- Q1. Before Christ, how did people acquire salvation? For example: Abraham
- Q2. As Christians we believe that anyone who does not believe in Christ will perish. So what happens to the Jews? They believe in God.
First question you’ve got the right person to begin with. Abraham is considered the father of faith for good reason. In Romans 4-5 Paul explains this whole idea of belief. In Gen 15:6 Abraham believes God and it is reckon onto him for righteousness. Now, this righteousness is not a work righteousness that is of his own (Phil 3:9). This is clearly taught in the NT that the righteousness we obtain by imputation is Christ righteousness.
In Hebrews 11, the hall of fame of faith (belief, trust), is an exposition of the OT persons that were saved by grace (grace=favor ie. God’s sovereign favor to save and rescue) through their exercising of faith. So, therefore, the OT saints still received salvation by grace (even grace is seen in the story of Noah:Genesis 6:8-9) and through faith. However, the expression of this faith had a lot more religious observances, duties, festivals, etc. which may confuse the Christian into thinking that the observing of the Law made them righteous and ensured their salvation (Ephesians 2:8-10). But, this is clearly not the case when you see OT passages disparaging remarks and announcements about the faithless Israelites performing their sacrifices without faith: Ps 51:16-17, Mal 1:6-9. In other words, the Israelites had to exercise faith (trust) in God with all their hearts. In Deuteronomy 6:1-9 we see that the essence of performing the duties of the Law is a singular focus on loving God with all their hearts. Basically, God was focused on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and saving faith exercised like now. If an OT saint loved God and trusted Him (cf Gen 22:9-14/Hebrews 11:6, 17-19, like with Abraham) then that what was required for salvation. The whole chapter eleven of Hebrews is important for the concept of OT salvation through faith. (cf. 1 Peter 1:8-12)
The second question relates to progressive revelation (how God has revealed truth through the ages unto the final revelation of Jesus Christ) and the dispensations. Basically, the Jews that believed God in the OT and the Messiah to come (Heb 11:39: part of the promise here is the Messiah, cf. again esp.1 Peter 1:8-12)) were saved because they believed in the promises and they believed in an anticipated Messiah. In other words, they look forward to the coming Messiah as their Savior.
The Christians, on the other hand, look backward to the accomplished redemption or the Messiah that has come. In other words, the Christians or NT saints have the privilege to have a fuller revelation. For a full exposition of how Israel will obtain salvation (ie. the Nation) see the eleventh chapter of Romans. The Jews, as a nation, have rejected their Messiah. However, as Romans 11 says God has a remnant within this present dispensation as well as the coming one (within the tribulation and the Millennial). In fact, the whole tribulation (Jeremiah 30:7) is a seven year period in the final age that God will use to purify or purge (Zech 13:8) the nation so that a remnant is saved, and therefore, will enter into the Christ kingdom–the Millennial.
In summation, those saints before Christ acquired salvation in like manner as the NT saints–by grace and through faith. The true saints before Christ had an elemental faith in a sense (Hebrews 6:1-2) but a faith nonetheless (“faith toward God” in Heb 6:2). This is why Abraham is considered the father of faith. He demonstrated true belief and trust which is characteristic of every believer through the ages. In the second question the answer is that the Jews who believe in God but not in Jesus will perish with that belief. If you read the whole book of Hebrews you will notice from the beginning that the writer is exposing a superficial profession of Christ by Jews who were considering Him but had not truly come to Him or weren’t sold out to Him. The whole letter pronounces six severe warnings to those who have been exposed to the message of Christ but were hesitant to commit wholly to it. Some were trying to hold on to or wanted to return to Mosaic law and keep both, ie. Moses and Christ. But, the writer of Hebrews makes it quite clear that you can’t have both! All must hearken to the new prophet–Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-3)–who is superior to Aaron, Moses, angels, the Law, etc. However, today the church is made up of those who are Gentiles and Jews. For now both comprise the remnant or the true believers. In other words, God is saving both and incorporating both into the church.
Hope this helps. There is much more but for now this is concise as it gets.
Pastor James T. Cater
6390 SW 32nd Street
Miramar, FL 33023