Question: Did the blood of Jesus atone for people’s sins under the law or in the Old Testament times? Give scriptures.
Answer: It is my understanding that it did and for the following reasons:
In Revelation 13:8 we read, “…the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” It is evident that the plan of salvation and redemption was in the mind of God from the beginning of the world. God made a definite promise in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. This was a sure promise of redemption and salvation. The plan was formulated in the mind of God from the beginning and He counted it as a thing already done even though it was a few thousand years later that Christ actually came and was slain. But in that period God provided an exact prototype of the New Testament Church and its system of worship and spiritual sacrifice and the blood of Jesus the great Redeemer, in the Old Testament sanctuary with its system of divine worship and blood sacrifices, etc. Then we read in Hebrews 9:22, “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.” The context here strongly indicates that the blood of the animal sacrifices which they offered under the law was a type of the blood of Christ which was to be shed for the sins of the people (all people) in time to come and was accepted in lieu of the blood of Christ in this interim period to make an atonement for the people’s sins. Further, Hebrews 9:25-26 makes it more plain. “Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Note that this last verse says, “…Then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world:…” This strongly indicates that Christ Himself was deeply involved in every sin offering of blood of animals from the foundation of the world clear on through to the time He actually came to the world and shed His own blood for the remission of the sins of the whole world.
Now we will look at Hebrews 9:15 which spells it out in black and white plainly. “And for this cause he is the mediator of the New Testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” This text plainly states that by the death of Christ a redemption was made for the transgressions of people under the first covenant; the Old Testament time or law age. Hebrews 8:4-5 teaches that the gifts and sacrifices which the priests offered according to the law were examples and shadows of heavenly things. Therefore we conclude that every time God saw the blood of an animal sacrifice being offered for sin He said within Himself that this is an example and shadow of heavenly things to come, a kind of installment payment, a kind of credit memorandum which will all be paid off when my Son goes to earth on His redemptive mission to make an atonement for all sin by the sacrifice of Himself and the pouring out of His blood to the last drop. Are there any of us who would presume to say there was no one saved back under the law? Of course not. The Bible abounds with accounts of Old Testament saints and some mighty men of God and champions of faith who accomplished great things for God.
But Peter said in Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Ah, folks this is eternally true. This covers all time past, present and future. All who were saved in Old Testament times under the law were saved by faith in Christ. All in this gospel age of time who have been saved and are saved today, are saved by faith in Christ. God never has, neither will He ever, recognize anyone in heaven as a Saviour, but His Son Jesus Christ. But if this be a question in your mind as to how this could be that they would or could believe in a person who had never been born and lived among men on the earth my answer is this: none of us ever saw Jesus either. We never saw nor handled Him as the Apostle John said he and the other apostles did. We never heard Him speak nor saw His miracles which He did (many of them). We never saw Him crucified, buried and then resurrected. We never saw Him ascend to heaven. But we believe all of this; that Christ was born of the virgin Mary, that He lived here among men, that in due time He died and shed His blood for the salvation of the ungodly, that He was buried and rose again on the third day, that He ascended back to heaven and is there right now at the right hand of the throne of God making intercession for us. We believe all of this because the Scriptures tell us this and the Holy Spirit confirms it in our hearts. Then why should we count it as an incredible thing that the Old Testament saints should believe in the same Son of God, even as ourselves, when the Old Testament abounds throughout with sparkling gems of prophecy concerning Him, His coming, His work and mission and what He would do, etc. It is not incredible and many of them did believe in the promise of a coming Saviour and Redeemer and made their blood of animal sacrifices for sin periodically as a token of their faith in that promise and by virtue of that were saved.
Bear in mind that Jesus Christ is the focal point of the history of the world and humankind past, present and future, and that the whole plan of salvation for saving humankind was complete in every detail in the mind of God from the beginning and therefore Christ was a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Therefore, God was counting it as a thing already done in His mind from the dawn of the world’s history and therefore was extending saving mercy to all of those in Old Testament times who believed the promise of His coming and embraced it.