What Happened to People Before Jesus Died on the Cross?


What happened to the sins of those born before Jesus' time on earth? How were they saved? (Or were they?)


If people have been on the earth for thousands of years at least, I have a question: Jesus wasn’t around until about 2,000 years ago, and if He is the only way to heaven, what happened to the billions of people that died before Jesus was born? The question is, ‘what happened to them?”


Hey my friend – great question and one that I get a lot!

Here’s the answer in a few bullet points:

  • First of all we need to clarify two quick things: 1.) I don’t know how old the Earth is, (but I know what you mean – young); 2.) Jesus was there…
  • The Christian view is that Jesus Christ is God, the 2nd member of the Trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit). To be God, you have to be eternal, un-created, always. Therefore, Jesus existed before the Manger in Bethlehem (Christmas story). So, yes, Jesus was around, but I think you mean, if Jesus didn’t come to earth yet, as the Savior until about 2,000 years ago, how did people get saved without a Savior?  Right? Great question
  • When God set up people in this earth, Adam and Eve, He guided them about what to do and how to relate to Him. (they were held accountable to what He told them)
  • He continued that along the way with Noah and the old school guys. (they were held accountable to what He told them).
  • When Abraham comes along and God starts the Jewish nation (they all descend from one guy, Abraham), God started something new. He created a people who would know Him special and were responsible for sharing Him with the world. The Jewish people grew in number and influence in the Middle East. God held them accountable to the Old Covenant (Jewish rules and restrictions: dietary laws, animal sacrifice, etc.). But, those external things were merely a test of the heart (i.e. if you love me, You’ll obey my commands). So people have always been ‘saved’ by faith. That lasted a long time.
  • Then one day, Jesus shows up, born a Jew, to the Jews first. He was the Promised Messiah. He showed the Jews a new way (New Covenant) and what God wanted now, which was still faith in Him, but this time God was demonstrating extra love to the world by sending His Only Son to die and save mankind. So, again everyone was held accountable to what God told them.
  • The Christians (both Jews and Gentiles who believed in Jesus) were/area supposed to take that message out to the world for the last 2000 years and today.

Now, then…who took care of sins?  This is the cool part.

  • Prior to Jesus on the cross, all people (Jews and Non-Jews, from Adam until Jesus) were saved on an ‘I OWE YOU’ kind of system (kinda like Layaway). They were ‘saved’ knowing that one day their sins would be fully paid for by Jesus.  God held them close until the work was done.
  • When Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, His sacrifice covered everyone, past, present and future. He was the only One who could die and cover any sin at all, much less all the sin of the world. He could do that because He was God (infinite) and human (legit to be a sacrifice for humans). Pretty cool huh?
  • Bottom line – everyone has been ‘saved’ based on their relationship to God, and Jesus cleaned up the mess.
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