This last issue on the subject of eternal hope will be musings or reflections on my study, with no logical progression of thought. In it I will endeavor to articulate why this is such a fascinating subject.
Final Reflections on Eternal Hope From the Old Testament
I can find no trace of salvific grace in the Old Testament. In thinking about this it seems that it is related to a lack of final judgment with eternal consequences. If there are no eternal consequences for temporal behavior, what do I need to be saved from?
More often than not, the generation that sins does not experience God’s judgment; His retribution comes upon the following generations. In many ways, this truth is axiomatic of life: Our descendants reap the consequences of how we live. We see this truth exemplified throughout the OT. The NT teaches that each individual will reap the consequences of his own behavior in the eternal.
As noted in issue 15 of this series, God commands the Levirate marriage; the widow of the deceased must become the wife of the deceased’s brother “that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” This practice seems to support the thesis that God did not want His people to have an eternal hope in the Old Testament, for why would one whose hope is heaven care about the perpetuation his name on earth? In Matthew 6:1-18 Jesus said that the desire for temporal recognition incurs negative consequences in eternity – the seeming opposite of the objective desired in a Levirate marriage.
The Law of the Harvest, when applied to Israel, was always temporal. (There can be no eternal accountability for institutions.) Writers, especially the Psalmist, promised that the nation would reap what it sows – temporally. Little is said about the individual. The book of Job teaches that the Law of the Harvest cannot be applied to the individual in the temporal. Psalm 73 may teach the same thing. With or without an eternal hope, when you expect justice in this life you despair. Throughout Scripture God insists that His people be just, but gives no indication that they can expect justice shown towards them.
God’s commitment to the nation of Israel was inviolate. Little emphasis was given on the eternal aspect of people’s relationship with God in the Old Testament, at least not until the latter period of Israel’s history when the prophets begin to deal with it.
By and large, you have the importance of the individual in the NT, the importance of the nation in the OT. When you hear people talking about sacrificing the individual for the common good, you know they have embraced an OT worldview.
Where in the OT do we find God saying that all people sin? When the concept of an eternal hope began to dawn in the minds of Hebrews, they naturally thought that it was “justification by works.” It is not until we come to the Pauline epistles that we learn that “all have sinned,” and that Jesus’ death was the necessary payment enabling God to be “just and the justifier” of those granted an eternal hope.
It seems that during the inter-testamentary period, when the Jews began to understand that God promised the individual an eternal hope, they logically concluded that it had to be on the bases of keeping the Law. Jesus seems to affirm this in Luke 10:25 – 28 when He suggested that the lawyer, if he kept the Law, could go to heaven.
If God had recorded an eternal promise to His people in the OT, the question raised by Paul in Romans 3:25-26 would have needed to be answered. For God to pronounce judgment on the sinner and then let some sinners have eternal life would be saying that people cannot trust God’s Word.
When this came into focus, for the first time people could understand the worth of the individual, and then only because God imputed to them a worth that they did not have intrinsically. The worth of the individual may be implied in the OT, but I know of no place where God affirms it.
Grace is counter-intuitive and election violates our sense of justice. Man’s addiction to autonomy is so acute that his eternal hope manifests itself in either a works-righteousness or thinking that because he is the object of grace he can ignore God’s commandments.
Besides craving autonomy, man does not like living under obligation and thus he easily deceives himself into believing that he somehow deserves a relationship with God. I am not sure of the various manifestations of this; it seems to be a combination of God obligating Himself to the creature because of creation, and man deserving eternal life because he is basically good.
The Synoptic Gospels seem to carry into the NT the OT motif of relating to God on the bases of works. Note how John’s gospel contrasts with the Synoptics: Believe is the condition for salvation in John rather than good works as frequently found in the Synoptics. John emphasizes grace to a degree not found in the Synoptics. Note also that in John you find an emphasis on election not found in the other gospels. Cf. e.g., John 6:44, 10:28-29, and 15:16. Grace and election are the head and tail of the same coin. In the Synoptics people ask for eternal life; in John no one initiates asking for it; Jesus offers it, as illustrated by the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. In John our Lord Jesus takes the initiative in performing miracles more often than not (as seen by Jesus going to the Pool of Bethesda in John 5), while in the Synoptics, people come to Jesus for help. The Synoptic writers encourage perseverance in prayer in a way John does not. In all of this, as a generality, in the Synoptics it is up to you; in John it is up to God.
In the Synoptics, we find a mixture of Jesus telling people it is what they do that determines whether or not they go to heaven, and His chiding the religious leaders that publicans and sinners will go to heaven before they do. In Luke 18:9-14 it is clear the Pharisee is viewed negatively, & the tax collector is viewed positively. In verse 13 the tax collector begs God for mercy. The word for “mercy” is the word for “propitiation.” “Lord be propitious to me a sinner.” God justified him, but does not reveal how this can be possible.
As John 13:1 indicates, Jesus elected to tie His death to the Passover feast rather than to Yom Kippur, or some other occasion where the sacrifice served as expiation for sin. The Passover sacrifice had nothing to do with sin; it commemorated God’s deliverance of Israel at the beginning of her national existence. Different from other sacrifices commanded by God in the Torah, it alone called for each family to perform a sacrifice, thus capturing the individual nature of Jesus’ propitious death. In the Old Testament God did not offer an eternal hope to individual people. For this reason, there existed no need for a Savior who would make it possible for God to be “just and the justified of him who believes.” God did not design Yom Kippur, a national sacrifice, as expiation for individual sin. In any given year there were crimes that either the nation knew nothing about, or that the nation could not solve. Yom Kippur served as a covering of those sins that God’s presence might remain with Israel. It did not expiate the guilt of the one committing the crime. Willful sin resulted in the individual either being exiled or exterminated.
If the Old Testament saints had an individual eternal hope, you would think they would have expressed a heart for evangelism. I am not aware of any effort in the OT to bring pagans into the family of God. This began to change during the time of the Gospels as indicated by Jesus’ critical comment, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” By this time, however, people had begun to develop an eternal hope.
We note a greater emphasis on the stewardship of time in the New Testament vis-à-vis the Old Testament. (Compare John 9:4; 1Corinthians 7:29-31; Ephesians 5:16 with Proverbs 6:16, 13:4; Ecclesiastes 11:4, 9.) The Old Testament does not seem to place the importance on time that the New Testament does – possibly because of the temporal vis-à-vis eternal emphasis. In the Old Testament, people are not going anywhere; in the New Testament, they are preparing for eternity.
In the Old Testament God did not charge the nation Israel with any particular task; they were to faithfully follow God as defined in the Law, and keep themselves pure from the polluting influences of the surrounding nations. In the New Testament, God charges His individual followers to fulfill the Great Commission, going to these surrounding nations, as well as faithfully follow God as defined by the New Testament commands. Because the OT saint did what God wanted him to do, his life was as meaningful and purposeful as any NT saint. However, in the OT God did not tell the people their purpose for existence. Thus, Solomon says that life is vacuous. In the NT God connects the dots for the believer by telling him this life prepares him for eternity, and that he can best be prepared by investing in the lives of people.
As we pursue comfort, we run from stress and struggle. Dependence and repentance in the midst of struggles are the keys to a vital relationship to God; a godly hope is essential in staying the course, and pursuit of the Word is the key to our assurance of salvation.
How can a person say that he has an eternal hope if he does not daily pray for Christ’s return?
Eager for His return,
 Deuteronomy 25:6, JPS. Cf. also 2Samuel 18:18
 Romans 3:26, KJV
 Matthew 23:15