We live in a post-Resurrection world where Jesus has proclaimed the gospel, died on the cross, risen from the dead, and ascended back to God His Father. And yet, as we read the Old Testament, believe it to be Scripture and spiritual authority for our lives, many of us have wondered whether the Old Testament saints received the gospel (the good news of the plan of God) in their day and time.
We often think that the Old Testament had faith in what God would do (that He would send Jesus, that the Messiah would come) but that they didn’t see Jesus come in their day. That’s true: Jesus wasn’t born on earth in their day and time. And yet, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t get the gospel.
Did Old Testament saints have faith in the coming Messiah? Did they trust God, believe in what He said in their day and time? Was there a message preached to them as it is to us today?
This article is designed to answer the question of whether or not the Old Testament saints received the gospel in their day. Without further ado, come along on a journey to investigate the Scriptures. You just may color yourself surprised when it’s all over.
Expectant Believers: Waiting for the Coming Messiah
We know that the Old Testament is full of Messianic prophecies concerning the Messiah, that Old Testament saints were aware of the coming Messiah, though they didn’t live to see Him arrive in their mortal lifetime.
In Genesis 3, we see God’s first words concerning the First Advent of His Son, Jesus, in the midst of the Fall of mankind:
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3 but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3:1-15)
The serpent tricks Eve into eating the fruit by telling her that she would be God, but instead of glory beyond the sin, there was only shame of her nakedness; Adam experienced the same. God confronts them when they sew fig leaves and acknowledge their nakedness, and when God is told that the serpent deceived Eve, God curses the serpent for the rest of its life. The Lord curses the serpent above all other animals in the field, and tells the serpent that it shall eat dust on its belly all the days of its life. Genesis 3:15 is where God tells the serpent that He would put hostility between the serpent’s seed and the woman’s seed. The pronoun “He” tells us that there is not a lineage in question, but rather, a person: namely, Jesus. Paul goes on to say as much in his discussion of false doctrine in the church at Rome:
17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. 19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. 20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (Romans 16:17-20)
“The serpent” that will be under the “heel” of the woman’s seed is Satan, and the woman’s seed that will crush the serpent’s seed is Jesus. Paul picks up on this, having been a Pharisee himself who knew much about the Law.
In Genesis 12, we see that God sets His plan in place by selecting Abraham as the one through whom the promised “seed of the woman,” Jesus, would come:
Now the Lord had said to Abram:
“Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.
2 I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
We read again just three chapters later, in Genesis 15, that God plans to give Abraham an heir. It is here that Abraham “believes God” and is counted righteous because of his faith in the promise of God:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”
4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:1-6)
It is here we read that Abraham believes the Word of God, though he doesn’t know exactly how it will come about that he and Sarai (her name at the time) would conceive a child. The Lord tells him his descendants will be great and that later says that he will be “the father of many nations.” Here in Genesis 15, we don’t pick up on it, but Paul does:
5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” 7 Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham. (Galatians 3:5-9)
Here in Galatians 3, it’s apparent that Paul could connect the dots regarding Abraham’s heir of his own body and “the seed,” the “He” that God proclaimed in Genesis 3:15 would crush the head of the serpent. Paul quotes Genesis 15:6 in Galatians 3:6, and then says that “the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed” (v.8). Did you read that? It says that “God…preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand” (v.8), a phrase that informs us that Abraham got the gospel of Jesus Christ, too. The word “Scripture” in Galatians 3:8 is the Greek graphe, meaning “writing.” Paul quotes Genesis 12:3, and we believe that Paul believed Genesis 12:3 (and all of Genesis) was a spiritually authoritative text in the church.
Granted, Christ hadn’t come yet, nor had He died, been buried, risen, or ascended back to His Father, but He was coming. Since Abraham was on the early side of history, and Christ wasn’t purposed to come and die just yet, Abraham had to believe the event was in the future — that it was a ways off, that it would likely not happen in his lifetime. In fact, Abraham was told that his people would be enslaved for 430 years. It’s likely that he believed the event would happen hundreds, if not thousands, of years later. Since “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in you” is called “the gospel” by Paul, we know that Abraham’s seed is directly connected to the birth of Jesus Christ:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:
2 Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brothers.3 Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez begot Hezron, and Hezron begot Ram. 4 Ram begot Amminadab, Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon. 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king.
