Volume 11, Issue 4: Stauuron
Old Covenant Calvary
Was the cross of Christ efficacious for Old Testament believers? If the Cross can apply forward in time, could it also apply backwards to those living before Calvary? In other words, were King David, Abraham, Elijah, Aaron, and Moses Christians?
We should not think of being born again as a New Testament phenomenon. Jesus Himself found it incredible that the Pharisees didn’t understand this better. In his conversation with Nicodemus (“a ruler of the Jews” and a Pharisee), “Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). That Christ expected the Old Testament Jews to understand this is clear from what He says later on in verse 10, “Art thou a master of Israel and knowest not these things?” It was Nicodemus’ job, as a master (or a teacher) of the Jews, to instruct them in these truths. It appears that he was unable because he did not understand the truth himself. A teacher must know his material before he can teach as he ought.
Unfortunately, many of the church’s modern masters also miss this point. We understand the Old Testament Scriptures incorrectly, and therefore teach their truths either partially or completely in error. Distracted with externals, we miss the wonderful continuity of God’s work throughout human history, and forfeit a “fellowship” with ancient saints who have much to teach us about our walk of faith. The focus of that walk of faith is Jesus, as He always has been.
A superficial understanding of the Old Covenant often results in thinking that believers living before Christ were justified through the sacrifices of bulls, goats, and lambs. But the New Testament is very pointed in explaining that this was not the case. In writing about the Old Testament sacrificial system, the author of Hebrews records, “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; which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:9-10).
Hebrews 10:1-2, 4 similarly states “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? ...For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”
Old Testament saints who understood the sacrificial system properly viewed the sacrifices as only a type, a figure, of the Messiah to come. The priests had to offer these sacrifices repeatedly because they were ineffective to make anyone perfect. The writer of the book of Hebrews goes on to explain Christ’s fulfillment of the old covenant system: “...with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).
That this was the essence of the old covenant system is clear from Christ’s own testimony on the way to Emmaus. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus said that “all Scriptures” (i.e., the whole Old Testament!) spoke about Him. The Jews organize their Old Testament books differently than we find them in our modern Bibles. The Jewish Scriptures, collectively called by the acronym TANAKH, were divided into three sections: the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Kethuvim. The Torah is the five Books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. The next section, Nevi’im or Prophets, includes all the major and minor Prophets. The final section is translated as Writings, and includes the historical books and Psalms, Proverbs, etc. Therefore, when Jesus began “with Moses and all the Prophets,” He was going from “cover to cover” in the Jewish Bible showing that all of it pointed to Him.
Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth gives us a glimpse of one example which Christ might have given that day on the way to Emmaus. Paul wrote that the Israelites had Christ with them in the desert. “For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:4).
The author of Hebrews also speaks of Christ and Moses. Hebrews 11:24-26 says that Moses chose the “reproach of Christ” over the pleasures and treasures of Egypt. Chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews contains the “hall of faith,” a long list of Old Testament saints who looked forward to the Promise.
That promise was first given in the Garden of Eden. Able sacrificed the blood of the flock “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 11:4, cf 12:1-3). The writer of Hebrews starts chapter twelve with the key word therefore. A somewhat overused but nonetheless very valid saying that helps us in our study of the Bible is “Any time you come across the word therefore, it’s always important to stop and look back to see what it’s there for.” In chapter twelve, “Therefore we also,” points back to the list of “elders” or “witnesses” displayed in chapter eleven. The readers of Hebrews are being told that they also ought to run the race set before them with endurance, looking unto Jesus. We are to follow their example by emulating their gaze upon Jesus (John 8:56).
Finally, returning to the discussion in Hebrews about the sacrifice of Christ, verse 9:15 says, “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.”
Christ’s cross applied to Old Testament saints also. Moses chose the reproach of Christ, not bulls and goats. Moses was a Christian, and so were Abel, David, Elijah. They looked forward toward Calvary, in faith. We simply look back. We are blessed. We have it easier.