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Old Testament Salvation

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The prevailing consensus among religious pundits seems to be that there is an unbridgeable chasm between Judaism and Christianity. To be sure there are definite differences in the practice of the two religious systems, but they do have a significant number of common features. Christians worship the Messiah who was a practicing Jew during His life. All of the authors of the New Testament, with one exception, were practicing Jews. The Old Testament, which Christians revere as the inscripturated Word of God, is a distinctly Jewish writing. If this is the case, and God, Jehovah, never changes, then the plan of salvation, reestablishing fellowship between sinful persons and God should be the same.

This plan of salvation was formulated even before the creation of the material universe (1 Peter 1:20. “He (the Lamb of God, Christ) was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake”).1 While the manifestation was not given to those of Old Testament times, the principle, meaning, and efficacy of the plan of salvation were clearly known. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 10:11. “These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” While the examples referred to are manifestations of God’s wrath on Israel when they disobeyed or strayed from God, the remedy, a blood sacrifice, was experienced at the altar (1 Cor. 10:18). Of course in the Old Testament only one person, the high priest, was permitted access to the Ark of the Covenant and then only once a year during Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). This would lead one to believe that those not of the priestly class would not fully understand what was occurring during this sacrifice. However, it is reasonably clear from the Old Testament Scriptures that enough was understood about the character and nature of God to know His attitude about sin and the requirements to remedy the separation that sin imposed between the sinner and God. Even before the establishment of the nation Israel the need for a blood sacrifice was understood. Abel’s offering of the “firstlings” of his flocks met this stipulation. This is clearly implied if not specifically stated in the New Testament. In John 5:39. we read, “You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me;” The testimony was certainly more than just the coming of the Messiah, it included His sacrificial death. In Luke 24:27. it is stated “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things written about himself in all the scriptures.” Since the statement includes all the scriptures, it, too, must include the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. Again Luke states in Acts 17:11. referring to the Berean believers, “These Jews were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica; for they eagerly received the message, examining the scriptures carefully every day to see if these things were so.” For Paul the “things” always included the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah.

There are over fifty references to the “scriptures” in the New Testament. Since these writings are not referring to themselves, they must be referring to the Old Testament. The single exception to this is II Peter 3:15,16.15, And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as also our dear brother Paul wrote to you, according to the wisdom given to him, 16, speaking of these things in all his letters. Some things in these letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.” The remainder of the New Testament references to the “scriptures” refer to the Old Testament Hebrew text.

The following examination of the Old Testament Scriptures will illustrate the plan of salvation, as recorded there, to those who may only be familiar with New Testament Scriptures and also to those who only use the Old Testament Scriptures.

The first thing that must be understood when considering the plan of salvation is the relationship between humans and the infinite, sovereign God. In Psalms, 11:7. we read, “For the Lord (Jehovah) is righteous, He loveth righteousness; The upright shall behold His face.”2 We might add “only” the upright shall behold His face. Who can claim to be “righteous” and “upright?” Consider what the prophet Isaiah, said in chapter 64:5. “And we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment; and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Take us away from what? From the presence and fellowship of God. Even those things, which appear to us as “good” or “righteous” works, cannot bring us into His presence. Ezekiel 33:12b. continues with the admonition that “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.” The context suggests that we cannot “build up” good works that will suffice to please God when we ignore or disregard His moral absolutes.

If we are trusting in good works to please God, we are in trouble indeed! Should we be reduced to a point of despair? Is there no way to please God? How can we be declared righteous in God’s sight? We must have a righteousness that He sees as righteous. Two things are required for this righteousness, faith on our part, and an atonement on God’s part. First, faith or belief in what God can do, has done, and will do. Genesis 15:6. very clearly states how this affects God. “And he (Abram) believed in the LORD; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” This thought is continued in Habakkuk 2:4b. “But the righteous shall live by his faith.” This is a comprehensive, general standard for all time, applicable even today.

