To begin with, Hebrews is the perfect place to find out about salvation in the Old Testament, for this letter is all about how the New is better than the Old.
In fact, it is widely recognised that the key word of this letter is the word “Better”.
This word is found 13 times – only Ecclesiastes and Proverbs have more instances of this word.
Ecclesiastes is a comparison between the ways of the world and the ways of the Lord – so we would expect to see “better” in any list of comparisons.
Proverbs is about living for the Lord, and the wisdom of God’s ways compared to the worlds ways – so again comparison would expect to see the word “Better”.
So likewise, Hebrews also is a comparison – of the Old worship compared to the New worship, so the word “better” should be expected.
There is much in Hebrews to examine in this matter.
15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. 16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. 17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
The Promised land is a picture of salvation, and they could not enter into the land because of unbelief – but it is actually more than that – it speaks of them not entering into His rest.
Now, in case you would think that I am overstepping this point, see the next chapter.
1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
Paul says that the Gospel was preached unto “us”, as well as unto them:”
It doesn’t say that it was “a Gospel” but “the gospel” – this indicates it was the same thing preached unto them as unto us – and their problem was not that they didn’t sacrifice, but they didn’t believe in faith.
And there is more along these lines:
5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief:
Entering into His rest comes after the preaching, but some entered not into His rest because of unbelief. This could all be applied to simply entering into the Land, if it were not for the fact that Paul equates the gospel preached to them with the gospel preached “to us” (that is Paul and those of his time.)
7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
The key point in this section is that it is Jesus that would have given THEM rest – and that “rest” remains – the implication is that it is the same rest that is being spoken of.
And an important note to this is vs 10 – “he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works”.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
It appears as though Paul is equating the “rest” of the OT saints with the “rest” of salvation.
The statement is made in:
If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
If perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, then there was no need of the Saviour – It is stated quite plainly here that perfection was NOT POSSIBLE by the Law.
With this statement, we must come to one of two conclusions – either there was no way for them to be saved, or they were saved by a way other than the Law.
Further on in this chapter we have a comparison made:
13 For he of whom these things are spoken pertaineth to another tribe, of which no man gave attendance at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood. 15 And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, 16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. 17 For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. 18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. 20 And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: 21 (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) 22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. 23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24 But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
Jesus was not from the priestly tribe and is therefore not qualified in that way to be a priest. But He is after the order of Melchisidech – and the important part of that is “a priest for ever”.
His priesthood did not start at the cross – He was already and always a Priest.
In vs 19 Paul uses the past tense to show that “the Law MADE nothing perfect” – it never did, even when they were under the Law – “…but the bringing in of a better hope did;….”
And in vs 24,25 Paul makes the point that this man has an unchangeable priesthood, and He is able to save “…seeing He ever liveth…”
If it is unchanging, then it is unchanging from the start, and He is a priest after the order of Melchisedeck for ever.
His priesthood is for ever and is unchanging.
This indicates that His ministry has always been effective, and always will be.
4 For if he were on earth, he should not be a priest, seeing that there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: 5 Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. 6 But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.
Paul uses the word “Pattern” here, to show that the things of the priests were a pattern, or example, or illustration, of the true sacrifice. They were not the effective sacrifice, but a picture of it.
If the picture were faultless (or effective) there would be no reason for the fact.
In other words, if the yearly sacrifice was enough, there would be no need for the perfect sacrifice.
The Picture showed the truth that was still to come.
Chapter 9 discusses that picture.
1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. 2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. 3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; 4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5 And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly. 6 Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. 7 But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people: 8 The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
Paul makes the point that the “way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” – this is a significant statement because the word manifest means “shown or displayed” – “to be made apparent”.
This word is used of something that is in existence, but is not seen.
It is not used of something that does not exist yet – the way was there, it was just not clearly seen.
9 Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10 Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. 13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
“Purifying of the flesh” indicates the outside – the works.
“Conscience” indicates the inside – the spirit.
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
Paul talks of the “first Testament” transgressions being dealt with by the death of the Christ.
This is those under the Law were purged by the death of Christ, not by keeping the Law – which we know its true today without argument. This is not specifically dealing with Pre-Christ issues though, but generally.