David the king begot Solomon by her who had been the wife of Uriah. 7 Solomon begot Rehoboam, Rehoboam begot Abijah, and Abijah begot Asa. 8 Asa begot Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat begot Joram, and Joram begot Uzziah. 9 Uzziah begot Jotham, Jotham begot Ahaz, and Ahaz begot Hezekiah. 10 Hezekiah begot Manasseh, Manasseh begot Amon, and Amon begot Josiah. 11 Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon.
12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jeconiah begot Shealtiel, and Shealtiel begot Zerubbabel. 13 Zerubbabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliakim, and Eliakim begot Azor. 14 Azor begot Zadok, Zadok begot Achim, and Achim begot Eliud. 15 Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Matthan, and Matthan begot Jacob. 16 And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ. (Matthew 1:1-16)
We can see that Abraham got the gospel before Jesus came, before the gospel as we know it (the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) came about, and Paul says that Genesis 12:3 was the gospel. Paul acknowledges Genesis 3:15 as the protoevangelium, Latin for “first gospel,” though he mentions it in Romans 16 and not in a place such as his doctrine in Galatians.
Have you noticed that “the wife of Uriah,” Bathsheba, Rahab (the prostitute), and Ruth are all Gentiles, not Jews? That’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? And yet, the Lord Jesus is born of a lineage that includes Gentile women — a sign that Jesus came for not only the Jews but the entire world. This explains the angels’ proclamation at Jesus’ birth:
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)
The angel said that these glad tidings of great joy would be “to all people,” a sign that Jesus’ birth was a benefit for every human being, not just the Jews. Luke covers this because, as a Gentile writing to a Gentile by the name of Theophilus, he knows his audience would want to know that Jesus was a universal Savior.
Israel gets the gospel (Hebrews 4)
Abraham gets the gospel according to the apostle Paul, but Abraham isn’t the only one; Paul tells us that the Israelites got the gospel in the wilderness as well:
Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:
“So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest,’”
although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; 5 and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”
6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:1-13)
“2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.3 For we who have believed do enter that rest,” (Hebrews 4:2-3).
“The gospel was preached to us as well as to them” Paul says in Hebrews 4:2, which tells us that the Israelites got the gospel. The issue with Israel, as Paul says, was that it wasn’t “mixed with faith in those who heard it.” In other words, the Israelites didn’t have faith despite hearing the gospel message.
The expected question is, “How was the gospel preached to them?” What was the content of the gospel they received in the wilderness? Was it similar to the content modern-day humans have access to in the gospel today?
There are a few examples of the Israelite gospel in the wilderness:
11 “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’14 But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20)
In Deuteronomy 30, Moses tells the Israelites that they didn’t need to worry about going to heaven or out to sea to hear this commandment before obeying it; it was in their mouths and hearts and they could keep it. They needed only to “choose life” and obey the Lord, cling to Him, be loyal to Him, and turn away from all other gods. “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing,” a sign that the gospel they received gave them two choices: they could do what is right or do what is wrong. The end result is so that they “may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:20). The Promised Land of the Old Testament is about more than the Israelites dominating a particular territory. It is about their walk with the Lord, the spiritual condition of their hearts, and the eternal Promised Land, the ultimate land of rest. As Hebrews 4 says, “we who have believed do enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3).
Paul goes on to use this covenant presentation by Moses in Deuteronomy 30 for the Jews in Romans 10 when appealing to them to be saved:
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”6 But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) 7 or, “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:1-13)
Paul uses the Deuteronomy 30 passage with the gospel presentation from Moses to the Israelites to tell the Jews that they don’t have to ascend Christ to heaven to bring Christ down from above, or descend into Hell to bring Christ up from the dead; rather, they need only confess with the mouth and believe in the heart that Jesus is Lord, God the Father gave Jesus for their sins, and that Jesus rose again on the third day.
