Part I – OT Believers and the Afterlife…

If you’ve been a Christian very long, and especially if you’ve read the King James or New King James Versions of the Bible, you’ve probably wondered what the deal is with Hades and Sheol. Are they the same as hell? You’ve probably also heard of Gehenna and the Lake of Fire. What do all these places (that is if they are places) have to do with each other?

We’re going to take a look at those terms over the next few blogs, but first let’s establish an important point regarding Old Testament (OT) believers and unbelievers: they were saved by faith, just like us…

Heb 11:13These (The OT believers discussed earlier in the chapter: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Notice the words died in faith. They didn’t receive the promises God made to them. They had to look forward to them in faith. They had to trust God just like we do, and their belief was accounted to them as righteousness (Gen 15:6).

Charles Ryrie sums up the matter of faith succinctly in this way: “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various ages.” In other words, no matter when people lived, their salvation is ultimately dependent on the work of Christ and a faith placed in God, but the amount of knowledge people had concerning the specifics of God’s plan have increased through the ages via God’s progressive revelation. Obviously those living after Christ’s First Coming will know much more than those looking forward to it in faith. Combine that with the revelation found in the New Testament and you have a monumental amount of information available to Church-age believers that wasn’t available in the OT.

Here are a few interesting verses dealing with the topic showing that although their revelation was limited it was still sufficient enough for salvation:

  • A little further in Hebrews 11 the author says Moses “[esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:26). This is to say Moses considered abuse suffered for Christ greater than the wealth and prestige of Egypt. Moses knew he was suffering, or forfeiting the blessings he’d have in Egypt for the Messiah; the author implies Moses knew he was doing it for Christ.
  • Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So this verse even says the Gospel was preached to Abraham when God established the Abrahamic Covenant with him. We probably wouldn’t think of those words as constituting a solid Gospel presentation, but because of the limited revelation in the OT, simply believing in these words was enough to save.
  • John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. This refers to Abraham’s joy in looking forward to the day of the promised Messiah. Although we assume Abraham’s revelation of the Messiah was limited, we’re still told he looked forward to it with joy.

The point is, OT believers had saving faith in Christ. They were saved looking forward to Christ like NT believers are saved looking back on Christ. Interestingly, I think most people feel it was easier to believe in the OT where there were numerous miracles and supernatural events. We assume everyone would have faith then; however, the irony is OT believers would probably assume the same about NT believers since we all live after Christ came. To them, how could anyone possibly not believe when Jesus has already come?

The OT revelation of the afterlife was very minimal. It wasn’t until Jesus Christ that eternal reward and eternal punishment were clearly revealed. Although insignificant compared to the revelation in the NT, the OT did discuss eternal life and eternal punishment, but on a much narrower scale:

  • Dan 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
    Some to everlasting life,
    Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
  • Isa 66:22-24 “For as the new heavens and the new earth Which I will make shall remain before Me (so it’s important to know He’s looking forward to eternity here talking about the New Heavens and New Earth),” says the Lord,
    “So shall your descendants and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord. 24 “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
    (Jesus quoted most of this verse and applied it to hell in Mark 9:47-48).

The idea is in verse 24 Jesus is describing the eternal punishment of the unrighteous.

That’s really about it for OT verses dealing with eternal reward and eternal punishment. Limited, huh? There are plenty of verses though about death and individuals going somewhere when they die (as opposed to being annihilated) and that will be the topic of the next blog!

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!