Dr. Couch, if the OT saints are not “in Christ” and are part of the church, then how are they saved?
ANSWER: Good question but it’s really easy to explain. Every Bible teacher worth his salt agrees that Romans 3:25 is saying that the death of Christ is covering the sins of the saints of the past—in former dispensations before the church age. It reads: Christ is displayed as a propitiation (a place of mercy), demonstrating “His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.”
In his Word Pictures A. T. Robertson writes on this verse: The sins spoken of are “The sins before the coming of Christ (Heb. 9:15). … In this sense Christ tasted death for every man (Heb. 2:9).”
Charles Hodge adds: “The words, ‘that are past,’ seems distinctly to refer to the times before the advent of Christ. … (Heb. 9:15) ‘He is the Mediator for the redemption of sins that were under the first testament (the OT).’ … God has set forth Jesus Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice, to vindicate his righteousness or justice, on account of the remission of the sins committed under the former dispensation (the Law).”
Lenski goes further: “God passed over the sins of these Old Testament believers. … God pardoned their sins. … What took away the sins of the Old Testament saints was Christ’s blood. … The final reckoning with the sins of the Old Testament believers was, as it were, postponed until the true mercy seat was set forth. In this way the Old Testament saints had their ‘remission,’ it was in the form of a ‘passing over.’”
That the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, would do this for the OT believers was prophesied in Isaiah 53:12. He would “justify the many.”
Kroll rightly concludes in his Romans commentary: “The righteousness of God is declared by atoning for present and future sins as well as past sins. Therefore God is the justifier of any man or woman—past, present, or future—who places his or her faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Yet the Bible is careful not to place OT saints into the body of Christ. They are never said to “be in Christ,” be part of “the body of Christ,” and they are never said to be “in the church.” The church is a unique dispensation in which believers of this present period have a special and different relationship with Christ than ever before. When the church saints are resurrected and the rapture of the living church saints takes place, there will be those who believe during the tribulation. They are “tribulation saints” but they are never seen as part of the body of Christ or labeled as those “in the church.”
Thanks for asking.
Dr. Mal Couch