Thursday, June 5, 2014

Was there forgiveness of sins under the Old Covenant?

Jesus Christ came to Earth in the flesh and died on the cross so that man could be saved. Galatians 4:4-5 reads,
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Also, in the book of Hebrews it states,
For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15).
Some have observed these passages along with others and have come to the conclusion that those in the Old Testament were never forgiven of their sins until Jesus died. This post will attempt to answer the question “Was there forgiveness of sins under the Old Covenant?” and show how one can reconcile this with New Testament teaching.

Answer:
Yes, there was forgiveness of sins in the Old Testament. Just in the book of Leviticus alone, the word for “forgiveness” is used 10 times! Note a few of these occurrences:
  •  He shall also do with the bull just as he did with the bull of the sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them, and they will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:20)
  • All its fat he shall offer up in smoke on the altar as in the case of the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:26)
  • Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat was removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings; and the priest shall offer it up in smoke on the altar for a soothing aroma to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:31)
  • Then he shall remove all its fat, just as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offerings, and the priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar, on the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin which he has committed, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 4:35)
How is this possible?
If forgiveness is based upon Christ’s work on the cross, how could people have been forgiven before Jesus came to earth? This question can be answered by the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:23-26:
...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Those in the Old Testament who were followers of God were forgiven just as the book of Leviticus and others state. However, their forgiveness was based upon the future work of Jesus on the cross. God in his infinite knowledge knew Jesus would die on the cross for all sins and thus offered pardon before the debt was even paid.

God is a loving God and wants all to be recipients of his mercy. Those under the Old Law had the opportunity to be forgiven as do those under the New.

By Cliff Sabroe (Scripture Quotes from NASB95)
Image from Sampson-Design.org