If Jesus is the way to God, how did people before Jesus come to God? What is the way of salvation (the gospel) in the Old Testament? I’ve been asked this one many times. It seems unfair of God to change the rules of the game at halftime. It seems even more unfair for him to expect people to hear of and respond to a person who would not live for thousands of years.
Here’s how Scripture unfolds the wonderful unity of the message of salvation.
1. Let’s start with a reaffirmation: Jesus Christ is the only Savior, the ONE mediator between God and mankind. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5, NKJV). We could not cross the chasm between us and God without him and all that he accomplished on Calvary’s Cross. I hope and pray that the pastors in America would go back to the Cross as a central theme. One of my favorite retired preachers, a church planter, world traveller, and evangelist named Paul Edwardson, used to tell me… “Preach your sermon, and then run to the Cross.” He did that, and tens of thousands came to Christ through him. The Cross/Resurrection complex is the high point in Jesus’ story, and it is the precise saving work of Christ (a.k.a., his blood, his death, his sacrifice, his crucifixion: “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23, NKJV).)
2. The Cross was in the intention of God, planned from before the worlds were made. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, NKJV). Calvary was not an afterthought. It was a forethought. And since Jesus was the Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world, it didn’t matter where in history the event of the Cross happened. All that mattered was that it happened, not when. Christ could have died at the beginning of history, the end of history, or in the middle (which he apparently did). It didn’t matter because…
3. God has always treated the human race on the basis of the Cross of Christ… that is, as if the Cross had already happened. In the mind of God, it was a “done deal” before time began. So God could forgive sins on the basis of the Cross before the Cross ever happened. God could enter into a covenant relationship on the basis of the shed blood of Christ before Christ shed his blood. God could pour out blessings, minister comfort, give his Spirit, and draw near to the brokenhearted before one nail was driven into the hands and feet of Christ. Calvary has always been the basis of God’s relationship with humankind, ever since the first couple sinned. And so, all mankind was redeemed, not by human endeavor or cost, “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Peter 1:19, 20, NKJV). And, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4, NKJV).
But that doesn’t really answer the question, does it. So far, I’ve described simply a theological basis for salvation in Christ alone. That there is one way to God. Theologians divide the gospel into two halves: the objective facts of the gospel, and the subjective response to the gospel. Or “Redemption accomplished,” all that Christ did on our behalf, and “Redemption Applied,” all that we must do to receive the benefits Jesus made available.
So what about the application of redemption? What must we do? Are there two gospels? A gospel of works before Jesus and a gospel of grace/faith after Jesus?
Nope. Just one. The everlasting gospel: “Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth–to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6, NKJV).
I’ll save “Redemption applied” for the next post. What did people hear and respond to in order to be saved in that long era before Jesus?