Old Testament believers (1)

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 for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ… (Eph 1:4–5)

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 Old Testament believers from them.

Adoption to sonship

Our opening text tells us that God chose us to be holy and blameless in his sight (to be saved) before he created the world. Think about that. He also predestined (decided our destiny in advance) that we should be adopted to sonship through Jesus Christ.

The Greek word translated adoption to sonship occurs five times in the New Testament. It was a Roman legal term which gave an adopted son the full legal rights of a natural son. Adoption to sonship is for all believers (male and female) because, in the Bible, it's males who inherit.

The Law instructed a man to leave his property to his sons (unless he had no sons, Num 27:1–11), with his firstborn son receiving a double portion (Deu 21:15–17). Why was that? It pointed to Jesus, God's firstborn Son, whom he appointed heir of all things (Heb 1:1–2).

So, when a woman is born again, she not only becomes a child of God but, also, a son of God (Gal 4:1–7), so she can inherit her Father's kingdom with her brothers (Mat 25:34). God adopts us to sonship and makes us co-heirs of his kingdom (gives us the full legal right to it) with his natural Son, Jesus Christ (Rom 8:17).

Adoption involves taking another's child and bringing it up as one's own. If we've been adopted by God, we haven't always been his children. If we haven't always been his children, then whose children were we? The Bible says we were children of the devil (1Jo 3:8–10).

Only when we receive Jesus Christ and believe in his name are we given the right to become children of God and heirs to his kingdom (Joh 1:12–3). Before that point we are the devil's children; after that point we are God's children and cry out 'Abba, Father' (Gal 4:6).

Chosen by the Father

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, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood… (1Pe 1:1–2)

Those verses show how the members of the Trinity contribute to our salvation. The Father has chosen those he is going to save, the Son cleanses us by his blood, and the indwelling Spirit sanctifies us (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, again, 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 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, which is only possible with the help of the Holy Spirit. But an even more important example is given to us in Rom 9.

That chapter speaks about God's choice in election (those he has chosen to save). It speaks 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 9:10–3).'

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 evident here. It depends solely upon his sovereign choice.

Neither does he tell us how he made that choice, he simply says that 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 5:4–6), but because he had chosen to save Jacob, he loved him despite his sins. The same is true of us. However, when we come to know God he expects us to change and to live righteous lives. Did Jacob change? Yes he did: he changed after he met 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 the Lord appeared to him in a dream. He told him he would be with him and would watch over him and do for him what he had promised (Gen 28:13b–5).

When Jacob returned twenty years later he again met with the Lord and wrestled with him through the night (Gen 32:22–30). At that point Jesus changed his name from Jacob (he deceives) to Israel (he struggles with God). Jacob wrestling and struggling with God symbolized persistent prayer (Col 4:12).

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.

Abraham and Jacob will be in heaven because they were chosen 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
Revised November 2016

Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (Anglicised edition) Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica (formerly International Bible Society). Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved.

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