Salvation In The Old Testament: What Was The Old Way To Redemption?

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Published by Kimberly Wall

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Co-Founder, Disciple Group Leader, Author

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The Book of Genesis weaves the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from divine favor in the serene Garden of Eden, signaling the dawn of human transgression and a rift between humanity and God.

As we explore the meaning of salvation, it’s typical to link it predominantly with the New Testament and the wisdom of Jesus Christ. Yet, it’s essential to acknowledge that the concept of salvation possesses captivating roots within the tales from the Old Testament.

How could salvation be attained in Old Testament times? How do the Old and New Testaments view the salvation of man differently? And which stories in the Old Testament foreshadowed the theme of salvation?

What Is The Origin Of Salvation In The Old Testament?

Despite Adam and Eve’s grave mistake, God, in his mercy, promised a Savior who would ultimately crush the serpent’s head[1] (Genesis 3:15). This promise laid the foundation for the theme of salvation that would unfold throughout the Old Testament.

God’s design for salvation was established even before the creation of the physical universe. As 1 Peter 1:20 reveals, “He (the Lamb of God, Christ) was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was manifested in these last times for your sake.”

While Christ may not have physically revealed Himself to the people of the Old Testament, His profound role in the journey toward our salvation was widely recognized. Paul himself affirms this in 1 Corinthians 10:11, stating, “These things happened to them as an example, but they were recorded for our instruction, on whom the culmination of the ages has arrived.”

The Exodus from Egypt is another pivotal event in the Old Testament that symbolizes liberation and salvation. God’s liberation of the Israelites from bondage, achieved through the remarkable parting of the Red Sea, was a stunning display of His might and unwavering commitment. Within the passages of Exodus, the Passover, a pivotal ritual, offered a prophetic glimpse into the ultimate sacrifice symbolized by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

Understanding the fundamental connection between humanity and the all-powerful, omnipotent God stands as the initial aspect to grasp when delving into the salvation plan. As conveyed in Psalms 11:7, “For the Lord is righteous and he loves justice; the upright will see his face.”

Isaiah 64:5 further emphasizes this point, stating: “And we have all become unclean, and all our righteousness has become as a polluted garment, and we have all faded as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Even our perceived “righteous” or “good” deeds fail to bring us into the presence of God.

The passage in Ezekiel 33:12 proceeds with the warning that “the righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.” The message implies that we cannot “build up” acts of goodness that will satisfy God if we reject or disrespect his principles of morality.

Christians follow the Messiah, who was a devout Jew during his lifetime. The Old Testament, a text that Christians see as God’s written Word, is a very well-known Jewish work. If this is true and the Lord, Jehovah, is always constant, then the concept of salvation and eternal life, restoring the connection between sinful people and God, should remain the same.

How Do Sacrifices And Offerings Relate To The Concept Of Salvation In The Old Testament?

Sacrifices have been present from the outset of the Old Testament account, beginning notably with Cain and Abel’s unforgettable confrontation in Genesis 4. Still, there are limited open thoughts on what these sacrifices represented and what they sought to achieve.

It appears that the Hebrews adopted the act of sacrifice from their neighboring cultures. However, the significance of sacrifice amongst the Hebrews should be viewed as ultimately resulting from their perception of their own specific God (Yahweh) as well as the essence of their relationship with Yahweh.

The sacrificial system outlined in Leviticus also provided a temporary means of atonement for sin. The shedding of blood symbolized the seriousness of sin and the need for forgiveness. This system, while a ritual, pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross.

Though they are regularly practiced, sacrifices are not, from a theological perspective, crucial to Old Testament salvation. In many cases, forgiveness, repentance, and even deliverance are not dependent on sacrifices. However, the sacrificial system symbolized the need for a perfect sacrifice to atone for sin. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, fulfilled this need through his sacrificial death on the cross.

Two Types Of Offerings

1. Offerings Of Commitment And Thanksgiving

The sacrifices laid out in Leviticus 1–7 consisted of two distinct kinds. The first category includes offerings that reflect commitment, loyalty, and appreciation. With these sacrifices, thankful individuals in the community gave God a portion of the fruits of their hard work. Believers expressed gratitude while also strengthening their dedication to Yahweh and the promise they had formed with Yahweh.

These habitual offerings demonstrate the fundamental dynamic of giving and receiving that characterizes faith. God, who offers comfort, provides assistance, and preserves life, further took the saving action. Although salvation is a free gift, he desires a response. God delivered healing so that people could live lives filled with justice and peace, blessing every family in the world.

Thanksgiving and commitment offerings, then, became an aspect of God’s compassionate dynamic of deliverance and maintenance of every believer’s peace. These practices, in God’s wisdom, maintain in people’s minds the essence of their God along with the supposed essence of their community. A heavenly being of healing nature, together with a community of real peace.

2. Sin Offerings

The second kind of offering delivers a more unclear image. They are called “sin offerings,” which are displays of repentance, remorse for wrongdoing, and a determination to reestablish a viable connection with God. The sin offerings were most commonly used to express God’s dedication to those who had unintentionally violated the Torah or who were in an unclean condition due to circumstances beyond their own control (e.g., a woman’s menstruation).

Sin offerings could also be given for open violations of the Torah, but only once the wrongdoer had made proper restitution to their community. The gestures of restitution were solid displays of repentance that re-established relationships; the offerings of sacrifice thereafter served as gestures of their recommitment to the promise.

In other words, the sacrifices weren’t used to re-establish the bond but rather to concretize the true nature of the restored relationships after the fact.

Three Things Sacrifices Were Intended For

1. Sacrifices were made to foster justice and harmony in every covenant community, ensuring that every part of the community received access to life and health. Sacrifice in an unfair community is more terrible than worthless. A verse in the Book of Amos claims that offering sacrifices when injustice reigns is wicked. The method of addressing sin had actually become a catalyst for sin.

