Were There "Christians" in Old Testament Times?


Not in name, of course, but yes, if we understand properly what the word “Christians” stands for. Prior to New Testament times, nobody was called a “Christian,” per se. We read, in Acts 11:26, that “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Subsequently, the term became known as a description for Christ’s followers, and was used both by unconverted people (Acts 26:28) and by converted disciples (1 Peter 4:16).

A Christian, in the true sense of the word, is one in whom Jesus Christ lives — through the Holy Spirit. Paul said that Christ was living in him (Galatians 2:20), and that we are only true Christians, if His Spirit dwells in us: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Romans 8:9). Paul even adds the thought that we will only enter the kingdom of God by a resurrection from the dead, if the Holy Spirit dwells in us at the time of our death (Romans 8:11).

The substantial conditions based upon which we enter the Kingdom of God and inherit the promise of eternal life, are the same for every human being — regardless of whether he or she lived and died before or after Christ’s First Coming.

We know that Old Testament followers of God will be in the Kingdom of God. Christ said in Matthew 8:11: “And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” We read that king David will be ruling, as king, in the Kingdom of God. Jeremiah 30:9 points out: “But they shall serve the LORD their God, And David their king, Whom I will raise up for them.” Hosea 3:5 states: “Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the LORD their God and David their king.” We also read: “My servant David shall be their prince forever” (Ezekiel 37:25).

We also read about a vision of the Kingdom of God, which was given to some of Christ’s disciples. In that vision, Moses and Elijah appeared in a glorified state, showing that they, too, will be in the Kingdom, once Christ establishes it here on earth (Matthew 16:28-17:9; Luke 9:27-36).

In addition, we find a rather long list of God’s Old Testament servants in the 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews. The list includes people like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Verses 39-40 explicitly state: “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise [of eternal life and of entering the Kingdom of God], God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect APART FROM us.”

So, they will be made perfect, in the first or better resurrection (compare verse 35), TOGETHER with us. In order to be resurrected, they must, however, “sleep in Jesus” (Compare 1 Thessalonians 4:14). That is, they must have believed in, and accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, as there is none other than Jesus, through Whom we can be saved (compare Acts 4:12).

The Bible reveals that Christ was the Personage within the Family of God Who actually dealt directly with mankind. God the Father created everything, including man, through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16). Christ talked with Abraham (John 8:56-58). He was the God being Who led Israel out of Egypt (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). It was Christ Who was tried by disobedient Israel (verse 9). And, most importantly, it was the Spirit of CHRIST which dwelled in the prophets of old, as 1 Peter 1:10-11 clearly proves: “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST [WHICH] WAS IN THEM was indicating when [it] testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”

We also read that, after Samuel anointed David, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). Later, David prayed to God not to take His Holy Spirit away from him (Psalm 51: 11). Moses, too, had received God’s Holy Spirit. God took a portion of the Holy Spirit, dwelling in Moses, and gave it to seventy elders (compare Numbers 11:16-17, 25, 29). Later, Moses laid his hands on Joshua, In whom was already the Spirit of God (compare Numbers 27:18), and then “Joshua the son of Nun was FULL of the spirit of wisdom”
(Deuteronomy 34:9), that is, he received an extra portion of the wisdom of God, through God’s Spirit. Elisha asked for and received “a double portion” of Elijah’s Holy Spirit — which was, of course, IN Elijah (compare 2 Kings 2:9).

We read, too, that king Saul received the Holy Spirit, but he subsequently lost it again — showing that it IS possible to lose the gift of the Holy Spirit.

There is, however, one difference in regard to the receipt of the Holy Spirit in New Testament times, after the New Testament Church was founded. That is, that we receive the Holy Spirit today, after we are properly baptized. Today, baptism as an adult, after repentance and belief, is commanded and is the only guarantee that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (barring extraordinary circumstances). Our free booklet, “Baptism – A Requirement for Salvation?,” explains this truth in detail. When reviewing the Old Testament record, we don’t read that the ancients, in Old Testament times, were baptized prior to the receipt of the Holy Spirit, but we DO read that some had, within them, the Holy Sprit of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

We also read that the gospel of the Kingdom was preached to Abraham (Galatians 3:8) and to ancient Israel (Hebrews 4:2). This message included the announcement of man’s potential for his entrance in the Kingdom of God, through Christ, and the rule of Christ, as King of kings, over all the earth, in the future (compare Isaiah 8:6-7).

In order to be able to enter the Kingdom of God, we must repent of our sins and obtain forgiveness, by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We do so, today, by looking to the past — what Christ did for us, when He died for us. The ancients of old, who had been called by God, looked forward to this event, believing that Christ would accomplish it. In a sense, this even required more faith, and we can understand why Abraham, for example, is called “the father of all those who believe” (Romans 4:11). Paul gives a remarkable testimony about Abraham’s faith, in Romans 4:13-21. Abraham believed God who “calls those things which do not exist [yet] as though they did” (verse 17). Abraham was “fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform” (verse 21). God had promised that Christ would become the Savior of mankind (compare Matthew 1:21; John 1:29). He was the One “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Although it was certainly possible for Christ, when He was in the flesh, to sin, God the Father and Jesus Christ had the utmost confidence that Christ would not sin.

The ancients of old had to have that same faith, as well, believing in Christ as their Savior, BEFORE He had even died for them. Only the Spirit of Christ within them could have given them that kind of faith.

In conclusion, although the holy saints of God, living in Old Testament times, were not specifically referred to as “Christians,” they were, indeed, Christians, as we understand this expression today.

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