Was everyone before the New Covenant saved?

This is one of the easier questions I have been asked. Certainly not. If
this were true, then that would mean that thanks to Jesus it became harder
for a person to be saved. In fact, Jesus himself said in Matthew 7 that
the gate is small and the road difficult which leads to life and only a
few find it. If only a relatively few of those who hear of Jesus will be
saved, what then of those who came before Jesus?

To be honest, your question seems a bit odd. Were you seriously
considering the possibility that literally everyone who ever lived before
Jesus would go automatically to heaven? If that were true, then why would
Jesus have come here? The Bible clearly says that “The soul who sins is
the one who will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) The clear teaching of Ezekiel 18 and
indeed of the entire Bible is that a person will be held responsible for
the acts which they commit while in the body. Indeed, in Romans 3:10 one
finds the clear statement that “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Paul continues in 3:20, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in
his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become
conscious of sin.” And in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but
the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thankfully, God has provided a way of escape from the consequences of our
sin through the blood of Jesus and through our faith in that blood,
combined with our faithful response of repenting and being baptized. There
is absolutely no similar promise available to those under the Old
Covenant, never mind those before Jesus who were gentiles. A better
question you might have asked is whether anyone was saved before the time
of Jesus. I would answer by saying that no one was saved before Jesus in
the sense of receiving the promised in-dwelling Holy Spirit which is a
promise of salvation which a believer receives upon being baptized into
Jesus (Acts 2:26-28, Ephesians1:13,14). Both the Old Testament and the New
Testament do provide hints that some of those who lived before Jesus
Christ may in fact be accepted by God into heaven based on their acts of
faith in their life. I personally believe Moses, Elijah, Daniel and a host
of unnamed faithful Jews will ultimately be forgiven by God, but none of
these faithful men and women lived as saved people in the sense that we
have a guarantee of salvation when we are saved and given the promised
Holy Spirit.

As far as the Gentiles who lived before the time of Jesus, certainly their
position was not superior to that of the Jews. The Bible provides only the
barest of hints that those who knew nothing of Jesus or even of the one
true God and the Old Covenant might somehow squeak through into heaven
based on obeying their own God-given conscience. In the end, God will
judge these people, not us. Who will make it? Let us leave that to God,
but I say with heavy heart that it is clear from the Bible that very very
few of those who lived before the time of Jesus will be saved in the end.

John Oakes, PhD

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