2. Sacrifices were meant to demonstrate devotion to God as the one and only genuine God. The Levitical laws aimed to avoid another instance of the known golden calf situation, but the Hebrews, as recorded in Hosea, returned to idol worship. When sacrifices were performed in the midst of injustice in society and Baal worship, the foundation for expressing grateful allegiance to God became completely different.

3. Sacrifices were supposed to be gestures of thankfulness. By the 9th century, this faithfulness and devotion had faded, and the offerings had become freestanding (and meaningless) religious rituals, detached from their faithfulness-to-Torah ideation.

brown brick wall with sunlight and salvation in the old testament

On What Basis Could Salvation Be Obtained In Old Testament Times?

The prophetic words, the sacrificial system, and the covenants collectively pointed toward the need for a Savior who would reconcile humanity with God. The silence between the Old and New Testaments represents a period of longing and expectation.

One widespread misunderstanding concerning the Old Testament’s means of salvation is the idea that Jews got saved by obeying the law. The Bible teaches us that this is not the case. Galatians 3:11 explains, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘the righteous shall live by faith.'” The law was never designed to save anybody; the law’s objective was to keep people “conscious of sin.”

So then, how were individuals saved if the Old Testament means of salvation weren’t about obeying the law? Apostle Paul makes it absolutely evident in Romans 4 that the Old Testament’s way of salvation was similar to the New Testament era, which can be obtained “by grace alone, through faith alone.”

While the full scope of salvation might not have been clear to them, many Old Testament figures demonstrated faith and trust in God’s promises, which ultimately pointed to salvation.

On top of that, Paul uses Abraham to demonstrate this assertion: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Paul goes on to explain that even in the Old Testament, salvation can only be obtained by faith alone.

How Were People Saved During The Old Testament?

It is written in Samuel Schultz’s work, the Gospel of Moses, that “salvation has never been by works but has always been by grace through faith.” So the Old Testament offering ritual provided only an interim “covering” for sin yet did not provide a complete “removal” of sin. Trusting in God’s merciful and kind nature (the only one who could take away sin) was the way to salvation both then and now.

As the revelation of God unfolded in all the Scriptures, it became obvious that salvation would be provided through the nations of Israel, the people chosen by God, in the person of a member of that nation. The Messiah (Jeremiah 23:5–6) and the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13–53:12) are two evident ways the Old Testament prophets depict this character.

In Luke 2:25–32, Simeon, depicted as an elderly, pious Jew who yearned for the arrival of this prophesied Messiah, is an intriguing illustration of this development. Simeon had dedicated his life to placing his trust in the guidance of God, all the while unaware of the identity or timing of the awaited figure. Such faith was a hallmark of the Old Testament saints—they held firm in their belief that the Lord would usher in salvation yet remained uncertain as to the source of that deliverance.

How Does The Concept Of Salvation Differ Between The Old And New Testaments?

The content of faith distinguishes an Old Testament believer’s faith from a New Testament believer’s faith. As a result, God’s demands concerning what we should believe vary depending on the number of revelations he gives us.

Because Christ (the Only Son of God) is the true fulfillment of God’s promise, he has provided us with an even greater revelation of the Messiah through his work, life, and death, as well as his resurrection. Salvation is always accomplished solely by grace through faith in Christ alone.

People in the Old Testament needed to know about Jesus in order to be saved since they gained salvation by grace through believing in Christ according to what God had told them about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who would provide complete atonement.

Our salvation hinges upon the death of Jesus Christ, as we possess the complete picture of His sacrifice. It demands our faith, with God as the focal point of that faith. Our faith diverges from Old Testament believers because we acknowledge Jesus’ earthly arrival, His suffering for our sins, His conquering of death through resurrection, and His promised return.

Which Old Testament Stories Foreshadowed The Theme Of Salvation?

Exploring the theme of redemption, one can discern hints of Jesus in Genesis, foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice for humanity’s sins.

The biblical story of Abraham and Sarah presents the covenant promise of salvation: the blessing of newness amid barrenness. God plans on making use of the community of believers to provide fresh life to all of the world’s families. This is the starting point in the lengthy process of God’s steadfast love bringing salvation.

The biblical narrative of salvation, as accomplished through a specific individual, starts with Genesis 12. God strives to mend the brokenness and imperfections of creation patiently. The passage from Genesis 12:1–3 describes the beginning of God’s healing process.

Abraham’s statement in Genesis 12:3 encapsulates the divine plan: “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” The salvation that will extend across the globe hinges on the events involving us and our descendants.

God promises absolute healing by leading people to know God while building a community. God’s approach to bringing peace causes the development of another work of creation: the birth of a community. Using people of faith working together, people of faith growing to love and share, specific groupings of God’s chosen people, and the power of the Holy Spirit, he will provide peace to every family in this world.

The gospel message of Exodus was a vital aspect of God’s healing ways as well as an inspiration for biblical faith. The reminder of God’s deliverance is frequently invoked or said to be invoked by Old Testament writers. God loved us, he delivered us, and he saved us—praise God. Allow God’s love for us to inspire us to love others as well.

photo of temple ruins at sunset and salvation in the old testament

Conclusion

Salvation in the Old Testament is a rich tapestry woven with promises, prophecies, and foreshadowings of the coming Messiah. The intricate details of God’s redemptive plan unveil his unchanging love for humanity. The Old Testament concludes with the anticipation of the Messiah’s arrival.

People in the Old Testament’s time received salvation “by grace through faith.” As we reflect on the Old Testament scriptures, we find that salvation has always been at the core of God’s purpose, leading up to the ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament through Christ Jesus.

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