16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. 17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. 18 Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. 19 For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, 20 Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. 21 Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. 22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.
After discussing the things that Moses did – blood purges sin etc – in the following verses Paul again talks about them being a “pattern”, and how the perfect sacrifice was needed.
23 It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: 25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; 26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
Vs 25, 26 is interesting in that it says that Christ was offered once, and that was enough.
If He had to be offered every year, as with the “pattern sacrifices”, then it would have had to have been “from the foundation of the world” – but now once in the end is enough.
This is an indicator of a concept of “backward salvation” if you will – Paul is indicating that this once was enough for all time, even before the event – if it had to be an annual thing then it would have to be from the beginning of time for there were those who would have “missed out” if it was only effective from the day of the sacrifice.
If the perfect sacrifice was only effective for 12 months at a time, then it would have to have been done at the very beginning and every year since.
But this one time sacrifice is enough and is effective for ever.
1 For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
A restating of these things – picture, example, if it were perfect, then once would be enough, the picture didn’t have the power to save anyone.
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. 10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: 12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
Take away the first – the picture of sacrifice, and replace it with the second – the perfect sacrifice.
“….we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” – this “once for all” is an all encompassing phrase – it means “one time for every one”, and there is no limitation stated or implied that it is “once for everyone from now”.
Add to this the statement in vs 12 “…one sacrifice for sins for ever…” – the words “for ever” again don’t imply from now until for ever, but just forever.
His Sacrifice was for sins for ever, not just sins from “now on”.
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
Even in this, the “new and living way” is not a brand new invention, but because it is consecrated to us “through the veil” it indicates that it is now seen by all – the veil of the Temple kept people out of direct contact, but when Christ died as the perfect Sacrifice, the veil was torn in two and people could see directly to God.
The way was always there, but now it was “seen”, which ties in with ch9:8 where the way into the Holiest was now made manifest – the Holiest is the portion of the Temple concealed by the veil.
The “Hall of Faith”.
11 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4 By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
The very first example of faith mentioned is that of Abel – his sacrifice was acceptable, and offered “by Faith”. His sacrifice was of a lamb – this pictured the coming Sacrifice of Christ, whilst the sacrifice of Cain did not. Cain’s sacrifice pictured man’s own work, whilst Abel’s sacrifice had the blood.
How did Abel know to make such a sacrifice? We are not told, but we are told that to cover Adam and Eve’s sin, the Lord made them coats of skins:
21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
We have the example straight up of a death required to cover sin, and the assumption is that Adam and Eve taught their children this example.
They also had the promise of:
14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
This is a promise of Messiah, and event that He would die on the cross and be raised again – a bruised heel is rarely fatal – it is an inconvenience; it is painful; but it is rarely fatal.
A “bruised head” however is a different matter. Even today a “bruised head” can be fatal, and before modern medicine it almost always was.
This is a prophecy that a man would be injured but would then have ultimate victory over Satan – this is what we see in Christ – He was wounded, but not to finality – He rose from the dead. And when He did, he put an end to the efforts of Satan – Satan will never be like the Most High.
And this was known by Adam and Eve, and associated with the covering for their sin which required the death of animals – you don’t get skins off of an animal without killing the animal.
And Able offered a better sacrifice by Faith – by faith in God, evidenced by Able following the example given to Adam and Eve, in knowledge of the promise of victory through a son.
It is somewhat flimsy to the argument of faith in Christ, but there can be no doubt that Adam and Eve were waiting for one to have victory over Satan, and the sacrifice of an animal was associated with it.
Enoch pleased God and it is impossible to please God without faith – so Enoch had Faith in God – but it is not explained precisely what that faith was about.
In each of these faith is evident in the works they performed -they trusted God when God told them to do something.
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.
Abraham had faith which was displayed in many ways, but in this particular one there is an indicator of something – that death and resurrection was possible.
And it says that Abraham “also received him in a figure”.
Received who “in a figure”?
It is unclear, but it can not be talking of Isaac, because it did not in fact happen.
