In ‘Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith’ Jonathan Edwards asks ‘In what sense did the saints under the Old Testament believe in Christ to Justification?’.

His answer is in 11 parts, outlined below and online in full here.

I. The person that in Jeremiah 2:2 and in many other places is spoken of as espousing that people Israel to himself, and that went before them in the wilderness, and brought ’em into Canaan, and dwelt amongst them in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and temple, was the Son of God, as is most manifest by that, that he is often called the “angel of the Lord,” “the angel of God’s presence,” “the messenger of the covenant,” etc.

II. It was plainly and fully revealed to the church of Israel that this person was a different person from him in heaven that sustained the dignity and maintained the rights of the Godhead, and acted as first and head and chief in the affairs of God’s kingdom; and that this person, that had espoused the church of Israel to himself and dwelt amongst them as their spiritual husband, acted under him as a messenger from him. And as this was sufficiently revealed to that people, so the church of Israel all along understood it.

III. One of the names by which that divine person, that was with the Jews in the wilderness and that dwelt with them in the land of Canaan, was known among them, was “the son of God.”

IV. The church of Israel understood that this person which has been spoken of had united himself to them in the strictest union, and had espoused them and become their spiritual head and husband, and had most nearly interested himself in their affairs.

V. The church of Israel had it plainly signified to ’em that God, the first person in the deity, had committed them to the care and charge of this angel of his presence, that he had set him over them to be in a peculiar manner their protector, guide and Savior, and head of their communication and supplies, and God’s people trusted in him as such.

VI. The people of Israel could not but understand that this person was transcendently dear to God, i.e. to the first person in the deity.

VII. The saints in Israel looked on this person as their Mediator, through whom they had acceptance with God in heaven and the forgiveness of their sins, and trusted in him as such.

VIII. The saints in Israel were led to that apprehension, that their prayers and all the sacrifices which were offered in the temple were accepted, and that God was reconciled to those [that] worshipped and made their offerings there, as though atonement were made and a sweet savor offered. Not on account of the value of their offerings as in themselves, but through that person called God’s name who dwelt there as their Mediator, and through his worthiness.

IX. God’s people of old must needs understand that that divine person that had espoused that people, and that formerly went before ’em in the wilderness and dwelt among them as their Lord, protector, Mediator and Redeemer, was he that was in future time come into the world in the human nature, who was the Messiah so often promised.

X. God’s saints in Israel supposed that the Messiah, when he came, or the angel of the covenant, when he should come to dwell amongst men in the human nature, would make an end of their sins and wholly abolish the guilt of then by an atonement which he should make; and that the guilt of their sins, though removed from them and as it were laid upon that divine person who dwelt on the propitiatory in the temple, and was by him taken on himself, yet would not properly [be] abolished and made an end [of] till he should come.

XI. The saints in Israel understood that the way that the Messiah was to make a proper and true atonement for sin, and make an end of it, was by his own suffering and by offering up himself a sacrifice for sin.

XII. God’s people brought and offered their sacrifices, depending upon them for reconciliation to God and acceptance to his favor, no otherwise than as representations of that great sacrifice and atonement of the Messiah, or as having reference and respect to that.

XIII. Such a dependence on the divine Mediator as has been spoken [of] was the revealed and known condition of peace and acceptance with God.

And thus I suppose the saints under the old testament trusted in Christ and were justified by faith in him.


Usually, ‘Israel’ in the Bible is taken to mean ‘the Jewish people’.  When Abraham is promised descendants more numerous than the stars, it’s usually taken to mean that his physical descendants, via Ishmael and Isaac, will be a vast quantity of people.  Yet the New Testament appears to interpret these Old Testament themes in ways that would challenge our general outlook.

In Galatians 615-16, Paul links the term ‘Israel’ with the spiritual rebirth given through the cross- whether circumcised (Jewish) or uncircumcised (gentile).  And in Romans 4:11, Abraham’s fathehood is defined not physically but spiritually

So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

Not only are gentiles who have faith in the Living God Abraham’s children, but his physical children who do not follow in his footsteps of faith are excluded!  Jesus makes this very point himself with great force in John 8:39-47.  So is this a New Testament invention?  A spiritual spin on the obvious physical interpretation of the Old Testament understanding?  Has something new happened with the arrival of Jesus to transform our understanding of the word ‘Israel’?

Of course not!  In Genesis 17:23, Abraham circumcises his whole household as a sign of the covenant the LORD has made with him; including slaves and servants.  At this stage only Ishmael is born- no sign yet of the promised son, Isaac and therefore nobody that we could call ethnically Jewish.  From the start, the people gathered around Abraham- the people of God- were international in flavour.

In Exodus 12:48, the LORD anticipates foreigners joining Israel to celebrate the Passover, and they are permitted to do so on the condition that they too receive circumcision, the sign of the covenant.  And v38 shows that this did happen- many people of other nations joined Israel!

Later, Joshua 8:33 recalls,

All Israel, aliens and citizens alike, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the LORD, facing those who carried it

There’s a clear reference there to the fact that Israel included people who were not physical descendants of Abraham.  It’s clear then that even in the Old Testament, ‘Israel’ is not an ethno-political group or even really a nation.  That’s why it is so abhorrent to the LORD in 1 Samuel 8 that the people ask for a king, and why Balaam says of them in Number 23:9 that they are ‘a people who live apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations.’

Israel is not a group bound together by shared genetics, national identity, or even a common culture: it is an international gathering of those men and women redeemed by the God of Abraham, and included in the gospel promised to him way back in Genesis 12 (Galatians 3:8).  The definition of ‘Israel’ throughout the Bible is, then, identical to the one we might forward today for the word ‘Church’.  And in fact that very word- ‘ekklesia‘- is the one Stephen uses in Acts 7:38 to refer to the Israelites in the desert with Moses.

Israel is not a people-group, but the community of faith gathered around Jesus Christ- Old Testament and New.