Chapter 6: Salvation comes through the Jews

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“Salvation comes through the Jews.”
{John 4:22 NLT}


Let me begin by sharing with you something else Jesus said:

“How terrible it will be for you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and when he becomes one, then you turn him into twice as much the son of hell as you yourselves are.”  {Matthew 23:15 NLT, NIV}

Surely salvation didn’t come through those Jews!

Let me share another passage with you:

“Let me clearly state to you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed in the name and power of Jesus Christ… There is salvation in no one else!”  {Acts 4:10, 12 NLT}

Based on those last words, I believe Peter, the author of them and himself a Jew, would say: Salvation comes through Jesus Christ—and “no one else.” And I’m quite certain Jesus would agree with him:

“No one can come to the Father except through me.”  {John 14:6 NLT}

Having seen all of the above, hopefully you agree that our title passage can’t be saying what it appears to be saying. But it is saying something. And since it’s Jesus who said it, and since whatever it’s saying involves “salvation,” it’s probably important that we find out just what it is saying.
Let me try to show you what it’s saying:

“From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.”  {2 Timothy 3:15 KJV}

“What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew? …First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.”  {Romans 3:1, 2 NIV}

Putting those two passages together: “the Holy Scriptures make us wise unto salvation,” and it was to the Jews that those Holy Scriptures had been “entrusted;” and it’s in this sense that “salvation came through the Jews.”

But since I’m only halfway to the truth I’m trying to take you to, let me combine with those last two passages something else Jesus said; something profoundly important and something that deserves much more consideration than it usually gets:

“The Scriptures point to me.”  {John 5:39 NLT}

Unquestionably, at the time Jesus spoke those words the only “Scriptures” in existence were the Old Testament Scriptures; likewise with those prior two passages. The Scriptures that Paul tells us Timothy had “known from a child,” and which were “able to make him wise unto salvation,” were the Old Testament Scriptures. And leading back to our title passage, “the very words of God,” which the Jews had been “entrusted” with, and which were the basis of Jesus saying that “salvation comes through the Jews,” were once again, the Old Testament Scriptures. Putting all of that together, what Jesus was actually saying in our title passage is: salvation comes through the Old Testament. Or to word it a little differently: the knowledge of the way of salvation is found in the Old Testament.

But that’s not the only reason I wanted to include this chapter. I also wanted to include it because I believe there are a handful of widely accepted teachings, some more direct and some more subtle, that have caused many Christians today to believe that the way of salvation isn’t found in the Old Testament, which inevitably lessens both its value and its relevance in the minds and lives of those who have been influenced by those teachings. And because those widely accepted teachings are upon subjects that are of absolutely vital importance I’ll be writing this chapter largely through the avenue of those vitally important subjects.

Before I begin examining some of those teaching I want to share one more passage with you. In my mind, even if there wasn’t another passage in the New Testament informing us of the value of the Old Testament, this one alone would be sufficient to convince me not only of its value, but of my need for it; and interestingly enough, it’s a passage that the better share of regular church goers are extremely familiar with. It’s the verse that immediately follows the one we had up above telling us that from a child Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures which were able to make him wise unto salvation. You’ll notice that the passage doesn’t say “All New Testament Scripture,” but “All Scripture.” And I have to say, I really like how the New Living translates this passage.

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do.”  {2 Timothy 3:16, 17 NLT}

Okay, now we’ll begin. And since it has so much to do with that “salvation” which came through the Jews, we’ll begin with the gospel:

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God unto salvation.”  {Romans 1:16 NIV, KJV}

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the following statement, or something similar: “Old Testament people had the law, but Christians today have the gospel.” Clearly what they’re saying is, and it’s what many people believe, largely because that’s what someone has taught them: Old Testament people didn’t have the gospel. But let me show you how unbiblical that belief is:

“The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham.”  {Galatians 3:8 NASB}

I’m not exactly sure who “preached” it to him, but it’s clear, someone “preached the gospel to Abraham.” In the light of that, I think we then have to ask ourselves: Did Abraham just keep it to himself, or did he share it with others?

Now our next passage:

“We also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did.”  {Hebrews 4:2 NIV}

The “we” in that verse is Paul and his fellow believers, but do you know who the “they” in it is? It’s the Israelites that were traveling through the wilderness with Moses:

“Who were those people who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Weren’t they the ones Moses led out of Egypt? … we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did.”  {Hebrews 3:15-4:2 NLT, NIV}

Clearly, “the ones Moses led out of Egypt” “had the gospel preached” to them.

Now notice what Paul tells us in the book of Romans:

“Not all the Israelites accepted the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  {Romans 10:16 NIV, KJV}

If “not all the Israelites accepted the gospel,” then “all the Israelites” had to have been preached the gospel to have not accepted it. And then as proof that they hadn’t all accepted it Paul refers to the testimony of Isaiah, an Old Testament writer.

