Why did Jesus Die for Us? What About the People from the Old Testament?
The writer of Colossians, speaking of Jesus, states in chapter 1, verse 15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
Jesus Christ is God revealed in the flesh—the physical incarnation of the invisible Creator God.
John the Gospel writer frames it this way in John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
Jesus is God in the flesh. And it’s in this flesh that God reveals who He is. It’s in this flesh which God shows His grace and truth. God comes to us in the flesh for various reasons, but one primary reason is for our salvation, which is defined as deliverance, preservation, and redemption.
At the beginning of the Biblical narrative, God creates a beautiful world full of life and teeming with possibilities. Furthermore, God fashions a man and a woman, places them in loving union, and commissions them to advance His Kingdom as His unique image bearers on the earth. Yet, what begins as an exciting command devolves into despair as God’s divine image bearers fall prey to the enemy’s lies.
At this point, death enters the narrative and begins to infect and invade every area of God’s created world. As Romans 6:23 informs us: For the wages of sin is death.
The repercussions of death’s entry into God’s creation through humanity’s disobedience have spiraled into ever increasing brokenness and perpetual death of all kinds. God sends His Son to the earth to atone for our sins, restore us to the right relationship with Him, and transform us day by day into His image.
When Jesus comes to the earth, He comes as the visible image of God and as the Savior. He brings salvation to all who would call on His Name and choose to follow Him. In Him and Him alone do we receive deliverance from the power of sin and freedom to live a new, abundant life. The invitation to follow Jesus, to be forgiven, delivered, and restored, is still available today.
What About the People in the Old Testament?
”One interesting question to ponder is this: how were people in the Old Testament saved?
If we, on this side of the Cross, can receive salvation, what about the people on the other side of the Cross? To answer that, let’s look at an excerpt from Dr. Michael Heiser’s book, The Bible Unfiltered:
Therefore, in its framing, Old Testament salvation was the same as New Testament salvation. In the New Testament, works were essential to salvation (Jas 2:14–26), but they were never the meritorious cause; God owed salvation to no one based on works. This is not contrary to Paul’s assertion that works justified no one. James and Paul could thus be fused this way: “For by grace are you saved through faith, which without works is dead” (Eph 2:8; Jas 2:17). No element can be eliminated.
An essential element of salvation is the works of the believer. However, these works do not merit salvation; they are the response of our faith, our believing loyalty in God. By God’s grace, we are invited to know and follow Him. Our response to that invitation is revealed through our embodied lives in works of obedience to God, His Word, and His Way. Our faith in Jesus should elicit a response, or in essence, a work. That response is obedience.
Additionally, Jesus clarified that a tree would be known by its fruit; in other words, our believing loyalty in Jesus and the evidence of our salvation is revealed in what we do. The primary work of Jesus followers can be summarized in the word obedience.
Dr. Heiser continues:
With respect to the Old Testament Israelites, faith was essential to standing in the right relationship with God. The Israelites had to believe that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the true God, superior to all other gods. This would produce fruit in the form of loyal worship of only Yahweh and no other god. Old Testament Israelites also had to believe that Yahweh had come to their forefathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and made a covenant with them that made them his exclusive people.
This covenant included specific promises to be believed by faith – faith in the divine origin of the covenant and its promises involved obedience. In essence, the Gospel narrative remains the same from beginning to end.
In the Old Testament, the offer of salvation stood in loyalty and obedience to the one true God, Yahweh. This decision would be evidenced by a persons adherence to the Law given by God. Similarly, in the book of Genesis, Abraham’s faith was counted to him as righteousness. Thus, our faith in Christ’s finished work on the Cross is counted to us as righteousness.
Our obedience to God and His Word is the fruit of our faith in Him. This fruit of obedience isn’t just for the New Testament. Those on the other side of the Cross were still invited to place their faith in God. Ultimately, it was their obedience to Him that revealed the decision they had made.
The Doctrine of Salvation
To learn more about this topic, check out our online course: The Doctrine of Salvation.
In this in-depth course, you’ll learn how to:
- Describe the problem which stands behind the human need to “become saved” in the Biblical story.
- Identify how important concepts such as sin, faith, idolatry, sacrifice, and atonement function within the story of salvation.
- Define how individuals were saved in the Old Testament and compare this to the offer of salvation in the New Testament.
- Define the role that Jesus Christ plays in the attainment of our individual and corporate salvation.
Taught by Dr. Ronn Johnson, this course will deepen your understanding of the Gospel narrative, as well as how the story of salvation runs throughout the Old and New Testament.
If you’d like to learn more about this course, click here.
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