If The Only Way To Heaven Is Through Jesus, How Were The People Before Him Saved?
On the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus made a bold statement about himself: “I AM the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). With these words, Jesus taught his disciples the truth that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus, and what he did by offering himself on the cross as a sacrifice for sin, rising from the dead in victory over the grave, is God’s provision for the reconciliation of men and women to himself. Christ, and Christ alone, is the way of salvation for mankind (see also Acts 4:12).
If the work of Christ is the only way of salvation, how then were people saved who lived before Christ? Were the great men and women of the Old Testament out of luck? Were they saved by some other means? The short answer to those questions is “no.” God’s answer to the fall of humanity has always been, not that humans would have to earn their way back to him, but that he would provide a way of salvation. The first hints of that can be found immediately after the sin of Adam and Eve. The very first shedding of blood was done by God, in order to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21), foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice of his son for the sins of the world. At the same time, God also hinted that the serpent who had deceived them would one day be defeated by a son of Eve who would be “bruised” in the process (Genesis 3:15).
This theme, of God’s provision of one who would suffer to open the way of salvation, is further developed throughout the Old Testament, from Abraham to Moses and then the prophets. Jesus, Paul, Peter and the writer to the Hebrews all emphasize the Old Testament testimony to that effect (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47; Ac. 3:18-24, 17:2, 18:4; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; Hebrews 10:1-18). Indeed, the Apostle John tells us that God’s plan to reconcile the world to himself through Christ was already established even before the creation of the world (Revelation 5:6-9)!
All this can only mean that God’s provision for Old Testament believers is the same as for us—Christ and Christ alone!; and that they were saved by trusting in God’s grace just as we are (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9). They did not have the benefit, from that side of the cross, of seeing with the clarity we can have from this side of the cross, but they trusted in God’s provision just the same (Genesis 15:6; Deuteronomy 6:25; Romans 4:3-8).
These truths should challenge us. Often, we place the emphasis on believing the right things about Jesus. Certainly, as those who have received the testimony of the apostles regarding Christ, we are accountable to embrace it; but good theology is not the same as saving faith. Ultimately, it is those who cast themselves on God’s mercy and entrust their lives and their destiny to his gracious provision of salvation from sin, who are saved by the blood of the lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world.
Pastor Jon EnrightSeptember 1, 2016