2002-07-10 - Saints Before Christ
Hebrews 11:16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.
Today's question: "I have a summer question. I recently accepted Christ into my life, and I am too embarrassed to ask my pastor this question. Will you please help me with this question? If Jesus came and died for our sins on the cross, what about all before him - like Adam & Eve? Where did their souls go? Did they go to hell? They were sinners, right? Wouldn't they go to Hell? Did everyone in the Old Testament's soul just linger? Please help me understand this."
I think this is an excellent question for at least two reasons.The first is because I don't hear much that addresses this topic, and we never want to neglect any part of God's Word. The second reason is because, I think, if we can get a grasp on the answer to this question, we will more comprehensively understand the wonder of the grace of Jesus Christ in Salvation. I would encourage you to read all of Hebrews Chapter 11 as a background for this devotional.
First, I will try to do the two-second answer to your question and then we can take it from there. Essentially this passage (Hebrews 11) is a summation of literally hundreds of chapters of the Old Testament. It traces the history of several important people, from Abel (Genesis 4) to Rahab (Joshua 6) in the first 31 verses -- and then skims much of the rest of Old Testament history in the last nine verses of the chapter. In doing this, it is seeking to drive home one point. All these Old Testament saints were looking, in faith, to God, for their redemption.
Much of the language of Hebrews 11 respecting the Old Testament saints is very similar to the language we have respecting saints in the New Testament. For example, in the verse we began with, Hebrews 11:16, where it talks about the Old Testament saints desiring a better country: How is that not the same as we read in Philippians 3:20, "For our citizenship is in heaven?" It is very similar, and Hebrews 11 is full of references that, while referring to Old Testament saints, could and equally do also apply to New Testament saints.
As New Testament saints, we certainly have the advantage of being able to look back and see the fulfillment of God's plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. Those before Christ, however, also knew of their need for a Savior. They did not have the advantage we have of looking back on the finished work of Christ. They had to look forward, in faith, and look for salvation as it was revealed in the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. I would compare it to our looking forward today in eschatology (End Times stuff). Does the Bible talk a lot about the End Times? You bet it does. Does anyone agree about how we are to interpret what the Bible says about the End Times? Only if you live alone. We are looking forward, in faith, through prophecy in respect to issues regarding the End Times, just as the Old Testament saints were looking forward for a Messiah, in faith.
The saints in the Old Testament knew that the blood of bulls, goats, and sheep could not atone for sin. "Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired; my ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required," Psalm 40:6. They knew there must be a better and more complete atonement for sin, and while I don't think they ever comprehended what that looked like fully, it seems that they knew that there must be a more comprehensive atonement than what was available through the Old Testament sacrificial system.
I want to make sure that I attempt to hit on your question as we end this. I would point you to the passage of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-17. It seems that in this passage, both Moses and Elijah had glorified bodies as they appeared with Christ in this passage. One might argue that Moses and Elijah are special saints, and that sure seems true from how God used them in His cause on Earth. However, Moses and Elijah are also both sinners that were saved by faith in the grace of God, through redemption in Christ. That makes them no different from any other Old Testament saint who was saved. For this reason, I think that those who were saved before Christ were all ushered into God's presence. That is where the redeemed belong. Faith that looks forward to redemption is still faith. As God's Word tells us,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
Soli Deo Gloria,