Recently, I was conversing with a friend on the subject of salvation. He believes that from Adam, the first man, down to us, salvation has always been by faith alone. To make his case, he used Hebrews 11, known as the “hall of faith” chapter, where it talks about Old Testament people such as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Rahab, etc, who had faith and were saved. But what did they believe? Was it in the cross of Christ? No, that hadn’t happened yet. They believed whatever God said to them. It was God’s Word to them.
For example, God didn’t tell Noah, “Now believe that I’m going to die on a Roman cross and be raised from the dead.” But what did God tell Noah? “There’s going to be a flood. I’m going to destroy the human race. Build an Ark for the saving of yourself and your house.” Believing what God said, Noah obeyed and built the Ark.
Rahab had faith. She was obedient and hid the spies and became part of Israel.
What about Abraham? God said,” Abram, I want you to leave all this and get away from this pagan environment and your pagan family and go to a place that I will show you.” He didn’t tell him that it would be Canaan. He just said, “Go to a place that I will show you.” Because Abraham believed what God said, he obeyed.
God made a promise to Abraham that out of him would come a nation of people and God will move them into a strip of land that He had promised and deeded to Abraham. Someday in the future, God will provide their government in the Person of Christ as their King.
Hebrews 11:13 tells us that these OT people died in faith. They never stopped believing that this Abrahamic promise was going to be fulfilled through this nation of people coming from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They didn’t receive the promises. They never did have their king or that glorious kingdom on earth. They died looking for it. Looking forward to when God would literally rule on the planet and He would be in control, it would be Heaven on earth. And that’s why it’s called “the Gospel of the Kingdom” because Heaven would come down on earth in the Person of the King (Christ).
The author of Hebrews was writing to Jews who believed in the gospel of the kingdom. He is making a case for faith, but not for faith alone. (Hebrews 4:2) And not just faith, but enduring faith (Hebrews 3:6, 14, 6:1-6) These Jews had to endure to the end because they thought the Lord would return in their lifetime and initiate the Day of the Lord (tribulation) The author tells them to run with endurance (Heb. 12:2). Jesus said that enduring until the end was required for salvation (Matthew 24:13, Rev. 2:3) Christians do not need to “endure to the end” because our salvation is secure in Christ. We rest in His finished work on the cross.
The idea that OT saints were saved the same as we are, is simply not true. One would have to get rid of all the OT, the gospels, Hebrews, etc. for that to work. None of the OT saints were saved by believing Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead. Not one word of Scripture supports the view that anyone (except Abraham) was saved by faith alone. Salvation by faith alone is a Pauline teaching. No one knew this before Paul. That is why James, in his letter, states that Abraham (Paul’s example of salvation by faith alone) was saved by works. James, a Jew, was steeped in Judaism. He wrote in James 2:24: ” Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
For many years I was taught in church that the Old Testament saints were looking forward to the cross, but scripture nowhere says this. These people did not understand such a concept. Even Jesus’ own apostles didn’t understand it.