Now that we’ve seen that Old Testament people had the gospel just as truly as we today do, I want to look at another widely accepted teaching that goes hand-in-hand with that one. It goes something like this: “Old Testament people were saved by works, but New Testament people are saved by faith.” Let me show you how incredibly unbiblical that teaching is:

“Abraham believed God, and God accepted Abraham’s faith, and that faith made him right with God… because he believed, he was blessed. It is the same today.”  {Galatians 3:6, 9 NCV}

“Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith? Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. For the Scriptures say, ‘Abraham believed God. And that faith made him right with God.’”  {Romans 4:1-3 NLT, NCV}

A few verses later Paul then tells us:

“David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.”  {Romans 4:6 NIV}

And finally toward the end of the chapter Paul finishes by saying this:

“So, God accepted Abraham’s faith, and that faith made him right with God. Those words, (“God accepted Abraham’s faith”) were written not only for Abraham. They were written also for us.”  {Romans 4:22-24 NCV}

And, as if that’s not enough, in that greatest of all faith chapters, Hebrews 11, where Paul stresses the importance of faith and then spends the entire chapter cataloging many of the great things various characters of the Old Testament did by faith, we read these important statements:

“It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven.”  {vs.5 NLT}

“By his faith, Noah showed that the world was wrong. And he became one of those who are made right with God through faith.”  {vs.7 NCV}

“Do I need to give more examples? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and all the prophets… All of these people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith.”  {Hebrews 11:32, 39 NCV, NLT}

I have to say, something is drastically wrong that men can teach that Old Testament people were saved by works and not by faith. But what troubles me even more is that so many people believe what those men teach.

Now, going along with those first two widely accepted teachings is one that goes kind of like this: “Old Testament people were under the law, but Christians today are under grace.” I’m not sure, but that teaching might be further from reality than even the first two teachings we looked at, for the better share of the Old Testament is the history of God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace for an incredibly stubborn and rebellious people. And as a small example of that I want to share with you fragments from just one chapter of one book of the Old Testament. It’s a chapter that spans many centuries of Israel’s history and will give you an excellent overview of God’s dealings with His people through all of Old Testament times. It’s a bit lengthy, but I think it’s well worth the time it will take to read it. Hopefully by the time you get to the end of it you’ll better understand why I say that it’s a horrible indictment against God that professed ministers of the Word teach that Old Testament people weren’t under grace.

“Our ancestors were a proud and stubborn lot… they refused to listen and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they rebelled and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt! But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and full of unfailing love and mercy… They sinned and committed terrible blasphemies. But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness… But despite all this, they were disobedient and rebelled against you… So you handed them over to their enemies. But in their time of trouble they cried to you, and you heard them from heaven. In great mercy, you sent them deliverers who rescued them from their enemies. But when all was going well, your people turned to sin again, and once more you let their enemies conquer them. Yet whenever your people cried to you again for help, you listened once more from heaven. In your wonderful mercy, you rescued them repeatedly! You warned them…but they became proud and obstinate… They stubbornly turned their backs on you and refused to listen! In your love, you were patient with them for many years… But still they wouldn’t listen… But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious God you are!”  {Nehemiah 9:16-31 NLT}

Now I want to share with you a passage that reveals to us one of the greatest of all truths concerning the Old Testament: that those people had Christ just as truly as we today do. And I would ask you to take note of that word “all”:

“Brothers, I want you to know what happened to our ancestors who followed Moses… They all ate the same spiritual food. And they all drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from that spiritual rock that was with them. That rock was Christ.”  {1 Corinthians 10:1-4 NCV}

Going along with that: not only did Old Testament people have Christ, they also had “the Spirit of Christ.”

“The Spirit of Christ was in the prophets.”  {1 Peter 1:11 NCV}
“Don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.”  {Psalms 51:11 NLT}

I’d like to finish with a few words from Jesus and then a couple of classic passages from the Old Testament.
Obviously everything Jesus taught is important, but in the light of what we’ve been looking at in this chapter I think these next words take on even greater significance:

“If you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me. But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say… If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.”  {John 5:46, 47; Luke 16:31 NLT, NIV}

Next, a portion of one of the Psalms:

“My soul finds rest in God alone; for my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken… Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation… My salvation and my honor come from God alone. He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me. O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge… God has spoken plainly, and I have heard it many times: that power belongs to God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.”  {Psalms 62 NIV, NLT, KJV}

If that’s “Old Testament” religion, I’ll take all I can get of it! And I assure you, New Testament salvation is no different and no better than the salvation we just read about. I can also assure you, it’s the only salvation that has ever existed.

One more passage. Do you remember the verse that I shared earlier: “But not all the Israelites accepted the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” We’ll here’s where Isaiah made that statement. And with John the Baptist I say: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV) (I would encourage you to read slowly so as to allow what you’re reading to sink in.)

“Who has believed our message? To whom will the LORD reveal his saving power? …it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace, and by his wounds we are healed. All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all… He was led like a lamb to the slaughter… From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering for their punishment? Though he had done no wrong…he was buried like a criminal… But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief… when his life is made an offering for sin… when he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.”  {Isaiah 53 NLT, NIV, KJV}

I think we would all do well to ask ourselves a very heart searching question: “When he sees what has been accomplished—in my life, or your life—by his anguish, will he be satisfied?”

I’d like to say one more thing before moving on to the next chapter: For those of you who have been taught any of those teachings concerning the Old Testament we looked at in this chapter and now see how unbiblical they actually are, I hope you’ll ask yourself the question: What other unbiblical teachings might I have been taught?