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How Were People under the Old Testament Forgiven?

How Were People under the Old Testament Forgiven?People often wonder, if Jesus removed the Old Testament law, how would people under that law be saved. Hebrews 10:1-18 says the animal sacrifices could not forgive sins, so how were people forgiven under the Old Law?

Anyone who is saved, no matter when they lived, will be saved by Jesus. Heb. 9:15 says that, though Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant (Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant), yet Jesus' death was also the redemption for the transgressions under the first covenant. So Jesus died for both the people before He lived and the people after He lived.

However, what that means is that people who lived under the Old Covenant did not have a means of lasting forgiveness as a part of the covenant under which they lived. By contrast, our forgiveness is available to us as part of the new covenant which we have now. This is the sense in which the law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17). Under the Old Covenant, people had laws to live by, but they had no sacrifice that could take away their sins permanently. Instead their sins were remembered every year. Study Heb. chap. 10, esp. v1-18. So they lacked grace in the sense that the means of their forgiveness had not yet come.

When Jesus came and died, He removed the Old Covenant (all of it) -- Col. 2:14,16 -- and instituted the New Testament (Heb. 10:9,10; 9:16,17). Under the New Covenant we still have laws and commands to obey. These are the commands and laws of the New Covenant, not those of the Old Covenant (1 Cor. 14:37; Matt. 28:18-20; Heb. 1:1,2; John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). But the difference is that, when we sin, we have a means of forgiveness as a part of the very covenant under which we live. We do not have to look forward to some future event to obtain our forgiveness.

People under the Old Covenant had no lasting forgiveness under their covenant. The only way they could ultimately be forgiven was for their covenant to be removed and replaced by the New Covenant (Heb. 8:7-13). Salvation for all people, regardless of when they lived, is available only through Jesus.

To learn more about the removal of the Old Testament law, see our online article about the Old Testament for Today at our Bible Instruction web site at /instruct/

(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 2005;

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