Paul calls the gospel the “word of faith,” and the gospel demands a faith response in order to experience the salvation God promises in the gospel. Moses mandated the same from the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30: they had to “choose life” or death. If Romans 6:23 is right and “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord,” then Moses was giving the gospel message when he spoke about the Promised Land the Lord promised to give to their fathers.
There are other examples of the gospel message and the faith decision. Deuteronomy 30 is but one, though it is a very good one and fits with Paul’s own understanding of sound salvation theology (also called soteriology).
The gospel at the burning bush (Exodus 3)
While Deuteronomy is a later book than Exodus, I started with it in our treatment of the Old Testament Saints gospel message because it is the easiest to discover in Scripture. Paul uses it in Romans 10, so Deuteronomy 30 starts with what Paul reveals. Now, I’ll work my way back from what is known to what isn’t as greatly known.
In Exodus 3, the Lord appears to Moses while he is out shepherding the flock. At this point, Moses is in his eighties, having left Egypt in his forties after killing an Egyptian who was beating a fellow Hebrew slave. The Lord speaks to him out of the burning bush and gives him the agenda of God toward His people, the Israelites:
7 And the Lord said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10)
The Lord wanted to free His people from Egyptian bondage and take them into a land of plenty, a land of rest. Moses was to tell a message that the Jews themselves had never heard from a Jew who spoke with and heard from God in this way. Granted, Abraham had heard God’s voice audibly, but few had heard God’s voice in that manner. And, though they believed God would one day deliver them, it had been 430 years. They didn’t believe that they were the generation God would deliver out of Egypt. Perhaps they believed they’d been in slavery so long that God would just free their children long after they were gone. They’d been in slavery so long that they’d made their bed and had “lain down in it.”
This “gospel” message is good news, a message of hope for Jews who’d been in slavery for centuries. And here Moses was, telling them that God would free them — yes, their generation — from Egyptian bondage. After centuries of unjust slavery, they’d be free to worship and sacrifice to their God!
Moses asks God a series of questions in Exodus 4 about the name of God (I AM THAT I AM) as well as the signs he could perform to prove that God was with him and had really spoken to him. The Lord gave him 1) the rod that could turn into a snake, Exodus 4:2-5; 2) a leprous hand that could be healed by reaching into his bosom, Exodus 4:6-7; and 3) water turning to blood on dry land, Exodus 4:9. After showing Moses what He wanted him to do, and getting Aaron on board with everything, Moses and Aaron go before the people. Read this response carefully:
27 And the Lord said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went and met him on the mountain of God, and kissed him. 28 So Moses told Aaron all the words of the Lord who had sent him, and all the signs which He had commanded him. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel. 30 And Aaron spoke all the words which the Lord had spoken to Moses. Then he did the signs in the sight of the people. 31 So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 4:27-31)
Aaron spoke the words, Moses performed the signs God gave him, and it says “so the people believed.” Yep. They heard the message, saw the signs to confirm it, and believed. The wording of Exodus 4 sounds similar to what happens with the official gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension:
14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
19 So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:14-20)
When the disciples preached the Word of God in the gospel, it was confirmed with “accompanying signs” we read in Mark 16:20. The same happened when Moses and Aaron went to the people of Israel and gave them the “gospel,” the good news, that God planned to deliver them from their bondage and bring them into a land of rest and plenty, the Promised Land.
The Passover Feast: A Foreshadowing of the Crucifixion of Christ
Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, 2 “This month shall be your beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for the lamb, let him and his neighbor next to his house take it according to the number of the persons; according to each man’s need you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats.6 Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at twilight. 7 And they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses where they eat it. 8 Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat it raw, nor boiled at all with water, but roasted in fire—its head with its legs and its entrails. 10 You shall let none of it remain until morning, and what remains of it until morning you shall burn with fire. 11 And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover.
