GRACE IN OLD TESTAMENT TIMES
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 3:40pm
QUESTION: Did Adam and Eve, in spite of disobeying the divine law, enter heaven?
ANSWER: Let’s take this question a step at a time. First, what heaven are we talking about here? There are at least four kinds mentioned in the Bible. One is the “heavens above,” into which astronauts have entered; but this is probably not the one the inquirer means. Another is the divine heaven, equivalent to the very transcendent essence of God; but no one can enter this “unapproachable light” (1 Tim. 6:16). A third heaven does not exist yet, namely, the final heaven that will be the eternal dwelling place of the saved. This is actually the new earth segment of the “new heavens and new earth,” which will be brought into existence during the time of the final Judgment. No one enters this heaven until the Judgment is concluded (Rev. 21:1ff.).
The other kind of heaven is what I call the angelic heaven, i.e., the divine throne-room segment of the invisible (angelic) universe (Col. 1:16) in which God presents himself in a perpetual theophany (himself in human-like form, seated on a throne) to his angelic hosts. This is the heaven John entered in Revelation 4:1; it is the heaven into which the souls of the redeemed enter at the moment of their death when their souls are separated from their bodies. The souls of the redeemed reside here until Judgment Day, after which they enter their final heavenly home, the new earth.
So, if Adam and Even at their deaths entered any kind of heaven, it would have been this angelic heaven.
This leads me to ask, though, exactly why the inquirer asked this question. For some, the problem would be: did Adam and Eve enter heaven when they died, or did they have to enter a kind of “holding pen” (sometimes called the limbus patrem, or limbo of the fathers) and WAIT until Christ died for their sins before they could enter the angelic heaven? Some think that no one from the OT period actually entered into heaven until Jesus literally, historically died on the cross, because they believe that God could not actually forgive their sins until Jesus paid the price for them on Calvary.
If this is the point of the question, my answer would be YES, they entered heaven when they died. The idea that God could not forgive sins prior to the cross is pure fiction. The reality of Christ’s sacrificial atonement was an irrevocable plan of God (Acts 2:23), and God was already distributing its sure benefits from the very beginning of sin. In Paul’s writings, the “poster boy” for justification (i.e., forgiveness) is Abraham (see Romans 4). He is unassailable proof that the souls of the redeemed who died before the cross were fully saved. Thus we have every reason to think that the souls of Adam and Eve (if they were saved at all) entered into the heavenly throne room as soon as they died.
But maybe this is the question: Do we have reason to believe that Adam and Eve were saved at all, given the fact that they disobeyed God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge? My answer is, first of all, that we cannot put ourselves in the place of the Judge; God alone makes this kind of decision. Second, there is no record anywhere in Scripture that they received salvation; so if we think of them as saved, we are definitely making an assumption. On the other hand, there is no Biblical reason to think they were lost, either. Third, the way the question is worded, there is the suggestion that the very fact Adam and Eve disobeyed the divine command makes them unworthy and undeserving of salvation. How can they enter heaven, if they disobeyed God’s command?
But if this is the reasoning behind the question, would we not have to exclude everyone from heaven? Yes, Adam and Eve disobeyed God—but so has every other human being who has ever lived (except Jesus): “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)! To think that their disobedience disqualified them from heaven condemns all the rest of us, too!
My suspicion, though, is that the inquirer knows that all have sinned. So why should Adam and Eve’s situation be different from ours today? I’m thinking that what raises this question in the inquirer’s mind is the common but erroneous idea that no sinner can be saved without grace, and grace did not begin until Jesus died on the cross. Yes, Adam and Eve sinned. Yes, sinners are unworthy of salvation. Yes, a sinner can enter heaven only through the grace of God. But was God actually distributing his grace in the era before the cross?
Many have decided that he was not. For example, the widely-held belief called dispensationalism originally taught that only the church age is the age of grace. A variation of this became popular in the Restoration Movement. It is found, for example, in the venerable study book called Training for Service, published by Standard Publishing. Lesson 6 is about “Three Dispensations,” or three ways God deals with mankind. The Patriarchal dispensation is the “starlight dispensation,” the dispensation of promise. The Jewish or Mosaic dispensation is the “moonlight dispensation,” the dispensation of law. The Christian dispensation is the “sunlight dispensation,” the dispensation of grace. Grace begins to be given in the third or Christian dispensation. “The earthly life and work of Jesus laid the foundation for a new dispensation. His death opened the way for the forgiveness of sins. . . . God now dispenses or gives salvation and blessing by His grace, not because we deserve them. . . . The Christian dispensation is called the dispensation of grace because Christians rely on God’s grace for their salvation” (pp. 32-33).
This suggests that the distinction between law and grace is a matter of historical sequence, with salvation by law applying to the OT era or Mosaic dispensation, and salvation by grace applying only to the New Covenant era or Christian dispensation. I cannot emphasize strongly enough just how WRONG this idea is, and how critical a hindrance it is to a right understanding of grace.
Pay attention: grace did not replace law as a way of salvation. Both have existed side by side ever since sin came into the world. Even if both have not been known or known clearly by everyone, these two ways of salvation have been present since Adam and Eve, throughout the OT era and into this New Covenant age. Today we have a more complete understanding of grace than did OT saints, but here are the facts: The law system (entering heaven on the basis of law-keeping) has been in existence since the Garden of Eden and still exists today, but NO ONE— before Christ or after Christ—has ever been or ever will be saved by law, by law-keeping, or by the law system. The particular law code that any individual has been under or is under is completely irrelevant to the point I am making here.
Also—and here is the point many have not understood—the grace system or way of salvation has been in existence since the Garden of Eden, and ANY pre-Pentecost or post-Pentecost person who has been saved, has been saved by grace. If Adam and Eve were saved, they were saved by grace—in spite of their law breaking. The same applies to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and every other OT saint; it also applies to every one of us in the NT era who enters heaven.
So the bottom-line answer to the question is YES. Assuming they were saved at all, Adam and Eve entered the divine throne room into the presence of God to await the final Judgment and their entrance into the new heavens and new earth, in spite of their disobedience to God’s law. I.e., they are no different from any of the rest of us. They were justified (forgiven) by faith, not by how well they obeyed their law code.