 and Psalm 110 as Old Testament scripture that spoke about Christ. And these that I have already mentioned barely scrape the surface of the many more that could be included in the scriptures that Christ spoke to the Emmaus disciples about himself.
The Blessings of Having the New Testament Revelation
I have been trying to show how the one to crush the serpent’s head, and all the Old Testament animal sacrifices all point to Jesus Christ. John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. The people of the Old Testament did not have the benefit of having the New Testament to read and make more clear the many types or representations of Christ. The New Testament makes more things clear that were foggy in the Old Testament. Or you could say that in the New Testament you can see the tree that was only an acorn in the Old Testament. New Testament revelation does not correct Old Testament revelation but brings to light what was already there in a more enlarged and perfected form. Like light in a room shows what was barely seen or understood before, when the room was dark, the New Testament sheds much understanding on things that were types of Christ in the Old Testament.
In Hebrews, chapter 11 where it speaks about Abel, Enoch and Noah and their faith, they did not even have any written Old Testament revelation. But the fact that they believed what God had said was made manifest by what they did as a result of knowing and believing what God said. Some of what God said was probably passed down from Adam and some things were direct revelation from God himself.
In Genesis, chapter 6, God told Noah directly to build an ark. Why? Because God was going to destroy the people of the earth with floodwaters. Noah believed God and built the ark according to God’s instructions and also brought the animals into the ark.
Abraham also had some direct revelation from God as did his sons, Isaac and Jacob. But I do not believe that any of the Old Testament people had in their thinking a coming Saviour who was going to live a sinless life in their place and then die as their substitute for them. The New Testament revelation of Christ as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world was not in their thoughts. Even the twelve disciples themselves had a hard time digesting and understanding that Christ was going to die in the sinner’s very place. Only in the New Testament light that is available to us, can we look back at the Old Testament history and comprehend the many Old Testament types or pictures of Christ.
So the common thread that runs throughout the Old Testament and New Testament is belief, faith, or trust in what God says or reveals to us. Looking back at the history of Christ gives us a better perspective and understanding than the Old Testament believers had. They could look at the same Old Testament Scriptures that we look at today, but with much less clarity. We know a little of what that is like when we read futuristic revelation or prophesy such as is in the book of Revelation. After a prophecy is fulfilled we can look back at it and better understand how it was fulfilled.
We now understand better how, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, believing God is the essence of faith even if we cannot comprehend how what God said is going to be worked out or accomplished.
So how were Old Testament believers saved? The same way New Testament believers are saved— through grace alone, by faith alone, and in Christ alone. The Old Testament believers who had no, or very little New Testament gospel light were saved on credit. They were saved by the atonement or death of Christ that was coming in the future. If they believed God they were saved by the atoning work of Christ on the cross before it actually happened in time. Because God transcends time, in the eternal counsels of God, the death and resurrection of Christ was as good as done. That is why one could have his sins paid for on credit from God. Remember Genesis 15:6 and Romans 4:3b ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness‘ (emphasis own).
Every sinner owes God the payment of a double debt. Firstly, the sinner owes God the debt of punishment. Secondly, the sinner owes God the debt of perfect obedience. Christ paid this double debt by living his thirty years or so in perfect sinless obedience to the Law of God. This is also known as the active obedience of Christ. And the passive obedience of Christ was his paying the debt of punishment to God the Father by dying on the cross in the place of believers. This double debt was paid by the double imputation made possible by Christ. The sins of the believer are imputed to Christ and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer.
Today we are privileged to have the New Testament which gives us much more light and understanding than the Old Testament believers had. ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:20). ‘But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe‘ (Rom. 3:21-22a) ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, [not by our works, but by the work of Christ in our behalf], so that no one can boast’ (Eph. 2:8-9). ‘However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness‘ (Rom. 4:5). ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:8-9).
So finally, how do people today find eternal salvation for their souls? The same way that Abraham and all Old Testament believers did.
Believe God and it will be credited to you for righteousness.
Dennis Fry is a deacon in Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, PA
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