For mankind, there has always been only one way of salvation: Jesus Christ, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:11–12; Psalm 118:22). But how does this work for Old Testament believers who lived before the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord? How could people who lived and died long before the cross benefit from its atonement? Thankfully, the Bible has plenty to say in answer to this apparent conundrum.
What was the way of salvation for those living in the times of the Old Testament?
First, it is important to consider what was said regarding Abraham. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3). Abraham lived long before the time of Christ, but he also lived long before the Mosaic law was put in place. The Israelites were commanded in the Law to perform animal sacrifices as an atonement for sins. The sacrifices foreshadow, or look forward to, what Christ would do on the cross. Christ's sacrifice was the reality while the animal sacrifices were just a shadow of that reality. This is explained beautifully in the book of Hebrews, which says, "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:10–14).
Abraham was saved by faith in this process, just as those under the Law were saved, and just as we who are now under Grace are saved. The next chapter of Hebrews, chapter 11, enumerates the many people throughout the Bible who were saved by faith in God's work. The Old Testament believers did not see Christ, but they trusted that God would provide whatever they needed—including salvation. They understood that animal sacrifice was only a symbol of God's willingness to forgive and atone for those who recognize their sin and need to be redeemed (Psalm 78:35; Isaiah 41:14). God has always borne the name Redeemer; He has always been a Savior. He is always Himself.
The Old Testament way of salvation was the same as the New Testament way—faith in God's power to save and His willingness to provide that salvation (Romans 1:16; 1 John 4:14).
How can I be saved?
Before Jesus died for our sins, could people be saved? How?
What is the concept of progressive revelation as related to salvation?
What was the purpose of animal sacrifices in the Old Testament?
Is salvation by faith or works or both?
Truth about Salvation