by Bob Wilkin
There seems to be a general impression today that prior to death and resurrection of Jesus OT saints were saved not by faith in Christ, but by a general faith in God. Indeed, it is common in seminaries and Bible colleges today for professors to say that there was no concept of bodily resurrection from the dead in the OT, and even that OT saints were “saved” but not born again! Many say that regeneration did not occur in the OT.
Jude tells us that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophecied about the Second Coming of Christ (Jude 14-15). Yet the OT nowhere tells us that.
Genesis 3:15 tells us that God (the preincarnate Christ) shared the gospel with Adam and Eve in Garden after the fall. This is call the proto-evangelium, or the first gospel. They heard that at least 2500 years before Moses wrote Genesis around 1440 BC. It is wrong to think that they kept that prophecy to themselves. Surely they passed it to their children, who in turn passed it on.
The preincarnate Christ appeared to many people in the OT besides Adam and Eve, including Abraham, Moses, and the three men in the fiery furnace. He spoke with them and revealed things to them, surely including the saving message.
There were many OT prophets and yet only a small number of them wrote their messages down. Many OT prophets preached the saving message. Surely there was never a generation that lacked a prophet to preach the saving message at least until the 400 silent years when the OT canon was complete and the need for prophets would have been greatly diminished. And even during those silent years God surely raised up men and women who shared the saving message which they had believed.
What was the saving message in the OT? It was the same message as we have today. That is Paul says in Romans 4:1-8 and in Gal 3:6-14. Abraham believed what we believe, justification by faith alone in Christ alone. But some will say, “Abraham didn’t know about Christ.” No? A careful reading of Genesis 15:1-6 shows that what Abraham believed was God’s promise of the deliverer who would bring worldwide blessings (Gen 12:1-3) to all who simply believe in Him. Compare John 8:56 where Jesus says, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day.” Compare Hebrews 11 where we learn that Abraham knew about the New Jerusalem and where we learn that Moses knew about eternal rewards and he knew about Christ and willingly accepted “the reproaches of Christ” (Heb 11:26).
Genesis 17 and 18 make it clear that Abraham met the pre-incarnate Christ and spoke with Him.
Simeon and Anna were OT saints when the baby Jesus was brought into the temple by Mary and Joseph. These saints knew this was the Messiah King Savior (Luke 2:25-38) and they believed in Him for eternal life.
John the Baptist was the last OT prophet (other than the Lord Jesus Himself). He knew that Jesus is the Messiah. He believed in Him for eternal life.
Old Testament saints knew a lot more than we give them credit. They certainly knew the saving message. They might not have known that the Christ’s name is Jesus, though even that some OT saints, like Simeon and Anna, knew and maybe even some like Abraham and Moses knew His name. (After all, quite a few met Him face to face, which is something we haven’t done yet.) But they knew that they had eternal life because they believed in Him for it.
We should not think that there was one way to be born again prior to the cross and resurrection and another way to be born again later. The saving message has never changed. With more revelation God gave more details in His written Word. But since we can’t be sure what the oral revelation was prior to the birth of Christ, we can’t even be sure how many details the OT saints knew.
It would not surprise me if Moses and David and Abraham had a greater grasp of the doctrine of eternal rewards than most born again people in the church age have. (I get that impression from Hebrews 11.) It would not surprise me to find out that when they were alive they had a better understanding of substitutionary atonement than most church age people have. These were men who had very close walks with the Lord Jesus and it would be presumptuous to assume that we know Him better than they knew Him when they were alive.
One day we will be able to talk and visit with these OT heroes of the faith. Until then, I suggest we view them as giants of the faith who knew the Lord and doctrine quite well.