I have a question about salvation in the old testament. You pointed out scriptures in Isa. 53 and some other verses to explain that faith in Christ was always the way of salvation. I’m a newer believer and I do trust 100% in the finished work of Jesus Christ for my salvation. I’m confused over whether people in the old testament looked forward to Christ with a full understanding of the Gospel of Grace that the Apostle Paul teaches in his epistles. Rom. 16:25,26 has me confused. In Gen. 15:5,6 Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. In Luke 18:31-34, Jesus explains the resurrection to the twelve and they didn’t understand and it was hid from them. I know the resurrection is part of the gospel in which we must believe to be saved. I’ve been taught some dispensational teachings, as you probably already figured out. I now attend a Baptist church and they always say at my church that looking forward to the cross was the way of salvation in the old testament. Did they look forward with a full understanding that Christ’s sacrificial death and bodily resurrection would be the way to eternal life and trust in that back then? I don’t believe that old testament saints were saved by obeying the law. NOBODY has ever kept the law except Christ. I believe that Christ is the means of salvation for EVERYONE. But, did people believe in what God revealed to them such as Abraham? That’s faith. Did Abraham look forward to the cross with a full understanding of the gospel of grace? This gets very deep. Your help would be greatly appreciated. Take care and God Bless.
Yes, the Bible is clear that it has always been faith in the Savior — whether looking ahead to the sacrifice that the coming Messiah would make, or whether looking back to the sacrifice that the Savior has made. Acts 10:38-43 says, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. TO HIM GIVE ALL THE PROPHETS WITNESS, THAT THROUGH HIS NAME WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHALL RECEIVE REMISSION OF SINS.”
That last verse is very clear that ALL THE PROPHETS gave witness to this fact. Let’s take the example of Romans 16:25,26, which you mentioned as being hard to understand, and compare it to Isaiah 53.
Remember, even Peter said that some of the things that Paul wrote were hard for him to understand. II Peter 3:15,16 says, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; IN WHICH ARE SOME THINGS HARD TO BE UNDERSTOOD, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
When a person comes to a difficult passage, there are two ways to confront the passage. First, come to the passage looking for the correct interpretation that agrees with the rest of the Scriptures. Or, number two, come to the passage and say, “Here is a contradiction in Scripture!” To those in the latter group, they end up twisting the passage to their own destruction. To those who follow the earlier route, they end up having their faith strengthened as the Lord opens up the answer, sooner or later, to the seeming problem. I like how you stated your firm faith, even as you were asking the question. That is the heart attitude that is needed when studying the Bible.
Let’s look at the passage in question, Romans 16:25-27, “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of THE MYSTERY, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.”
Upon a quick reading of the passage, it may sound like Paul is claiming to be revealing something that no one else has even been able to know — that salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. If that is what he was saying, then it would not have been possible for anyone to have been saved before Paul revealed the mystery. That means that no one in the Old Testament could have been saved, and that no one was saved until they heard Paul preach, or someone who had heard him.
We know that that would be a faulty interpretation, because we understand from passages like Hebrews chapter eleven, that many Old Testament people were saved. Hebrews 11:5-10 says, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
As we look closer at Romans 16, we find that it is not contradicting the rest of Scripture, but is actually in complete agreement with verses like Acts 10:43, “To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”
Romans 16:25,26 says, “Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, AND BY THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”
What Paul is saying is that GOD HAS USED HIM to reveal the mystery through his preaching of the gospel, AND GOD HAS USED THE SCRIPTURES OF THE PROPHETS to teach THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH — that is, salvation by faith. The truth has been there for all nations to see down through the ages of time, but it was MADE MORE CLEAR by Paul and the other apostles preaching the gospel.
A passage that might help us to see what Paul was saying is Mark 4:1-20, “And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine, Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow: And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up. And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit. And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, UNTO YOU IT IS GIVEN TO KNOW THE MYSTERY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD: BUT UNTO THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT, ALL THESE THINGS ARE DONE IN PARABLES: THAT SEEING THEY MAY SEE, AND NOT PERCEIVE; AND HEARING THEY MAY HEAR, AND NOT UNDERSTAND; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables? The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.”
Jesus began to teach by parables. What was the purpose of Him doing so? Basically, it was to see who was really interested enough to seek the answer, and who was not. The danger in “religion” is that some people can go through the outward motions, with no real heart for it. They may go to church; sing in the choir; take meals in to the sick; etc., but not truly be saved. When Jesus was doing so many miracles before the people, it was easy to gather a very large crowd of people around Him FOR THE EXCITEMENT’S SAKE — not necessarily because of their repentance of sin and their love for Christ. For that reason, Jesus taught the people in parables. He was not trying to get a crowd just to say that He had the world’s largest attendance at His meetings. He wanted people to truly have a heart to know the truth, and to accept it.
We do not see the same attitude today in churches. Pastors are normally taught in Bible Colleges how to get the largest crowds to come to their services. They are taught to give away prizes to get people to come (when did Jesus or the apostles ever do that?). They are taught to have big meals to get people to come to the services. Jesus did not feed the crowd to get them to come and hear Him, but actually let them come and hear Him and go three days without food. Then, when the meetings were over, and they were about to go home, Jesus fed them so that they would not faint trying to walk home without having eaten for three days. Matthew 15:32 says, “Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.”
When you attract people through the wrong methods, then you have to continue with those methods, or they will leave. Why? Because the truth is just coming out, that they are not really following Christ, they are just out for a good time. People travel from church to church TO FOLLOW THE EXCITEMENT. What would they do in countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith? They would not be around very long. And that is the very point of Jesus’ parable in Mark 4.
The way of salvation could be easily found in the Old Testament — if people had a heart to find and know it. It could be discerned from the Scriptures of the prophets, if a person cared to study it. Isaiah 53:1-6 says, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah starts right out with the question, “Who hath believed our report?” Isaiah is going to make it very clear, but who is going to listen? He makes it very clear that the Messiah and Saviour is not going to come with a big fanfare. “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” And was that not confirmed when Matthew 13:54-56 says, “And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?” Joseph and Mary were not well-known, important people in the Jewish minds of the day. So when Jesus came along from that family, the Jews found it hard to believe that Jesus could be the long-awaited Messiah.
Isaiah 53:5,6 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” How much clearer could the cross be portrayed? How many people saw that truth in the Old Testament when they read it? We do not know. The Bible does not tell us.
We do know that when Abraham went to offer up Isaac on the altar, that he saw it as a picture of when Jesus would come and die for our sins. John 8:56 says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” Hebrews 11:17-19 shows that he saw the resurrection along with it, “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son. Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
In regard to the disciples and the resurrection, it is true that they did not understand all that was happening as it was happening. It was a time when the prophecies of generations were being fulfilled, and they did not realize the importance of those events as they were taking place. It all happened so quickly, with little time for contemplation about what was happening. But when things got settled, and they were shown what the Scriptures had prophesied, then they became mighty soldiers of the gospel, and many gave their lives for that gospel. Luke 24:13-32 says, “And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?”
They did not see all that was there in the prophecy all along — even back in what God used Moses to write. But it was there, and the Lord showed them the passages of Scripture. How many in the Old Testament did see it? We do not know, because the Bible does not tell us.
How many things have we missed because we have not studied diligently? II Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” We continually learn more as we study, and the Bible is a Book which we will never exhaust. It will be a lifelong study for all of us.