12 ‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. 13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 ‘So this day shall be to you a memorial; and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord throughout your generations. You shall keep it as a feast by an everlasting ordinance.15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day there shall be a holy convocation, and on the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation for you. No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you. 17 So you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this same day I will have brought your armies out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as an everlasting ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”
21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb.22 And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. 23 For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.24 And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever.25 It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. 26 And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.28 Then the children of Israel went away and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did. (Exodus 12:1-28)
The Lord told Moses to tell Pharaoh that He would strike the firstborn of Egypt if Egypt did not surrender His firstborn (the children of Israel) over to Him. Since Pharaoh continued to hold onto Israel and refused to let them go, God’s final act would be to strike all the firstborn of Egypt and let Egypt know that He alone is God and that He would see His people freed. Pharaoh could kill a man if he were angry enough, but God was no mere mortal — and Pharaoh couldn’t just “shoo” God away when he tired of Him.
The Israelites would mark their deliverance by way of what the Lord called the Passover Feast. This feast would be eaten in haste (not slowly), and the Israelites would have to kill a lamb, sheep, or goat (they could kill one from any of these three animal groups), take the blood from the animal, and apply it to the lintel and the doorposts of the houses they lived in. That night, the Lord killed the firstborn of Egypt and the blood on the doorposts and lintels spared them from death. The event of the Passover Feast and God’s vengeance on Pharaoh and Egypt was the gospel in and of itself because, first, a lamb had to be slaughtered; next, the lamb’s blood had to be applied to the doorposts, which means that blood had to be shed and then applied. Animal slaughtered, blood applied — this matches the Jewish sacrificial system in Genesis, from its beginning when Adam and Eve sinned and the Lord killed an animal or two and gave the first couple skins by which to clothe themselves (upon the realization of their nakedness and sin). In the New Testament, we see Jesus crucified around the time of the celebration of Passover, the Lamb of God who was crucified as a lamb was to be slaughtered and blood applied (Luke 22:7-22; Mark 14:12-26; John 19:1-30).
Paul makes the connection between the Passover Feast and the crucifixion of Jesus, “the Lamb of God,” when admonishing the Corinthian congregation about their toleration of incest between a young man and his stepmother:
6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)
When Paul says “let us keep the [Passover] feast, he’s not talking about observance of the mere ritual, but instead, living out the Passover Feast, living out the crucifixion of Christ in our own lives. Paul wanted to see the Corinthians crucify their flesh and mortify their members by resisting sin and living in purity and holiness.
Jesus as the Passover Lamb takes us to the very heart of the gospel, for “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). God gave His Son as the Passover Lamb, and John identifies Jesus as such in His Gospel on more than one occasion:
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said,“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!30 This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
32 And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
35 Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. 36 And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!”
37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?”
39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).
40 One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone). (John 1:2-42)
In verses 29 and 35, John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God,” a sign that John’s claim is deliberate and intentional. In the Scriptures, whenever something is mentioned more than once, it’s a hint from the writer(s) that we should pay more attention to it than other information. With John’s statement being repetitive, he’s telling us “hint! Hint! I’m describing Jesus here with an Old Testament reference. If you know your Old Testament history, you’ll understand the reference. A lamb had to be slaughtered for the Passover back in Egypt when the Jews were getting freed by God; a lamb has to be slaughtered for Passover. There is no Passover account in my Gospel because Jesus, the Passover Lamb, gets slaughtered when He is crucified and goes to the cross for the sins of the world.”
1 Corinthians 10 and the Wilderness Generation
Paul informs us with more details about the Israelite Wilderness Generation in 1 Corinthians 10, though he tells us that this generation received the gospel and heard the gospel (Hebrews 4). We read more details here akin to that of current salvation knowledge today:
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:1-13)
The passage of 1 Corinthians 10 gives some valuable insight into the Israelite Wilderness Generation. First, we read that “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (v.2), the word “baptized” telling us that the Israelites were disciples of God. They followed God, and they were baptized into the Law of Moses (as given by God) by way of the cloud and the sea. God followed them as a pillar of cloud by day, and then they were baptized by way of the sea because God gave them victory over the Egyptians.
The cloud followed behind them and in front of them (Exodus 13:21, 22; 14:19, 23; 40:38; Psalm 78:14), as a source of direction and guidance (Psalm 105:39, Numbers 14:14, Nehemiah 9:12) as David Garland mentions in his Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians (Kindle Edition, Location 10392).
