The question of how people were saved before the Jesus’ crucifixion is critical to understanding the seamless nature of God’s plan for salvation, as stated in both the Old and New Testament. This theological discussion digs into the Old Testament’s picture of salvation and how it compares to New Testament teachings. It is a frequent misperception that people in the Old Testament had fewer opportunities for salvation than those in the New Testament prior to Jesus’ death on the cross. I’ve put together a brief response to help shed light on this fascinating subject.
Faith in God’s Promises in the Old Testament:
The Old Testament relied heavily on confidence in God’s promises for salvation. The first promise of salvation in the Garden of Eden hinted at the future Messiah. “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” (Gen. 3:15). Figures such as Job exemplified this hope, looking forward to a Redeemer: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth;” (Job 19:25).
Faith in Jesus as the “I Am”:
In the New Testament, Jesus confirms His divine identity with phrases such “Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58), echoing Moses’ revelation of “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). This demonstrates that Jesus is eternally present in both Testaments.
Faith in Sacrifices and the Lamb of God:
The Old Testament’s sacrificial system was important for displaying faith and repentance, as witnessed in the account of Cain and Abel, who brought the firstborn and fat from their flock. And the Lord honored Abel and his offering (Genesis 4:4). The system anticipated Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.
Faith in God’s Character:
In the Old Testament, salvation was also based on faith in God’s character. Believers viewed Jehovah as their Savior, seeking safety in His unwavering love, as described in the Psalms: “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!” As a result, the children of men place their trust in the shadow of Your wings. (See Psalm 36:7).
Faith in the Promised Messiah in the Old Testament:
Old Testament figures’ confidence in the promised Messiah: The Old Testament figures’ faith in the promised Messiah was a vibrant manifestation of their loyalty and obedience to God’s promises. According to Norman Geisler, the Old Testament’s salvific requirements included faith in God’s unity, acknowledgment of human sin, acceptance of God’s grace, and understanding of a coming Messiah, though this was not always explicitly required.
Geisler’s claim is supported by scriptural evidence, particularly in the New Testament. In Luke 18:10-14, the tax collector’s prayer acknowledges his sin and seeks God’s pardon, demonstrating faith, sin recognition, and acceptance of grace.
Jesus proclaims this guy justified, a term Paul used to define the condition of a New Testament believer justified by faith in “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Romans 5:1.
The fourth factor, an understanding of a future Messiah, is implied in other New Testament passages but not directly expressed in Luke’s story. For example, in John 4:25, the Samaritan woman mentions the Messiah: “The woman responded to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming.” “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” suggests that the expectation of a future Messiah was a prevalent teaching. However, as Geisler points out, belief in the Messiah was not a strict prerequisite for Old Testament salvation.
Abraham, known as the father of faith, illustrated this principle. His faith was more than just a mental acknowledgement of God’s promises; it was defined by unshakeable confidence and obedience.
Faith in the Future Savior:
Old Testament believers expected the Messiah to bring salvation, as prophesied in Isaiah 53 and other scriptures. Their belief in the future Redeemer, as stated in “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Because of that, the elders gained a favorable testimony.” Hebrews 11:1-2 is vital to their relationship with God.
Scriptural Evidence and Reconciliation of Revelations:
Bible texts such as Genesis 15:6, Joel 2:32, and Hebrews 10:4, 11:1-2, 11:6 emphasize the need of faith in salvation. Theologian Charles Ryrie presents a concise account of how the revelations in the Old and New Testaments about salvation might be reconciled. He puts it this way: “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various ages.” This perspective shows that, regardless of time period, salvation has always been dependent on Christ’s work and faith in God.
However, our perception or knowledge of God’s design has evolved over time. This concept of progressive revelation helps us understand the changing content of faith while affirming the continuous foundation of salvation: Christ’s death and belief in God. This insight is critical for demonstrating the continuity and development of God’s redemptive plan throughout history, emphasizing the persistent theme of faith and redemption from the Old to the New Testament.
The concept of salvation in the Old Testament is consistent with New Testament principles. Faith in God, His promises, the sacrifice system, and the expectation of the Messiah were vital during both periods. While the content of faith varied as more information about the Messiah was revealed, the fundamentals of salvation remained constant: Christ’s death and faith in God. This continuity emphasizes God’s consistent redemptive work throughout history, as well as the pivotal role of Jesus in the salvation plan.
- Geisler, Norman. “Systematic Theology.”
- Ryrie, Charles C. “Systematic Theology.”