• John Davis

How Were Old Testament Saints Saved?

If it’s true what Jesus said, that no one can come to the Father except through him (John 14:6), then the question is, How were believers in the OT able to be saved? What about the men and women who were clearly commended for their faith in Hebrews 11? What about the three righteous men singled out Ezekiel 14—Noah, Daniel, and Job—whom God said would be saved even if everyone else around them were destroyed? Clearly these believers are with God in paradise as we speak. But how?

To compound the problem, we have the following passage from Hebrews:

But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4, ESV)

So, not only do these Old Testament believers have the disadvantage of not being able to put their faith in Jesus explicitly, but their sacrifices to the Lord did not actually take away their sins. Salvation seems quite out of reach, does it not?

The answer lies in Romans 3. There, Paul speaks of Jesus…

whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26, ESV)

Here’s what Paul is saying. God sent Jesus to the cross as a propitiation—a sacrifice to turn away his wrath. He did this to show his own righteousness, because in his forbearance, or foreknowledge, God had passed over sins committed beforehand. In other words, he left sins undealt with. Which sins? The sins of those who had genuine faith in him. Because of this, God knew he was opening himself up to the charge of being unrighteous, or unjust. How can God just sweep those sins under the rug?! Is he failing to be true to his word?!

Not at all. God also knew, in his foreknowledge, that he would deal with those sins at the cross. So it is like God writes himself an I.O.U. to ensure the sins of OT believers like Abraham, Job, Rahab, Hannah, or Daniel would be paid for by Jesus’s death at the cross. Jesus’s death was God’s defense of his own righteousness, showing the world that he was indeed able to forgive sinners and punish sins at the same time. This is why it says he is just and the justifier.

So, it is true that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. The cross is the only way sins can ever be truly dealt with. The blood of bulls and goats couldn’t do it. And while OT saints could not explicitly put their faith in Jesus of Nazareth, they could put saving faith in God the Father, and his promises of salvation, and in so doing, secure the ransom payment for their sins—Jesus’s blood.