Old Testament believers (1)

Have you ever wondered how many people from the Old Testament you will see in heaven? Will any be there at all, or has salvation been available only since the cross?

Jesus said that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be in heaven (Mat 8:11), together with all the prophets (Luk 13:28). So we know that those, at least, will be there; but on what grounds?

According to New Testament teaching, there are at least eight things a person must have, be and do in order to be saved:

So unless God gave those who were saved in the Old Testament special dispensation, each of them would have fulfilled those requirements. In this series we are going to look at each requirement in detail and see if we can identify some of the Old Testament believers from them.

Chosen by the Father

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ… (Eph 1:4–5)

That is a wonderful truth to contemplate. God chose each of us to be saved before he created the world: just think about that. He also predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ. But isn't everyone a child of God? No they are not.

The word 'adopt' means to take another's child and bring it up as one's own. That means we haven't always been God's children. If we haven't always been God's children then whose children were we? The Bible says we were children of the devil (1Jo 3:8–10).

Only those who receive Jesus Christ and believe in his name are given the right to become children of God (Joh 1:12–13). Before that point they are the devil's children; after that point they are God's children and cry out 'Abba, Father' (Gal 4:6–7).

We were chosen to be God's children before the world was created, but who did the choosing? Was it a joint decision between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? No, the Father chose his children.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood… (1Pe 1:1–2)

Those verses show how the members of the Trinity contribute to our salvation. The Father has chosen those who are to be saved, the Son cleanses us by his blood, and the indwelling Spirit sanctifies us (makes us holy, ie enables us to conform to God's moral standards).

Will everyone be saved?

'All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.' (Joh 6:37; 17:2)

Jesus said he would give eternal life to all that the Father had given him, showing that it is the Father who has chosen those who are to be saved.

So isn't everyone going to be saved? Unfortunately not. Jesus said that small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Mat 7:14). Only a few find the way to eternal life. One might call it a remnant, which is very biblical.

In the Old Testament Israel sinned against the Lord so much that he brought the Babylonian army against them. The majority of them died by the sword, famine and plague, but he chose to save a remnant (a small number) from his wrath, not because they deserved it, but because of his grace (his unmerited favour).

The same is true with respect to eternal life. Every human being deserves hell and punishment because of their sins, but God has chosen to save a remnant because of his grace. And the decision regarding who will be saved was made by the Father before the world began.

Jacob I loved

So, having seen that a person must be chosen by God for salvation, can we find evidence of people being chosen in the Old Testament? Yes we can.

In Gen 18:19 God said that he had chosen Abraham to keep the way of the Lord and to do what was right and just in his sight. God had chosen Abraham to live righteously, and no one can do that without the Holy Spirit. But the Old Testament provides us with an even more important example.

Rom 9 speaks about God's choice in election (those he has chosen to save). It speaks particularly about Jacob and Esau, who were Abraham's grandsons. They were twins, but before they were born, or had done anything good or bad, God said, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (Rom 9:11–13).'

God hasn't chosen to save us because of our goodness, or anything we've done in the past, or will do in the future. That is emphasized here because God said that he loved Jacob before he was born, or had done anything good or bad.

We don't know how God chose those he is going to save: he simply says he has mercy on whom he has mercy and compassion on whom he has compassion (Rom 9:15). But the decision to show mercy and compassion to certain individuals was made before they were born.

A changed life

Jacob was born a deceiver, which is one of the devil's traits (Rev 20:1–3). The name 'Jacob' in Hebrew means he deceives. He certainly lived up to his name; but God still loved him.

God hated Esau because of his sins (Psa 11:5), but because he had chosen Jacob, he loved him despite his sins. And the same is true for us. However, when we come to know God he expects us to change and to live righteously. Did Jacob change? Yes he did: Jacob changed after he'd met with the Lord.

After obtaining his brother's blessing by deception he fled from him and went to Haran (Gen 27:1–45). On the way there he had a dream where he saw a stairway stretching from earth to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord standing at the top (Gen 28:10–13a).

What did the dream mean? In the New Testament Jesus told Nathaniel that he would see heaven open with the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Joh 1:45–51). Not only was Jesus at the top of the stairway (in heaven), he was the stairway the angels were ascending and descending on.

Jesus was showing Jacob that he is the way (the stairway) to heaven. The Lord then told him he would be with him and watch over him and would do for him what he had promised (Gen 28:13b–15).

When Jacob returned twenty years later he met with the Lord again and wrestled with him throughout the night (Gen 32:22–30). At that point Jesus changed his name from Jacob (he deceives) to Israel (he wrestles with God, ie he prays persistently for his blessing).

The change of name marked the change in the man. What Jacob had achieved in the past (God's blessing) by deception, he was now achieving through prayer (Col 4:12).

Abraham and Jacob will be in heaven because they were chosen by God for salvation. But not only were they chosen, they also changed and lived righteous lives. We'll see why righteousness is necessary for salvation later in this series.

Michael Graham
August 2009

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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