What is this faith? Isaiah gives the answer in chapter 26:3; “The mind stayed on Thee Thou keepest in perfect peace; Because it trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever, for the LORD is GOD, an everlasting Rock.” Faith is trust, trust in the actions and desires of the LORD. Many people would declare that they have “faith”, but when pressed to explain “faith” in what, it usually boils down to their own works, beliefs and actions. According to Isaiah this would be misplaced faith. Our faith cannot, indeed must not, be in ourselves. It would appear then that the basic issue in salvation is redemption or atonement. If there is no way that we can achieve this, what then must happen?

The cost of salvation is much too high for man to purchase for himself. The psalmist wrote in Psalms 49:8,9; “No man can by any means redeem his brother, Nor give to God a ransom for him—For too costly is the redemption of their soul, and must be let alone for ever…” These could be verses of despair, but there is hope as verse 16 states, “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the nether world; for He shall receive me.” God will do it! God will make atonement for our sin! The object of our faith is in God and His redemptive plan. That this plan was not hidden in Old Testament times is clearly seen in the Passover (slain lamb’s blood), the Day of Atonement, when the people’s sin is confessed over a pure animal and then the animal is slain. God declares in Leviticus 17:11; “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life.” A curious exchange took place when the animal’s innocent life was transferred to the people, and the people’s impure lives were transferred to the animal. This is known as the “exchanged life” principle. This was necessary because of God’s justice and sense of righteousness. According to Ezekiel 18:4; “Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” That God should choose to accept a substitution to die in our place is not only a matter of fact, but also a matter of faith. The sacrifice, made on our behalf, should cause us to detest our sin and have hearts full of repentance. This attitude is necessary to satisfy God. As much as some do not like the concept of bloody sacrifices, God even more so. In Psalm 51:18,19, we read “For Thou delightest not in sacrifice, else would I give it; Thou hast no pleasure in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.”

Since God is immutable, His method of redemption never changes. Believers today are redeemed through exactly the same system that was given to Israel in the past, a substitutionary blood sacrifice using the exchanged life principle. The current system is best shown by selected verses from Isaiah 53: 4. “Smitten of God, and afflicted.” 5. “But he was wounded because of our transgressions...” 6. “All we like sheep did go astray...And the LORD hath made to light on him The iniquity of us all.” 7. “As a lamb that is led to the slaughter, And as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; Yea, he opened not his mouth.” 8. “For he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due” (emphasis mine). 9,10. “Although he had done no violence, Neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him...” 11. “And their iniquities he did bear.” 12. “Yet he bore the sin of many.” These references are about Israel’s Messiah who exchanged His life for theirs. Who is this Messiah? What is He like? What are His credentials for being an acceptable sacrifice? Micah (hk*ym) 5:1. gives an answer, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, Out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days” (emphasis mine). The “ancient days” are from eternity past, without beginning, and the reference is to Deity Himself. Since the sacrifice had to be without spot or blemish, that is, perfect in regard to God’s moral absolutes, only God Himself would suffice.

In the New Testament Paul, a Jew fully conversant with the Old Testament scriptures, sums up the whole system in just one verse. In 2 Corinthians 5:21. he wrote, “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” Christians, and Jewish people, the scattered tribes of Israel, should not view the plan of salvation in two distinct and separate ways. The Old Testament, just as clearly as the New Testament, presents the way of redemption and salvation. Israel was to look forward, in faith, to the coming, sacrificial Messiah, and the Christians look back, in faith, to the finished redemptive work of the Messiah. The single fact is clear; the Messiah of God, God Himself, came to earth to exchange His life for each one of us. We need only place our faith in Him to secure God’s forgiveness for our sin.

“...to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16b.) was not written to place a wall between the Jews and Gentiles. It only distinguished the sequence in which God chose to reveal His plan of salvation. Today Jehovah accepts both Jew and Gentile on the basis of their faith in the death and resurrection of His Messiah as a substitutionary sacrifice, suitable to completely pay the penalty due us for our sin.


1 All New Testament Biblical quotations taken from: New English Translation (NET), The Biblical Studies Foundation, www.bible.org, Dallas, 1998, unless otherwise noted.

2 All Old Testament Biblical quotations taken from:The Holy Scriptures, according to the Masoretic Text, The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1955.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)