How did people go to heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?

3d human with a red question markHere’s an interesting question that has provoked much thought and discussion for me in recent years:

If salvation is only attained through faith in Jesus Christ, how were people in the Old Testament saved, ie before Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Were they able to through obeying the OT laws? If not how else would they be saved? Hmmm

Your thoughts and insight would be greatly appreciated.

10 thoughts on “How did people go to heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?

    1. stu

      But Jesus hadn’t died on the cross yet? Can you please expand on your response? :)

  1. David

    Just to “stir the pot” a little, what about Enoch and Elijah, who didn’t die but went straight to heaven!!

  2. Don Barton

    According to Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Old Testament saints were saved by faith, not works. The sacrifices of animals in the O.T. was merely a foreshadowing of the work of Christ on the cross. These sacrifices pointed to Christ’s work. They were like ‘reserve tickets’ for the final atonement, the completed work of Christ on the cross.

    Christ, himself stated that “no one comes to the Father but by me”.

    A good article concerning salvation in the Old Testament can be read here.

  3. stu

    Thanks for that Don. So basically the OT people, like Abraham, were still saved by trusting in God with their lives, as they could see that fulfilling the law on their own efforts was impossible. The law pointed to what was required by God in the atoning death of a substitute to bear our sins. Even before the Mosaic law this seemed to be known as Abel “brought the firstborn of his flock” as a sacrifice to God (Gen4:4).

    However the part that has challenged me is that faith is only valid according to what it is placed in. We can have great faith, but if the object of that faith is futile, then our faith is in vain.

    Don I liked the ‘old testament salvation’ link you gave. In particular the following paragraph:

    “Christians, and Jewish people, the scattered tribes of Israel, should not view the plan of salvation in two distinct and separate ways. The Old Testament, just as clearly as the New Testament, presents the way of redemption and salvation. Israel was to look forward, in faith, to the coming, sacrificial Messiah, and the Christians look back, in faith, to the finished redemptive work of the Messiah. The single fact is clear; the Messiah of God, God Himself, came to earth to exchange His life for each one of us. We need only place our faith in Him to secure God’s forgiveness for our sin.”

  4. stu

    I have been reflecting on over the last week. One could argue the most critical and theologically rich verses in the Bible! There is so much in those verses! I might write a blog on them later… although come to think of it you could write many on just those verses!

    However read as follows: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation (great word – will look at what that means more at some point) by His blood to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

    Warren Wiersbe makes the following observation:

    teaches that in the ages before the full revelation of the Gospel of Christ, God appeared to be unjust in ‘passing over’ the sins of mankind and forgiving such people as Noah, Abraham, and Enoch. True, He did send wrath in some cases; but generations of sinners seemed to escape the judgment of God. How was God able to do this? Because He knew that at the cross, He would give a full display of His wrath against sin, and yet through Christ’s death provide a redemption for sins that had merely been covered by the blood of bulls and goats ()”

    What a beautiful illustration of God’s sovereign hand at work throughout the ages! We have so much to be grateful to Him for!

  5. Tim

    @Don Barton
    Thanks so much for your clear answer. I’ve been wandering about this question, too, and your answer really helped me understand.
    Thanks again!

  6. Kat

    I believe that somewhere in the bible it says that when Jesus died he was three days and three nights at the heart of the earth. What I’m saying is before Jesus died no one went to heaven above but rather a place down below. No one went to heaven before Jesus did. All the old testament saints went to a certain place at the heart of the earth which is now Hell. Back then the believers and unbelievers were all in one place but they were somehow separated by a distance that made a good peaceful dwelling place for God’s people while a dark, gloomy perhaps fire and painful place for the unbeliever. When Jesus died he came down there and brought all his saints back with him to heaven because they now have a savior who can wash away their sin completely making them holy enough to enter heaven. Even though it is true that they were saved because they believed there would be a messiah, before there is one how can they be forgiven blamelessly by the blood of God’s son? They had to wait for his coming and death before they could be glorified with him and then after that were able to go to heaven.

  7. Don

    Kat, thanks for your comment.

    Martin Pakula commented on the sister post to this one. Read the following:

    At the Reformation one of the heresies that the Reformers combated was what is called “soul sleep”. John Calvin even wrote a treatise against it. This heresy comes from a misunderstanding of a common phrase in the New Testament that speaks about believers falling asleep (eg ). This phrase refers to believers dying. It doesn’t suggest that they sleep to awake at the resurrection. For Jesus said to the thief on the cross that Today, he would be with him in Paradise (). Paul speaks about dying to be with Christ (). That is, when Christians die, they go to be with the Lord. They do not sleep to awake at the resurrection. However their death to those who are still alive can be described as “sleep”, because we will see them again. They are not dead to us forever.

    Matthew’s Gospel has an interesting account where the faithful Old Testament dead are raised to life after Jesus’ resurrection and seen in the city (). This is, I believe, what Revelation refers to as the first resurrection (). That is, the faithful in the Old Testament – those who trusted in God and his promises – were freed from Sheol by Jesus’ death and resurrection and are now in heaven with Jesus. Christians, both Jew and Gentile, who have died since Jesus go to be with Jesus in heaven with them.

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