Exodus 13:21, 22 says:
21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exodus 13:21-22)
The Lord did not remove the cloud by day from the people, which means that the cloud symbolized His presence. He was with His people, and the cloud was a physical symbol that He was there — even if they couldn’t physically look on Him and see Him as they saw His cloud. Here’s what Scripture tells us in Exodus about the Lord’s cloud with the Lord’s people:
9 Then Moses spoke to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the children of Israel, ‘Come near before the Lord, for He has heard your complaints.’” 10 Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. (Exodus 16:9-10)
7 So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. 8 Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.”
So Moses told the words of the people to the Lord. (Exodus 19:7-9)
13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain.
16 Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.18 So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:13-18)
9 And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. 10 All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door.11 So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle. (Exodus 33:9-11)
34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys. (Exodus 40:34-38)
5 Then the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward. (Numbers 12:5).
42 Now it happened, when the congregation had gathered against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tabernacle of meeting; and suddenly the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared. (Numbers 16:43)
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, the days approach when you must die; call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of meeting, that I may inaugurate him.”
So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tabernacle of meeting. 15 Now the Lord appeared at the tabernacle in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood above the door of the tabernacle.
16 And the Lord said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. 17 Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ 18 And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods. (Deuteronomy 31:14-18)
“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
Who rides the heavens to help you,
And in His excellency on the clouds. (Deuteronomy 33:26)
Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered profane fire before the Lord, and died; 2 and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat. (Leviticus 16:1-2)
The Lord told Moses that He would come to him in the cloud, and the cloud featured “the glory of the Lord.” In Exodus 33:10, when the cloud of the Lord came to the door of the tabernacle, it says that “the people arose and worshipped,” a sign that they knew God was in the cloud and were worshipping Him for coming near to meet with them. They were baptized into Moses in the cloud (by virtue of God’s presence, they were saved) and the sea. Now, we know what happened at the sea: it was there that the Lord saved the Israelites and delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians. It is there in Exodus 14 that the Lord leads His people across the Red Sea by parting the Sea, letting them walk on dry land, and then drowning the Egyptians. The result of all this is that “the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).
Exodus 15 is all about the praise song Israel gives to thank the Lord for His deliverance from the hand of the Egyptians:
Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying:
“I will sing to the Lord,
For He has triumphed gloriously!
The horse and its rider
He has thrown into the sea!
2 The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
3 The Lord is a man of war;
The Lord is His name.
4 Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;
His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.
5 The depths have covered them;
They sank to the bottom like a stone.
6 “Your right hand, O Lord, has become glorious in power;
Your right hand, O Lord, has dashed the enemy in pieces.
7 And in the greatness of Your excellence
You have overthrown those who rose against You;
You sent forth Your wrath;
It consumed them like stubble.
8 And with the blast of Your nostrils
The waters were gathered together;
The floods stood upright like a heap;
The depths congealed in the heart of the sea.
9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue,
I will overtake,
I will divide the spoil;
My desire shall be satisfied on them.
I will draw my sword,
My hand shall destroy them.’
10 You blew with Your wind,
The sea covered them;
They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
11 “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods?
Who is like You, glorious in holiness,
Fearful in praises, doing wonders?
12 You stretched out Your right hand;
The earth swallowed them.
13 You in Your mercy have led forth
The people whom You have redeemed;
You have guided them in Your strength
To Your holy habitation.
14 “The people will hear and be afraid;
Sorrow will take hold of the inhabitants of Philistia.
15 Then the chiefs of Edom will be dismayed;
The mighty men of Moab,
Trembling will take hold of them;
All the inhabitants of Canaan will melt away.
16 Fear and dread will fall on them;
By the greatness of Your arm
They will be as still as a stone,
Till Your people pass over, O Lord,
Till the people pass over
Whom You have purchased.
17 You will bring them in and plant them
In the mountain of Your inheritance,
In the place, O Lord, which You have made
For Your own dwelling,
The sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.
18 “The Lord shall reign forever and ever.”
19 For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the Lord brought back the waters of the sea upon them. But the children of Israel went on dry land in the midst of the sea. (Exodus 15:1-19)
The words “He has become my salvation (Exodus 15:2),” “the people whom You have redeemed” (v.13), and “whom You have purchased” (v.16) are indications that the event of the Red Sea was no ordinary event: it was salvation for the nation of Israel. The sea was a sort of “baptism,” though the Israelites walked through it on dry land.