The indication is that Abraham received God “in a figure” – He looked at the picture of Isaac dying on the altar, and was convinced that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and then realised that it was a picture – that God would die and be raised up again. (But this is not 100% clear in this).
24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
It is interesting here that Paul says that Moses was “Esteeming the reproach of Christ” – not of God, but specifically “of Christ” – Now we know that Moses did not know the name of Jesus, but he knew about Christ, and that Christ was God.
The Jews all knew about Messiah, and they all knew about the sacrifices – but not many put two and two together I guess – just as not many understand the truth of Christ today.
39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
These all “received not the promise” – that means they were expecting a promise – but which promise?
They had faith, but “received not the promise”.
It does not state it plainly.
But there are indicators – and one of them is in the next section:
1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses? Which witnesses – these men and women just mentioned in chapter 11 – and what was common about them – they all had faith.
The implication of this verse is that we should run the race in the same way that those gathered at the finish line did – they have already run their race,. And we should keep going till we finish as well.
And what race are we to run?
Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.
What is implied here is that their faith (chapter 11) is the same faith as our faith, and our faith is looking to Jesus, therefore their faith was looking to Jesus.
They didn’t know His name, but they knew about Him.
He was promised, and it was the fulfilment of this promise that they were trusting in.
There is no doubt that men have always been sinners – at least since Adam sinned – and there can be no doubt that there is none righteous, no not one.
What is less often acknowledged is that a man can only be righteous if God makes Him so.
And God did that in the OT as well as in the NT.
6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
God imputed righteousness to men WITHOUT works, even in the OT.
There are some references in Hebrews that we have looked at that show that the OT sacrifices themselves didn’t save anyone – they have not the power to take away sins – it was faith in what the sacrifices pictured that counted.
But what exactly did the OT saints have faith in?
This is less obvious, in that it was not “made manifest” or shown clearly in OT times. Yet some understood it – that is clear from the words of Hebrews 11 amongst other passages.
But look at:
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. 27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.
This last phrase is an interesting phrase in light of what we read about those who “received not the promise” in Hebrews 11.
It says “they that have not seen” – and it uses not the future tense, but a tense that allows both past and current. “Have not” actually sits in the past tense but also applies to those who “have not yet” seen – so it could include those alive then who have not, as well as those of the past who “have not” seen – although it would be more definite if it said “did not”.
But it indicates that there were some who “have not seen, and yet have believed”.
There were those in the past who believed in Christ, even though they did not see Christ themselves – this brings my mind to those who were waiting for the promised Messiah, but did not “receive the promise”.
They were trusting in Him, but did not see the realisation of that promise – yet they are counted as having faith.
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
This is that manifesting of the way into the holiest – the showing of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.
And it is significant the way John refers to Him: “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”
The people of the nation would have understood the reference.
It was apparently approaching the time of the yearly sacrifice, and the people knew that a spotless lamb was to be sacrificed for the sin of the nation.
We know that those sacrifices were pictures, illustration, shadows, of the truth.
When John called out “behold the lamb of God”, the people would have known what John meant – that this guy – whoever He was – was the sacrifice for sin.
They may not have understood it immediately, but people began to follow Him – they knew that He was the promised Messiah.
People were looking for the Messiah to come.
They knew about Him.
They knew about the sacrifices as well.
Over time and through poor teaching they had lost the meaning of these things, but it was known.
They knew about Messiah, and they knew about the sacrifices, and the OT does link Messiah to the sacrifices – so the knowledge was available.
They did not know His name, but they knew for instance that he would be called Emmanuel.
They did not call upon the name of Jesus, but they did call upon the Messiah, the promised Lamb of God.
And there is this:
1 Cor 15:3-4
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
These things were all done “According to the Scriptures”, therefore the knowledge of what had to happen was there.
If it was all according to the Scriptures, then it is entirely possible that an OT person could be saved by trusting in the Messiah to come.
After all, it was all written there.
And of course, Paul confirmed that fact when he wrote to Timothy:
2 Tim 3:15
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Note that When Timothy was a child the only Scriptures would have been the OT, yet Paul says that was sufficient.
(I went to correct a typo and all my references disappeared - I have replaced them, so I hope they show up now!)