Someone recently asked me this question…Hi Ben, I have a question that’s been bugging me for a while and I am wondering if you can answer it for me or point me in the direction of where I could find some answers: So Jesus is the only way to the Father and I know Jesus is present in the old testament, but what was the way to sal
vation for people before Jesus’ death and resurrection?
This turned out to be a really rich study and meditation for me personally and so I felt like I should share my findings! Here’s my response:
I think the best way to answer it is to look at a few passages. Genesis 1-11 shows us both the creation of how man OUGHT to be, and the fall of mankind into utter depravity. We see a few brilliant characters who seem to stand out from the pallor of the surrounding wickedness. Adam and Eve believed the promise God made in Gen. 3 that a messiah would come. Abel offered unto God a sacrifice which God apparently looked with favor upon. Enoch walked closely with God, and prophesied of a great ingathering of “ten thousands of God’s saints (Jude 1:14).” Noah obeyed God’s instruction to build an ark to save his family from God’s destruction. So, notice what these few men had in common. They believed the promise of a coming Restorer. To Adam it was a son that would crush the serpent. To Abel, it was revealed as a Righteous Sacrifice. To Enoch, it was a deep communion with God which foresaw a Great King coming with ten thousands of His saints to judge the world. To Noah, the promise took the form of an Ark which would save from God’s judgement, and as a Rainbow of covenant.
THEN, in Genesis 12 and 15, we see God single out one man, Abram, and He establishes a covenant. Meaning, “Abram, if you keep this covenant, the result will be a ‘blessing to all nations.'” Abram believed this promise from God. Over the next several chapters and books, we have this covenant being re-established with each of Abraham’s descendants. Isaac, Jacob, the 12 tribes. Then God brings forth a deliverer, in Moses. He sets forth a Law. And the way in which you were “saved,” was to simply keep that covenant. Thus, in the Old Testament, salvation was in believing the promise of God and by keeping covenant with Him. In the New Testament, salvation comes in the form of….well believing the promise of God and by keeping the NEW covenant with Him. In essence, salvation is the same in both covenants. One looked forward to a promise to come and used types and shadows (i.e. ritual, sacrament, sacrifice) to be in right standing with God. Our covenant with God, looks to the fulfillment of that promise and reckoning His fulfillment of the righteousness of God as sufficient for us!
I think Tozer has a great quote that helps in regards to this:
[…] “look” and “believe” [are] synonymous terms. “Looking” on the Old Testament serpent is identical with “believing” on the New Testament Christ. That is, the looking and the believing are the same thing. […]understand that while israel looked with their external eyes, believing is done with the heart. I […] would conclude that faith is the gaze of the soul upon God.
AW Tozer, Pursuit of God, pg. 78
What that means is that Salvation is found by looking in faith. Those under the Law looked forward to the promised sacrifice of God, represented by bulls and rams. We who are under Grace look to the fulfillment of the law in Jesus Christ and the sufficiency of His sacrifice! What a beautiful truth it is that we have been grafted into one body with believers throughout the ages. Truly there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all, in all, and through all!