In 1 Corinthians 10:4, we read that the Israelites “drank from the same spiritual drink,” and that the spiritual rock from which they drank was Christ. Remember when the Israelites got water from the “rock”? Well, Paul says that they weren’t just eating food and drinking water: rather, the food they shared was spiritual in some sense, and we know that he’s linking their spiritual communion to the food and drink (Holy Communion) that believers have — and he’s warning them not to eat food and drink sacrificed to idols because to do so would be to “provoke the Lord to jealousy” (1 Corinthians 10:22).
The spiritual rock they drank was Christ, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:4. What does this mean? According to Garland, the “spiritual” here implies that the food and drink pointed to Christ:
A better option understands “spiritual” as identifying the source or origin of the food and drink. They were miraculous or supernatural…this interpretation gains support from Exod. 16:4, 15. The Lord informs Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day” (Exod. 16:4). When the Israelites saw the manna, they asked what it was. Moses answered, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Exod. 16:15; cf. Ps. 78:25; Wis. 16:20; John 6:32). Ambrosiaster (cited by Bray 1999:92) maintained, “The manna and the water that flowed from the rock are called spiritual because they were formed not according to the law of nature but by the power of God working independently of the natural elements.” It was supernatural food…this interpretation best explains the…(gar) in the next clause, “for they were drinking from the spiritual rock following them.” This added comment explains how the drink was a spiritual drink: it came from a spiritual rock (struck by Moses’ rod)…They could look at the water pouring from the rock as a hidden spring or as water provided by God to slake their thirst and silence their doubts. Those whose minds now are unveiled by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:15-17), however, can see another “Rock” standing beside the craggy cliff at Rephidim. The meaning of the word “spiritual” need not be limited to one thing. Paul refers to “food supplied by God’s special action, and food which has a spiritual or typological significance” [Garland, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, Kindle Edition, Locations 10506-10528).
David Garland also says that the image of a rock was symbolic for God providing water for His people, and it also served as an epithet for God. Since it represented God’s provision for the people, Paul could very well have linked it to God’s provision for salvation in Jesus Christ. God is called “Rock” in Ps. 78:35; 89:26; 92:15; 94:22; 95:1; Isa. 30:29; 44:8; Hab. 1:12, and Jesus refers to Himself as “rock” in Matthew 7:24-25 and Matthew 16:18 (Garland, Kindle Edition, Location 10561).
Finally, Jesus’ words about believing in Him and receiving the Holy Spirit may indicate that the Israelites themselves were saved, spiritually saved, and the redeemed of the Lord in the wilderness:
37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”39 But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given,because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
This idea of coming to Jesus and drinking, that “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” is a reference to the Spirit. But perhaps it can be said that, in the same way that water came out of the rock, perhaps those who come to Christ “drink” from the Rock that is Christ; coming to Christ is the same as “drinking from the Rock” that is Jesus Christ. Thus, it would make sense that Paul argues the Israelite Wilderness Generation was saved as we would count “saved.” Paul then goes on to say that the Wilderness Generation tempted Christ (1 Corinthians 10:9):
9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; (1 Corinthians 10:9)
The event discussed here, where the Israelites tempt Christ and are attacked by serpents, concerns the Israelites moaning, groaning, and rebelling against their God-given leadership. The text in question appears to come from Numbers 21:
4 Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.
7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)
The people complained about the manna the Lord fed them, and complained against Moses and Aaron, saying that the leadership had brought them to the wilderness to die. The Lord punishes their doubt and rebellion by bringing fiery serpents to bite the people. Some of the people bitten died from the snake bites. There were some that lived, however, and the Lord tells Moses “make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” The object of their snake bites, the serpent, was the same one God made them look at in order to recover from their snake bites (those who were alive, that is).
