What was the plan of salvation in the Old Testament? That’s a great question and we are so glad you asked! Let’s see what the Bible tells us about how people were saved during those days.
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel (Genesis 3:15).”
Bible teachers call this passage the Protoevangelium, meaning the first gospel message. God promised that He (Messiah) shall bruise your head to the “serpent” after the serpent tempted Adam and Eve. His temptation succeeded, and they sinned (Genesis 3:1-13). But God also said that the serpent will bruise the Savior on the heel (by Jesus dying on the cross). So, the woman (Mary) will give birth to the Savior, who will die to provide our salvation.
What Was Salvation Based on in the Old Testament?
The content of the gospel of salvation in the Old Testament is difficult to discern.
Some say salvation was by seeing the future removal of sins by Jesus through the offered animal sacrifices. But several passages say that God does not delight in those sacrifices. Psalm 51:16 says:
“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering” (see also, 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Micah 6:6; Hebrews 10:5-10).
We do know that Salvation has always been by Faith.
For example, Abraham:
Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now not for his (Abraham’s) sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him (God) who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead (Romans 4:22-24; see also Genesis 15:6; Hebrews 11:6-8).
But, in the Old Testament, what exactly did someone put their faith in? What was the content of the saving message?
The New Testament tells us the content of its gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:
“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel…by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you…of first importance…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”
But the Old Testament does not have a similar definitive passage. The closest it comes is the passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12:
“All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:6).”
One opinion is that salvation is by faith in God’s promises.
And that’s the same way we’re saved after Jesus’ resurrection also:
“For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED (Romans 10:11).”
But the content of the gospel message was different. Jesus hadn’t died and been resurrected yet. What was the plan of salvation in the Old Testament?
Some Would Say Old Testament Salvation was by Faith in God’s Promised Coming Messiah, as detailed in Isaiah 53.
True, God saved Old Testament believers by grace through faith in the coming Messiah; however, based on the Jews’ muted response to Jesus, as shown in the gospels, they were not aware of those details. Few Jews expected the Messiah to die for their sins, including Jesus’ disciples, even though Isaiah predicted it (Mark 8:31-33). In Jesus’ time, most Jews expected a political deliverer who’d rule over a glorious Kingdom, not a Savior who’d die for their sins:
“Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone (John 6:14-15).”
Saved by Faith in Jesus Christ
What was the plan of salvation in the Old Testament? Since the Jews in Jesus’ time didn’t understand the content of the Old Testament gospel, it can’t be that they had to understand and believe in the sacrificial work of the coming Messiah for salvation. But we know God saved them by faith, not by works of the Law. And their faith was in God’s promise(s).