Jesus refers to this same passage when He talks about His crucifixion and God’s plan of salvation to save all persons:
10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 10:3-17)
The serpent was lifted up in the wilderness to heal the rebellious, complaining and murmuring Israelites; in the same way, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ Himself, had to be lifted up (crucified). The same way that the Israelites in the Old Testament were bitten by the serpent and were in death’s way, so were we because we, like the Israelites and our foreparents Adam and Eve, had also been “bitten” by “The serpent,” that is, the Devil, and we were in death’s way and could have die eternally (Adam and Eve listened to the serpent and threw the world into sin because of it). And in the midst of it all, God sent His Son to ward off push back against the serpent’s “venom,” the “sting” of mortal and eternal death that was dealt to all mankind. By looking to Jesus, the one lifted up, sinners, like the Israelites, will be healed.
We’ve been asking the question, “Did Old Testament Saints Receive the Gospel?” Some would think this question odd because in the OT, Jesus hadn’t come yet, but it’s not as weird as one may think. According to the New Testament, from the words of Paul, the Israelites (Hebrews 4) and Abraham (Galatians) both got the gospel — and these were Old Testament individuals, not New Testament individuals.
While we haven’t covered it until now, there is Jesus’ quotation of the beginning verses of Isaiah 61 in Luke 4:16-22, when Jesus is in the Temple, reading from the scroll of Isaiah. He recites the passage, but the word for “preach good tidings” or “preach the good news” is the same as the word for “to preach the gospel” (Greek word εὐαγγελίσασθαι or euangelisasthai). Jesus then says that “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21), a passage that, in its immediate context, refers to Isaiah but messianically refers to Jesus Himself. Isaiah was the prophet of God who preached good news to the poor in his day, but Jesus does the same in Luke’s Gospel:
20 Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:
“Blessed are you poor,
For yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
For you shall be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
For you shall laugh.
22 Blessed are you when men hate you,
And when they exclude you,
And revile you, and cast out your name as evil,
For the Son of Man’s sake.
23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!
For indeed your reward is great in heaven,
For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
For you have received your consolation.
25 Woe to you who are full,
For you shall hunger.
Woe to you who laugh now,
For you shall mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
For so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)
With that said, we should remember that this isn’t surprising; after all, the difference between their time and ours is that Jesus was “coming” in their day (future), but has come before ours (past tense). The Spirit of God is active and is responsible for the growth of the church, while the assembly of the Israelites in the Old Testament was limited to their culture and rituals (sacrificial system, synagogue).
Paul’s argument in Romans is that God has not cast off the Jews, but rather, engrafted the Gentiles. The gospel wasn’t for just the Jews, but the Gentiles only, but the New Testament was not about God “doing something completely separate” from God’s plan. It wasn’t a “Plan B,” but rather, the further unfolding of God’s plan as God intended before time:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.
21 Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:15-25)
The purpose of the Law, which wasn’t based on faith but on deeds and “doing,” was a guard to teach us the holiness and righteousness of God until God displayed His righteousness in Jesus. Salvation by grace through faith was always the eternal plan of God. Always.
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Romans 3:21-31)
What Paul tells us in Romans 3 is that “the Law and the Prophets” attest to the righteousness of God in Christ. So, when the Law was issued, it wasn’t antithetical to the plan of God, or contradictory to the future goal, but rather, re-emphasized and pointed to the final goal. The Law was designed to teach us the justice of God, the holy standard of God, but it also points to man’s inability to keep the Law and to see the need for grace. And even the Prophets talk about the grace of God that was to come and how man would be justified by faith and not the works of the Law. The Law was to the gospel what John the Baptist was to Jesus: it was a “forerunner,” a pointer, a re-inforcer, an early proclamation of the righteousness of God in Christ, but it wasn’t meant to be a competitor or an alternative to the gospel in Christ.
In Romans 3:29-30, Paul reminds the Jews that the Lord is not just the God of the Jews, but also the God of the Gentiles. Thus, the Law could never save in and of itself, was never designed to save. The Law was designed to point to God’s salvation plan in Christ Jesus — one that would include the Gentiles. The Gentiles, like the Jews who had the Law, would be saved without it.
The Law and the Prophets were all examples of the “grace” and forbearance of God, until Jesus was born of the virgin Mary in the Incarnation. In this way, we can see that the Law and the Prophets always pointed to Christ (Luke 24:44-45) and the gospel. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17).